Burnout: Civilizations Disease
About three ago I found myself on a hospital bed questioning my life. I was scared, humiliated, and was questioning everything I had ever said about the “hustle”.
As the story goes, I had just left football to focus on business because I had been so exhausted trying to go after both. Business had started to pick up, college academics were taking up 8 hours of my day, and I was a quarterback in football. If I was lucky, I’d get three hours of sleep a night, but most of the time it was two. My body never had the proper time to heal from workouts, my focus in business wasn’t there completely, my grades slipped to B’s and there was an overwhelming amount of stress from trying to keep up with it all.
The day after our annual spring game for Humboldt State University, I had a long talk with my quarterback coach and told him I had decided to move down to San Diego to work back and forth on the business in West Hollywood with my business partner, Antony Schreurs. It was one of the hardest decisions I had made in my life. I had already taken a step back from football temporarily the year before and I felt that I had let down a lot of my teammates leaving again to pursue business. Regardless, I was excited to make something happen with the company. Then, something that I had been fearing would happen did; the years of little sleep and bad treatment to my body caught up with me.
My family and I had gone on a vacation just a couple weeks after I hung up the cleats and as I was coming off a sickness for already the sixth or seventh time that year. Well, at the hotel I remember waking up late at night in the most pain I had felt in my life in my jaw and trust me, I had taken some beatings and hard hits in my life with football and nothing compared to this. I looked like the main character from American Dad. My mom said we should go to the hospital and I refused because I wanted to go to my aunt’s wedding. That was a bad decision. The pain worsened over the next two days and as it goes, I wound up headed to the hospital.
I had a bad infection in my parotid glands and the doctors were worried that the infection was too close to my brain. My immune system had been so depleted from how I treated my body it couldn’t fight the infection off. Had I been just a day or two later, I might not be here today the doctor had told me. We had to take X-rays, had an IV in me, and just felt ashamed I was in that situation on a vacation to say the least. I was like a deer caught in headlights. For the next month, I had to take to antibiotics everyday and listen to my mom say “Make sure you’re drinking water! Get Sleep!” I am incredibly grateful for my parents and I thought it was about time I listened to them haha.
OUR CIVILIZATION’S DISEASE
Belgian philosopher Pascal Chabot calls burnout “civilization’s disease.” It’s a disorder that reflects some of our excessive values of our society. Majority of people in the United States have a toxic outlook on what it takes to be successful and a result of that toxic perspective is an epidemic of addiction.
More than twenty two million people in the US are using illegal drugs, more than twelve million are using prescription painkillers, and almost nine million need prescription sleep aids to go to sleep. On top of that, the percentage of adults in the US taking antidepressants has gone up 400 percent since 1991. That number in the UK is 495%!
Germany in the past few years has lost more than fifty-nine million workdays to psychological illness, up over 80% in the past fifteen years.
According to a Harvard Medical School study, an insane 96% of leaders said they felt burned out. CEO of Lloyds Banking Group, Antonio Horta Osorio had taken a two month leave in 2011 because he felt “overworked, lack of sleep.”
When he returned he had told reporters, “With the benefit of hindsight I should have gone a bit slower.”
HEALTH IN THE BOTTOM LINE
In the current Western workplace we’re seeing two very different and competing worlds. In one world we see a business culture single mindedly obsessed with earnings reports, maximizing short term profits, and beating growth expectations. In the other world, we see an increasing recognition of the effects workplace stress have on the well-being of employees and on the company’s bottom line. Individually, we compromise our health and happiness.
Studies show that U.S. employers spend 200 to 300% more on on the indirect costs of health care, in the form of absenteeism, sick days, and lower productivity, than they do on actual health care. A lot of companies have started to take an aggressive approach to employee wellness and it is starting to show.
Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks, faced pressures from investors during the less profitable years to cut employee benefits. He never caved in though. During the early years at Starbucks, Schultz was adamant about expanding health care coverage to include part-timers who worked as little as twenty hours a week which was unheard of in the 1980s. He saw the benefits plan just a couple decades later when they were having a tough economic time, “not as a generous option, but a core strategy. Treat people like family, and they will be loyal and give their all.”
The lack of attention on employee needs explains why the United States spends more on healthcare than other countries but gets worse outcomes.
CREATING A CULTURE OF WELL-BEING
Increasingly, companies are realizing that their employees’ health is one of the most important predictors of the company’s health. One of the most popular classes Google offers employees is known as SIY which stands for “Search Inside Yourself.” It’s a class that was created by Chade-Meng Tan, and engineer and Google employee 107! The course teaches on self-knowledge and building mental habits. Powerful mental programs are being developed by companies all around the world and there’s great reason! One of the biggest things companies are having employees do is meditation.
“The main case for meditation is that if you’re on the job, you will be more effective as a leader,” says Bill George, a Harvard Business School professor. Among Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For,” Salesforce.com offers free yoga and forty-eight hours of paid time to volunteer in the community. Companies like this create a culture of well being and that’s something I have been implementing in my life and my staff as well.
Something I teach to my staff is to meditate in the morning to focus and prepare for the day ahead. Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater, one of the largest hedge funds in the world, considers it “the single most important reason” for his success and pays for his employees’ meditation classes and will pick up the entire bill if they commit to it for more than six months.
John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods had once said, “We must bring love out of the corporate closet.” I believe that if our leaders promote health conscious and mindful environment building practices then our culture here in the United States will strengthen immensely.
It’s been an incredible feeling to learn about the different ways we can increase productivity while seeming to do less “work”. If you can take it from anyone, take it from me, I learned the lesson first hand and now understand the importance making sure my body is taken care of. It’s the only one we get, it’s our temple.