Arianna Huffington: 'Burnout is the disease of civilization'

Written by Carrie Pallardy | October 27, 2015 | Print  |

Arianna Huffington, author and entrepreneur, could hardly be accused of being unsuccessful, but during the course of her career she has come to redefine what success means.

At one point, Ms. Huffington, functioning on limited sleep, collapsed from exhaustion and broke her cheek bone. "Is this is what success looks like? By the conventional definition of success I was, but by any sane definition I was not," she said at the Becker's ASC 22nd Annual Meeting – The Business and Operations of ASCs in Chicago.

Her story, while frightening and sobering for anyone pushing themselves past their limit, is unfortunately not unique. Just last month, BMW CEO Harold Krueger collapsed on stage while giving a public presentation. It has become common in workplace culture to go, go, go – without pausing to consider the short- and long-term consequences. "In the corporate environment, you see people regularly congratulating one another for working 24/7," said Ms. Huffington. Workers pride themselves on multitasking, their close, personal relationship with their smartphones and the ability to always be "on." But, multiple studies debunk the existence of multitasking, always checking your smartphone for work threatens a healthy work-life balance and no one has infinite  energy stores.

After her collapse, Ms. Huffington began to reevaluate her life and priorities. Today, she is committed to getting eight hours of sleep a night. "Defining success in just terms of money and power is like sitting on a two-legged stool," she said. "Sooner or later you will fall off." Ms. Huffington argued the third metric of success is rooted in personal well-being and health. This is a mentality she has tried to bring to the Huffington Post. The publication's New York office has two nap rooms, which Ms. Huffington noted are always full.

"The death rate holds steady at 100 percent," she said. A comment not meant to be grim, but to be used for perspective. Ms. Huffington has now banned devices at meetings, learned the power of delegation and committed to using vacations as actual restorative periods. "If we are lucky, we get a few 1,000 days to play the game of life in a healthy way," she said.

Burnout is a pervasive trend across multiple industries, amongst them healthcare. Physicians, C-suite executives, nurses – each of these groups are prone to overwork and stress. Ms. Huffington said, "Burnout is the disease of civilization." And considering the surveys, reports and articles categorizing and covering burnout in healthcare alone, it isn't difficult to see her point.  

"As consumers of healthcare we need to recognize our own responsibility." Burnout may be a disease, but the power to fight back is within each person's grasp.

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