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We have a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to redefine productivity and work: Thrive Global CEO

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Arianna Huffington, Founder and CEO of Thrive Global & Patrick Stokes, EVP & GM of Platform, Salesforce, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss, employee support in post-pandemic world, return to the workplace, and mental health.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Welcome back. Research shows that employees dissatisfied with their work technology are more than twice as likely to leave their job in the next year. To help address that issue, Salesforce has partnered with Thrive Global's Arianna Huffington to expand its Work.com platform to help people succeed in a hybrid workforce.

We are delighted to have with us Arianna Huffington herself, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, and Patrick Stokes, who is executive vice president and GM of Platform at Salesforce. Thanks to you both for being here. Patrick, I'm actually going to start with you. I'm hoping you can set the stage for us about why you felt the need to expand Work.com and some of the challenges that hybrid workers are facing right now.

PATRICK STOKES: Sure. Well, thanks so much for having us on, Alexis and Kristin, a pleasure to be here. You know, we're in a really incredible period of time. Over the last year and a half, the way that we work has fundamentally changed. But perhaps more importantly, the relationship that we have with our work has fundamentally changed, the relationship we have with where we work and how we get to work and the applications that we use to do our work or to do our job.

And this last year and a half has really forced employees to reevaluate that relationship. And as the economy has really started to get back and people are starting to kind of go back to work, I think business leaders have an opportunity now as well, and perhaps even a mandate to re-evaluate those things as well and to redefine their employees' work. And we know this because people want more freedom. They're feeling burnt out. They want a more frictionless experience with where they work and the tools that they use.

And so we have an opportunity to provide some incredible tools, tools that are more consumer-like tools, like Facebook and Google, that employees of today have really grown up using. And so we're really excited about that opportunity, and we're thrilled to be working with Arianna and Thrive Global. We're really learning so much from working together.

KRISTIN MYERS: So Arianna, I want to come to you now because I think we talk about this quite a bit. What are some of the ways that employees need to be supported right now, especially as they are experiencing those levels of burnout? What initiatives really need to happen? What policies need to be implemented to make sure that workers aren't feeling stressed and burned out and struggling with mental health?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Well, the first thing, as Patrick said, is to acknowledge this connection between health and well-being on the one hand and performance and business metrics on the other. These two things, because of the pandemic, have now been seen and are being seen by management everywhere are completely integrated. So what we are doing with Salesforce, as an example, is meeting workers whatever they are. They are on Work.com in any interface, their mobile, their iPad, their work laptop. Wherever they are, we come to them.

Depending on the assessment they fill, we know what area they are struggling with. Is it sleep? Is it food? Is it movement? Is it stress? And we feed them targeted micro steps, as we call them, small, incremental steps that will help them adopt healthier behaviors and achieve better results and content, storytelling that will help inspire and empower them.

And then we continue that relationship. So they don't have to download a dedicated app. They can just get that content, those micro steps exactly where they are. And I think workers more and more really want that. The idea of office perks, ping-pong table and endless snacks is no longer enough. And what workers-- we see from all the surveys-- expect and want is support in living a healthier and more productive life and cultural permission from the top and that this is the future and, increasingly, the present.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You know, Patrick, we're sort of seeing this phenomenon right now, as more cities open up, people are going back to some normalcy. They're going out dining again. They're going to some entertainment venues and sports venues. But there is that hesitancy to go back to the office. I think a number of things are at play there, but can you maybe tick off maybe some of the reasons why we're seeing that?

PATRICK STOKES: Well, I think people want to feel safe, right? They want to know, when they get back to the office, that they can get there safely, that their organization has done everything that they can to make sure that those employees are going back safely. But I also think there's an element of people have been working differently, and they want to know that when they get back to the office, that they have a little bit more flexibility that they've had in the past, that they can do their best work and really kind of exist and be as creative as possible. And so I think people want to feel safe, but they also-- you know, they want to bring some of the flexibility that they've had, that they've been able to kind of experience over the last year and a half, and they want to know that their employer is thinking about how to provide that flexibility for them as well.

KRISTIN MYERS: If employers don't give that type of flexibility and that support, Arianna, do you think that they're going to continue to struggle, as we have been seeing lately, to bring more workers back into the workforce? Because we're hearing now a lot of workers are saying, listen, I can stay at home. I'm getting unemployment. And I don't need to be as stressed out as I was when I was in the workforce not getting paid well, not having good benefits, being stressed out and burned out all the time. I'd rather stay at home and be on unemployment. I mean, until workers-- or excuse me, employers-- really start to address some of these issues, do you think the labor market can really get back on its feet?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Well, at the heart of this whole big debate is the issue of burnout, as you identified it. Burnout has become a global epidemic that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. But at the same time, we have an opportunity-- actually, a once-in-a-generation opportunity-- to redefine productivity and work.

Because just think of it, even pre-pandemic, we were working breathlessly, frenetically. Diseases like diabetes and hypertension were skyrocketing. So was the mental health crisis. So there is a tremendous idea and pressure at the moment to use this pandemic as a catalyst for fundamental change and not to go back.

So some of what you said-- you know, the reluctance to go back-- is not just the reluctance to go back to a physical space. It's the reluctance to go back to a way of working and living that was not working, even pre-pandemic. And I think it's a healthy reluctance because it gives us an opportunity to redefine how we go back.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: You know, last night, there was the New York City mayoral debate for the Democratic candidates, and one of the questions asked of the candidates was how much sleep do you get a night. And Arianna, I know you and I have talked in the past about the importance of sleep. And some of these candidates were almost wearing it like a badge of honor, saying, you know, I get three hours a night, I get four hours a night. What would your message to them be?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Actually, I just socialed-- I just tweeted this. Because the truth is that we now have so much science and so much data that sleep deprivation is linked to bad decisions, to lower productivity, so leaders need to stop bragging that they'll sleep when they're dead and recognize that actually, the city that never sleeps, New York, needs a mayor who does because that's the best way to get a mayor who makes great decisions and increasingly, as we talk about the importance of empathetic leadership, well, empathy is the first thing that's depleted when we are running on empty.

KRISTIN MYERS: And Patrick, I want to come to you here just to kind of circle back to what we're chatting about here about creating work products that really help workers and employees in this more hybrid workspace. I think we focused a lot on the employee and how it's necessary to care for their, you know, emotional and mental well-being. I'm curious to know the flip side of this, right? Because I think we've heard of a couple of CEOs come out and really lambast this work-from-home movement. But I'm curious to know, from your position, really, how is this new hybrid workplace making things easier for the worker, coming to where they are, improving the tech that they essentially interface with in this hybrid world that we're now going to be in? How is this actually a positive or a boost for companies as they move forward out of the pandemic?

PATRICK STOKES: Yeah, well, we think it's a huge positive. We think employees that have more flexibility, that are able to work in environments that are really comfortable for them, where they-- that's where they can do their best work, right? That's where the creativity comes out. And we know that, you know, customers-- or excuse me, employees-- that are feeling really happy, that are feeling really productive, they're going to do their best work. And when they do their best work-- this is the thing that a lot of CIOs are starting to come around to is when their employees are doing their best work, that reflects on the business. That reflects directly to their customers and ultimately, to their revenue growth.

And so it's really important. We've all been on a customer service line, right? Where we've heard a really unhappy customer service rep on the other side of that. That's usually because they're overworked or burnt out or don't have all the right tools or don't have all the right connections. And so when we can improve that, when we can make that a really amazing experience for that employee, it's going to have a direct impact on customer satisfaction as well.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Absolutely. I think this is really the key, to recognize that the two are interconnected. If you have stressed out employees dealing with anxiety, depression, they're not going to be productive. And what we see-- and that's why we break it down into micro steps-- that even 60 seconds of a pause between Zoom meetings, of some deep breaths, of a stretch, of remembering what you are grateful for, just very simple, basic micro steps, can make a big difference to returning to work in a more productive way.

We even use these micro steps at call centers, as Patrick mentioned, where stressed out to operators are delivering an inferior customer experience. But if you give them these moments of breaks, the data shows unequivocally that we can reduce the cortisol stress hormone in the body and move out of fight or flight and be much more effective and much more empathetic.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Arianna Huffington, always great to see you. Patrick Stokes of Salesforce.


ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: --thank you both for stopping by today. We appreciate it.