As part of The Executives’ Club of Chicago Women’s Leadership Series, Pamela Puryear, PhD, executive vice president and global chief human resources officer for Walgreens Boots Alliance, spoke with Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, regarding the challenges and opportunities women in the workface face in the midst of COVID-19.
Huffington acknowledged the undue pressure working women have taken on during the pandemic, whether by stepping away from their jobs or handling extra responsibilities at home. She described the need for companies to give “cultural permission” before true work-life reform can take shape. Although the pandemic has been devastating, it just might be the catalytic event leaders needed to acknowledge that now is the time for change. The very idea of hybrid work, Huffington noted, is not just about where people work, but how they do it, and the need to acquire hybrid skills in order to adapt.
In a nod to Puryear, Huffington mentioned that in her opinion, the role of CHRO is just as important as CEO in a crisis. There is a need to lead with empathy, navigate change with grace and for leaders to take care of themselves. These qualities have been called “soft skills” in the past, but as Puryear pointed out, they can actually be the hardest skills to master.
Puryear also took a moment to mention the SHEcession and the mental and financial impact the pandemic has had on women. To Huffington, women were already overworked. Employees are viewed as “human operating systems” in comparison to modern-day technological systems whose efficiencies can’t be topped. In the ongoing challenge to increase productivity, humans are doomed to fail if they don’t take time to recover. One of the main drivers of a company’s success is the health of their employees, Huffington noted. To this end, energy management becomes just as important as time management.
The four pillars of energy management, mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellness are intertwined. Huffington shared there is no such thing as work-life balance. What remains real is a person's ability to recharge. It can be difficult to make the leap from knowing what you need to do to actually doing it, but taking Microsteps and time for yourself can lead to lasting change.
Huffington recommended these Microsteps to avoid burnout. Taking 60- to 90-second breaks can be just as effective as a 20-minute meditation. Starting a short, 5-minute ritual of declaring the end of your workday and powering down your phone can pave the way for a more balanced life. Partners, in work and life, should ask each other, “What can I own?” instead of, “How can I help you?” Oftentimes, the problem isn’t needing help, it’s needing someone else to take ownership of a task or project.