Have you heard about the pioneering media giant who left her hugely successful news website to focus on sleep? No? Well – it’s not actually as strange as it sounds.

Ariana Huffington’s decision last week to step down from the Huffington Post, a media empire that she has grown from her basement to being one of the most visited news sites in the world with a presence in 16 countries, came as a surprise. Especially because Huffington had just recently signed a new contract to remain with the company til 2019.

She has explained that her decision is down to her desire to focus 100% of her time on her new start up – Thrive Global.

Thrive Global will be a non-profit group focused on health and wellness that will work with organisations to help them improve staff wellbeing. Elaborating on the mission of the company, Huffington stated ‘As all of you know, since publishing Thrive, I’ve become more and more passionate – okay, obsessed – with burnout and stress and how we can reduce their impact on our lives. Thrive Global’s mission is to change the way we work and live by ending the collective delusion that burnout is a necessary price for success.’

Australia’s safety journey

Huffington started to explore the concept of wellbeing after a collapse eight years ago brought about by exhaustion and sleep deprivation. It’s inspiring and exciting to hear one of the most influential women in the world talk openly about what is an increasingly serious problem in workplaces – locally and globally.

In Australia, we have been on an evolving journey with safety in our workplaces. It’s not that long ago since workplace accidents, particularly on challenging locations like mines, oil platforms and building sites were not only frequent, but were accepted by employees and leaders as an unavoidable consequence of working in these roles.

We have worked hard to change culture, practices and attitudes to safety in workplaces, to get to a point where people have the expectation that they can come to work, regardless of the type of work they do, and know that there are procedures in place to guarantee their safety and wellbeing. For anyone to have a workplace accident is considered unacceptable, and serious injuries and deaths are thankfully a much rarer occurrence.

workplace safety

Mental health in the workplace

As what we produce in Australia changes from the outputs of physical work – manufacturing, mining, agriculture, to outputs from mental work – our thoughts and ideas, we need to change how we think about what it means to make the workplaces of today safe, productive and supportive.  We need to safeguard the psychological wellbeing of our employees as well as the physical.

For anyone in doubt that mental wellbeing of employees is an issue that needs to be addressed, take a look at some statistics: three million working Australians are affected by mental health issues; 20% of the working age population suffer from mental health problems; 16% of mental stress claims result in the employee being absent for one year or more. Loss of productivity due to mental health issues is an $11bn cost to Australian businesses every year.

Culture is key

Having successfully achieved this change in mindset around physical safety, leaders should focus their attention on bringing the same culture to bear around our mental safety and wellbeing. We need to embed a culture where it is as unacceptable that a worker would suffer any mental ill effects from the requirements of their role as it is that they would be injured physically. Good organisations and leaders have the opportunity to move beyond the mindset that stops at simply preventing safety incidents in the workplace and look at how to create a workplace where their employees can be healthy, be productive, and thrive.

Our aim in helping organisations to develop mentally healthy workplaces is to assist them to create a positive working environment that builds individual skills and resilience, reduces workplace risks to mental health challenges and supports staff with mental health conditions.

Ariana is right, the culture and conversation around success and what you need to sacrifice to achieve our traditional definition of it needs to change. It will be interesting to see what she can do with Thrive Global with her full focus devoted to it. My hope is that her profile will draw much needed attention to creating better working conditions for all employees.