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Time-Off as a Band-Aid for Burnout: Burnout & The Universal Law of Cause and Effect.

I’ll start with the obvious. Everyone is exhausted, tired, and burnt out these days. This is a passion of mine because I spent nearly 20 years in burnout -mode working at ad agencies. So I know what’s its like to operate life that way. I also know what it’s like on the other side. And while life still has its stressors and anxieties, I no longer operate from a place of crisis. Now more than ever, with employees already feeling burnt out and the stress of returning to the workplace, I want to raise the consciousness around the spiritual lessons of burnout and what we can do to alleviate it.

There are two related sides to burnout - individual burnout and collective burnout. Ultimately, we must all be responsible and take accountability for our individual well-being. When I went through the process of rehab from alcohol addiction, I needed to be honest with myself and face my decisions. While I definitely experienced certain traumas in life (as we all do), I was no longer a victim of those experiences. I needed to hold myself accountable for healing and choosing a new path forward. Whether it’s the individual or an organization, we must be brave and face the deeper causes of illness from a physical, emotional, and spiritual perspective if we want to heal.

Collective burnout, as it appears in organizations, results from our shared traumas, stressors, etc – COVID being an obvious shared experience right now. During the pandemic, extra employee time off has become the trend with companies such as Nike, LinkedIn, Bumble, and more looking to deal with burnout.

On the surface, extra time off makes sense. But it only makes sense if we’re looking at a physical, material world. In our industrialized society, we’re conditioned to only look at the superficial. If a part in a machine breaks down, you fix the part and everything is working again.

If people are tired, then give them to rest. Makes sense, right? But this isn’t always the case. When I worked at agencies, my favorite time of year was the week between Christmas and New Years. This is because most agencies in NYC would close down and most clients were off as well. It was an amazing week, because everything was offline. But sure enough, by New Years Day, my anxiety began. Within an hour of being back in the office, it was as if I never had time off. I was already exhausted. And I knew this was true with my co-workers and clients. While I may have had some rest, I returned to an environment that supported burnout, and so I was back to my old patterns. Research listed in the New York Times verifies this effect.

So why is this? From the spiritual point of view, it comes down to the law of “cause and effect”, which states that for every action (cause) there is a reaction (effect). Everything in our society from machinery to healthcare has been trained to think the best course of action is to constantly treat the reaction/effect. Take this pill, take that pill, just exercise, only eat keto, etc.

But we must look at the cause.

As the alcoholic knows, only abstaining from alcohol won’t cure addiction. The underlying cause of alcoholism was never alcohol but was the desire to numb, escape, and regulate the nervous system from past trauma. If you take alcohol away from the alcoholic and don’t treat the underlying issues, an addiction of another sort will pop up.

As a collective, we must be willing to dig deeper beyond surface issues, face our shadows, and honestly admit the changes we need to live more balanced, peaceful lives. While additional time off is certainly welcome and should be part of plans to return balance to workplaces, it can’t be the only solve if we want to create sustainable, healthy environments for all.

In Shamanic traditions, everything is energy. The energy we use can either be life promoting or life depleting. Something that’s struck me lately is even though we’re a largely unconscious society, our spiritual nature innately finds its way into expressions – such as “lighten up, that place gave me bad vibes, they have good energy.” In the case of “burnt out” – it’s a signal that our light has been extinguished, and an invitation to bring back that light (our authentic selves).

In energy medicine, whenever illness such as burnout appears, it always signals an imbalance somewhere in mind, body, or spirit (or all). If employees collectively are experiencing burnout, it signals an imbalance in the organization where the employee is giving more than they’re receiving from the employer. The only way to treat the root of the imbalance is to look at what’s causing it.

Here’s a list of causes of imbalance from the physical, emotional, mental, AND the spiritual perspectives your organization might be facing. I’ve also listed some thought provoking questions.

  • BURNOUT CULTURE – this is probably the most common cause in places like ad agencies. The Law of Attraction states that like attracts like. Many of us who were raised in chaotic, unstable environments unconsciously create or like similar environments because it feels normal to the nervous system. Or people who received praise/ validation for studying extra hard or participating in grueling sports may need to over work in order to feel worthiness. For these cultures, it’s important to be compassionate to the life experience of employees and committed to their wellness. However, it’s important to not let these life experiences become the driving force for employee culture. As an organization, are you committed to creating a culture of balance? Are you committed to rehabbing employees who associate burnout with achievement?

  • INCONSISTENT WELLNESS CULTURE – does the HR team develop employee wellness programs and initiatives but managers receive bonuses solely on financials? Does everyone have wellness behaviors tied to performance reviews and bonuses?

  • EXCLUSIVE CULTURE – does your company cite diversity and inclusion measures but have leadership teams, managers, and boards that are part of one demographic? If so, you’re signaling to employees that it’s impossible to succeed (which is depleting).

  • TOXIC ENVIRONMENT – does your organization tolerate employees who are abusive, belittle others, and put profit over people? Does this behavior come from the top down?

  • “ALWAYS ON” ENVIRONMENT – does your company have clear boundaries on work hours? Is someone who works on global businesses expected to be always on? Are employees provided overtime for hours worked above 40 hours?

  • UNCLEAR PURPOSE/MISSION/VALUES – does your organization have a clearly defined purpose, mission, or values that employees feel part of?

  • INADEQUATE HEALTHCARE – do you provide free or low cost healthcare to employees? Does healthcare cover integrative wellness including therapy and energy healing?

  • INADEQUATE SALARIES – Financial stress is the top stressor when it relates to societal wellness. Are employees fairly compensated? Are employees equally compensated among gender, race, sexual orientation, etc? Do you have financial freedom incentives and education in place?

  • SOCIAL INJUSTICE – every BIPOC client of mine uses similar words whenever news of police brutality, voter suppression, unfair criminal justice systems comes on – “I’m tired.” What is your organization doing to promote a culture of equality? Does it put an organization POV in support of Black Lives Matter signed by an all white board? What accountability does your organization have to advance social justice issues?

  • INTEGRITY ISSUES – does the company finance or do business with people or organizations that harm the planet and people? Your employees WILL feel this whether they know about it or not.

  • LACK OF TRUST – do people within your organization say things like “well, if you can’t do it, I’ll find someone else who can”? Are HR conversations reported to managers without permission? Are employees asked to engage in anything unethical? Do employees feel safe, secure, and worthy in their positions?

While this list can be overwhelming, the main to remember is that healing is not an event – it’s a process. Individuals who have personally healed know it takes willingness and accountability to work on deep issues of wellness and imbalance. The same is true for organizations. Keep taking steps toward greater integrity and wellness, and employees will feel this shift and thank you.

As always, I’m here to support individuals and organizations struggling with burnout. Here’s wishing everyone greater balance, peace, and wholeness.

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