(Bloomberg) – Weeks after leaving her eponymous news website to launch a corporate wellness service called Thrive, Arianna Huffington has hired former New York Times and Google executives for the new venture, aiming to teach companies to "treat the whole human being."
As it enters the crowded workplace wellness industry, with its quit-smoking incentives and step challenges, Thrive intends to go beyond the usual offerings to focus on "the mental aspects of our lives, what's happening in our heads," Huffington said in an interview.
"This is all something that you bring to work," she added.
Huffington spent more than a decade running the Huffington Post, which she founded in 2005, but over the years her interest shifted from news to the pursuit of elusive work-life balance. In the last two years, she has published two books—Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder and the nap-at-work manifesto The Sleep Revolution—full of theories she's now spinning into her new business. Last month, she announced she was leaving her namesake site to pursue her latest venture.
Thrive will officially launch Nov. 30, Huffington said. In the meantime, the company is staffing up: Rajiv Pant, a former chief technology officer at the New York Times, has come on as CTO, and Kathryn Friedrich, who spent the better part of a decade at Google and YouTube, will join next month as chief marketing officer.
Both said Huffington's plea for a more humane work-life balance drew them to the organization. "I was truly stressed out. This is something I personally connected with," said Pant. "If you look at my tweets, they're about behavior, getting enough sleep. This is the right company."
Friedrich thinks Thrive can create a more positive work-life experience than even Google, considered an Eden of workplace culture. "Google tries to create a good existence for their employees. They do a fantastic job," she said. "The one thing that might be missing that Arianna wants to bring to the table are metrics. It's one thing to put all the offerings out there. It’s another thing to measure the success of those things." (Google is known for studying its company culture's effects on employees' productivity and happiness.)
At its core, Thrive is a corporate wellness consultancy: Companies pay Thrive-trained coaches to bestow health and wellness tips on their overworked and underperforming staffs. They can opt for online courses or in-person trainings, with sessions ranging from a couple of hours to six weeks. Huffington said that the consulting firm Accenture has already piloted trainings and that JPMorgan Chase has also signed on for a partnership.
In addition to its courses, Thrive will also have a media arm, as Bloomberg reported in June. Huffington has previously said Thrive is not a media company but said in an interview that it will have "a consumer platform attached to the corporate platform that will be constantly reinforcing our message." Much like the Huffington Post, the site will rely on big names, like athletes and experts, for its content. It will also sell wellness-related products like pillows and food supplements, and Huffington hopes it will eventually become a discussion platform open to the public—something the company is working on with Medium, she said.
The sell? All of this, in theory, services Thrive's clients' bottom lines.
But with its entry into the corporate wellness industry, which market research firm IBISWorld values at $6 billion, Thrive is competing within an already crowded space. And Huffington—who champions digital detoxing, office napping and actually unplugging on vacation—is not alone in pushing mindfulness on companies. Many other wellness companies address both body and mind, too, offering office fitness alongside meditation. (Here's just one example.)
Corporate wellness budgets have ballooned as companies try to curb health insurance costs, since a healthier workforce means lower insurance costs and higher productivity. But a much-cited RAND Corporation study has called many such wellness offerings into question, finding that for all the money poured into them, they save little on health care: For every $1 spent on "lifestyle management" programs—like smoking cessation and weight-loss initiatives—companies saved just 50 cents, the study found.
Huffington is confident Thrive's holistic approach will yield better results for both clients and workers, saying the Rand study "really didn't address things like stress and burnout." Thrive, she said, will rely only on "evidence-based" methods for its courses; it has hired Adam Grant, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, to study its work with Accenture.
"As we get more evidence, we will be adopting and adjusting everything we are doing," said Huffington. Maybe napping at the office only works during certain times of day? Or maybe meetings are actually better when everyone has a cell phone?
For now, in its own SoHo offices, Thrive plans to practice what it preaches. Meetings will be device-free. ("We have beautiful notebooks," said Huffington.) And, yes, there will be a place to nap.
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