Redefining success

Written by Dilip Bobb | Updated: Aug 4 2013, 11:23am hrs
The Economist headquarters in Londons St James Street and The Huffington Post head office in New York are where the two media organisations display their attitude to work and employee well-being. The Economist provides a massage room for its editorial staff where they can unwind under the expert care of a masseur after, or during, a hard days work. The Huffington Post office has two nap rooms where employees can catch some shut eye and de-stress. Heres the rub, quite literally. Both facilities used to be rarely used because employees believed that they would be accused of shirking work. Nowadays, one needs to book the rooms in advance. Thats possibly one indication of how stress levels have increased under the economic turbulence of the past five years but, more importantly, a manifestation of the new definition of success and work culture.

In fact, The Huffington Post is a good example of the way that companies and even countries are redefining the matrix of success. Its founder, Arianna Huffington, one of the most powerful women in global media, has kicked off a series of conferencesthe latest in London last weekthemed Redefining Success beyond Money and Power. The emphasis may be on women in positions of power and authority but the focus of the conference is more universal in scope; to find a more sustainable definition of success that includes, as she says, well-being, wisdom and our ability to give back. The idea is to create a movement that embraces the idea that physical and spiritual wellness are integral to, and not separate from, a successful life. In other words, the spa in Googles California headquarters or the yoga room at the Infosys campus in Bangalore are as vital in todays world as the conference room or the workstation. As is family life

and pursuing other outside interests.

Whats quite obvious is that the economic downturn that has been sharper and taken a heavier toll than anyone anticipated, has led to a re-evaluation of life-work balance in corporate communities across the world. Redefining Success is also the overarching theme of a Global Economic Symposium to be held shortly in Kiel, Germany, where over 600 speakers ranging from decision-makers in politics, business, finance, academia and civil society will address the issue. The literature on the symposium states that In todays globalised world, too much emphasis is placed on economic success, measured in terms of material wealth... We need to redefine success in terms of the well-being that is generated by our activities and how this well-being is distributed across populations and generations. In India, home-grown companies like the Tata group, ITC, and lately, Infosys, Wipro and a few others have laid equal emphasis on employee well-being but the numbers are still embarrassingly few. Success in most of the world is still defined by the car you buy and the street you live on.

All that is changing and there is now a sense of urgency in redefining success. In the West, statistics show that the turmoil in the corporate world has led to issues like overwork, burnout, sleep deprivation, never seeing your family, being connected through email 24 hours a day and exhaustion. What is paradoxical about this is that these are actually parameters connected to success! Robert Michael Fried, author of A Marketing Plan for Life, writes that In todays turbulent times, we need to take a giant step back and wonder if weve been defining success far too narrowly for far too long. Today, even in business circles, its no longer just about making money (although thats still important)its about making meaning. Today, great companies realise that customers buy valuables from companies they value. Having a successful career presents only one blueprint for success. What you do for a living is very important but its not the totality of who you are.

Most social analysts point to the fact that in recent years, the obsession with work at the expense of family, friends and hobbies had reached extreme levels, based on the Darwinian concept of competition with others. Technology has extended office hours to an unlimited sphere. Working 24x7 had also become a badge of honour. The economic downturn took it to another extreme with job uncertainty becoming a factor. Now, its come full circle and the things we ignored are what keep us sane and balanced. Its also a cultural issue. Spain and Italy have had a different approach, with long breaks in the afternoons, which allow them to disconnect from the perpetual motion machine that corporate life has become elsewhere. Certain countries in Africa and Southeast Asia, including Cambodia and Vietnam, both once associated with war and mass killings, head the list of those with the best work-life balance, and Europe and the US are striving to follow suit.

The annual Yankelovich Monitor, that has been assessing American attitudes, lifestyles and values since 1971, found that fewer people see owning an expensive car as a sign of success, while being satisfied and in control of your life has grown over the years. The best example of that is a speech to students by David McCullough, a teacher at Wellesley High School. He told: Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.

The writer is Group Editor, Special Projects & Features,

The Indian Express