Leadership

Why taking care of the ‘human capital’ of your employees is vital: Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington attends an In Conversation with Founder and Chief Executive of Indigo Heather Reisman about her new book 'Thrive' at Indigo Manulife Centre on April 21, 2014 in Toronto, Canada.
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Arianna Huffington attends an In Conversation with Founder and Chief Executive of Indigo Heather Reisman about her new book 'Thrive' at Indigo Manulife Centre on April 21, 2014 in Toronto, Canada.

Taking care of well-being in the workplace is becoming an "incredibly important investment" to companies, to the point where it's likely to be as vital as investing in technology, media mogul Arianna Huffington said Thursday.

The start-up that Huffington founded, Thrive Global, is dedicated to providing strategies and tools to enhance well-being, purpose and performance for individuals and businesses.

In a recent Paychex report that surveyed over 2,000 U.S. full-time employees, it was revealed how prominent stress actually is in the workplace. More than 60 percent of participants stated that, on average, they were feeling levels of stress at least three days a week — highlighting that it is an issue that needs to be taken seriously in the workplace.

In fact, according to Huffington, the world is currently facing an "epidemic" of stress and burnout.

"What we are finding at the moment is we are dealing with an epidemic of stress and burnout everywhere — and it's affecting all outcomes," Arianna Huffington, Thrive Global's founder and CEO, said at a CNBC-hosted panel.

Arianna Huffington
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Arianna Huffington

Speaking at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Huffington described how stress and burnout were having an economic burden on countries, making reference to the U.S. as a prime example.

"Stress and burnout are costing U.S. businesses $300 billion. It's affecting, in a very deep way, health care and health care costs; because 75 percent of diseases and health care costs are because of preventable stress-related conditions, and we see that globally," she said at the panel.

"When people are burnt out, they also act out, and this has a disproportionate impact on women; because when they act out, the worst comes out in them, including sexist behavior.

"We are now finding that being able to take care of the human capital of your employees is an incredibly important investment… So, remembering investments in our human capital are going to be as important as investments in technology, in the future."

On top of stress, companies are facing a host of challenges when it comes to their workforce, such as issues with employee productivity, retention and engagement.

In June, Gallup's Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton wrote a blog post that stated that a global poll by the management consulting firm saw only 15 percent of the world's 1 billion full-time workers feeling a sense of strong engagement at work. Consequently, the global workplace appears to have a number of issues to tackle going forward.

"All these issues… are not just HR issues, they are CFO (chief financial officer) issues, because they fundamentally affect the bottom line," Huffington said.

"(Companies and leaders) need to make it possible for employees not to be so burnt out that they are running on empty, and operating simply on short-term principles."

Well-being: Why recharging is important

While the importance of fighting burnout in the workplace is gradually becoming more recognized, the problems of stress and exhaustion aren't something that can be fixed overnight. But some leading chief executives are taking note.

Last year, during an interview with Thrive Global, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos revealed that by making sure he slept for eight hours a night, to feel energized, he noticed subsequent benefits for his shareholders.

"If you shortchange your sleep, you might get a couple of extra 'productive' hours, but that productivity might be an illusion. When you're talking about decisions and interactions, quality is usually more important than quantity," Bezos said.

Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt echoed a similar sentiment in September, writing on Thrive Global that good sleep can "only enhance your physical and mental ability to do almost everything."

When a leader recognizes that they need to take care of their human capital, they can then become better and more effective leaders, Huffington explained during the panel — and that's a quality that employees need to acknowledge too.

"What women are going to need, is very much what men are going to need, which is the recognition that we have been living under this delusion that in order to succeed, to be most effective at our jobs, we need to burnout," said Huffington.

"We have been celebrating sleep deprivation, being always on and now we have the science, we have the data that makes it unequivocally clear that we actually need to recharge, in order to be able to be most effective and most creative.

"It's critical that (people) have that opportunity to recharge and return to work, operating and running on all cylinders."

CNBC's Hadley Gamble contributed to this report.

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