Over the last decade, hustle culture has become a common mentality and lifestyle among celebrities, influencers, executives, and working professionals. However, the glorification of working longer, more arduous hours in the pursuit of success has led to an issue with workers feeling defeated, disengaged, and burned out.
A 2022 survey conducted by Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence involving 2,100 employees and executives found that:
- 70% of C-level executives are seriously considering quitting their jobs for one that better supports their well-being.
- Both employees and executives struggle to prioritize their well-being and think work is to blame.
- Over 40% of employees feel exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed.
- 30% of executives feel lonely.
- Well over 50% of employees and executives are experiencing fatigue and mental health issues.
Hustle culture survives on the desire to accomplish more, and the notion that work alone will provide a sense of purpose and worthiness. What it doesn’t allow for, however, is downtime, personal time, moments with family or loved ones, or opportunities to engage in hobbies.
Since the pandemic shifted work norms, business owners and employees have taken a closer look at their workplace culture. In recent years, most large companies have recognized the importance of work-life balance for retaining good employees and maintaining productivity. Additionally, workers have become less willing to sacrifice their health and personal lives for work, and they realize the importance of disconnecting.
- Hustle culture is the idea that working harder and accomplishing more will provide a sense of purpose and worthiness.
- Hustle culture becomes toxic when it impacts your sense of purpose, leaves you feeling exhausted, and reduces your productivity.
- Nearly 80% of employees report experiencing work-related stress, and most are dealing with disengagement, a lack of motivation, and low energy.
- Research shows that hustle culture doesn’t necessarily work, with weekly productivity rates decreasing after 55 hours.
This article will discuss the hustle culture phenomenon, what research shows about those living it, and how to free yourself from it by defining healthy standards for personal and professional success.
What Is Hustle Culture?
Hustle culture is the mentality that working intensively, with few breaks or moments to disconnect, is the best way to reach professional goals. Also known as grind culture and toxic productivity, it involves working hours far beyond the standard 40 per week, and intrudes on an employee’s personal life.
At the turn of the 20th century, production was the primary goal for workers. However, as industries grew in the 1970s, grind culture emerged (alongside the term “workaholism”). In the 1990s and 2000s, technology startups in Silicon Valley hired young employees to work long days in fast-paced environments for the chance at high rewards. Thanks to the advent of social media, this mentality took off, influencing millennials in the workplace to believe “grinding” harder than anyone else resulted in enormous success.
For “hustlers,” the following sentiments are true:
- Massive effort leads to massive rewards, including money, status, and power.
- Small successes provide temporary bursts of energy and motivation, which allows the hustle to continue.
- Everything centers around competition. Whoever is working harder and longer hours is going to be more successful.
Famous Advocates of Hustle Culture
- Gary Vaynerchuk: Gary Vaynerchuk (also known as GaryVee) is an entrepreneur, speaker, and internet personality who often spoke about “the hustle” when the mindset was peaking around 2018–2019. Vaynerchuk believes that work ethic is part of the goal-reaching equation. He explains hustling as the “happy pursuit” of a goal that comes from a passion and says, “Smart work will never replace hard work, it only supplements it.” Vaynerchuk has, however, discussed the evolution of hustle culture and how it has become “demonized” in recent years.
- Elon Musk: Elon Musk is also a proponent of grind culture and tweeted in 2018, “Nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week,” referring to the 100-hour weeks that Tesla employees worked during the production of the Model 3 sedan. In lectures on his early days in technology, Musk explains that he slept in his office seven days a week. “Work hard every waking hour. If someone else is working 50 hours and you’re working 100, you’ll get twice as much done in the course of a year,” he said.
- Adam Neumann: Hustling was a significant element of WeWork’s brand when it launched in 2010. With their “Thank God It’s Monday” celebrations and “Work Is Life” platform, founder Adam Neumann focused on making long days at work more appealing and promoted the workaholic lifestyle. Today, however, WeWork is under new management and their vision has shifted to offering “flexible solutions” and “safety-focused spaces” that make workers feel more “motivated, productive, and happy.”
How Hustle Culture Impacts American Workers
“Workers within the grind mentality are rushing to fulfill their ambitions and become a ‘mega-success.'”David Heinemeier Hansson
Hustle culture promotes hard work and reaching goals, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But the mentality is flawed, and recent reports on worker stress and burnout prove it.
Research shows pros and cons to the hustle mentality, with the effects depending heavily on the number of hours worked, reasons for working, and perceived sense of fulfillment. Here’s a breakdown of the potential benefits and dangers of hustle culture:
Potential Pros of Hustle Culture
- Promotions and Recognition: Hustling at work may lead to applause and incentives from management, promotions, and raises. Jennifer Herrity, a seasoned career services professional, suggests that volunteering for additional responsibilities at work and exceeding professional goals may increase your chances of getting a promotion.
- Increased Income: Working longer hours or having multiple jobs may increase your annual income. A report from Zippia found that when weekly hours worked went from 40 to 45, there was a 42% increase in earnings.
- Increased Productivity: Hustling at work may increase productivity, until a certain point. A study conducted at Stanford University found that workers can reap the benefits of 50-hour workweeks with increased productivity. However, the data shows that productivity drops significantly after working 55 hours per week.
Potential Cons of Hustle Culture
- Mental Fatigue and Burnout: Exhaustion is normalized in hustle culture, but this mindset has proven to be profoundly unsustainable and can lead to burnout and health problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that work-related fatigue is commonly associated with nonstandard schedules, such as night shift work and extended hours. Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Occupational Health found that compared to a 40-hour workweek, the risk of work-related burnout doubled after 60 hours of work.
- Less Personal Time: When it comes to hustle culture, there’s not a lot of room for free time. However, the desire for more time off is one reason “quiet quitting” has become popular. Professionals want free time for their hobbies, families, and friends. For instance, 96% of adults report engaging in some sort of leisure or sports activity every day of the week. With hustle culture, there is little time in the day for events like this.
- Poorer Health: The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that working long hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29% increase from the year 2000. Deaths from these heart conditions resulted from working at least 55 hours a week. Furthermore, a meta-analysis published in 2019 concluded that working long hours increases the risk of:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Poor sleep quality
- Alcohol use and smoking
- All-cause mortality
Signs You’re Stuck in Hustle Culture
How do you know if you’re stuck in a hustle culture mindset? If overworking is expected, applauded, and incentivized, you may be in an unhealthy work environment. While working long hours toward a common goal can be motivating and invigorating for some people, it can have detrimental effects on others.
Signs that you’re a part of the grind culture include:
- Answering work emails and phone calls at any hour of the day
- Being punished or criticized for taking time off
- Feeling obliged to choose work over family
- Losing passions and interests outside of work
- Working no matter what the cost
- Constantly pushing yourself beyond your boundaries
- Becoming addicted to work
- Choosing work over sleep
- Pushing friends and family away because of your work schedule
- Missing personal events and get-togethers
- Thinking you never have enough time for friends and family
Burnout Symptoms From Hustling at Work
If the list above sounds familiar, you may be feeling the effects of the hustle mentality and experiencing signs of burnout. The World Health Organization defines burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” resulting from work-related stress.
When burned out, you might experience:
- Energy depletion
- Increased mental distance from your job
- Feelings of negativity regarding your job
- Reduced productivity
6 Ways to Free Yourself From Toxic Productivity
1. Define Success and Get Your Priorities Straight
True success is long-lasting and positively impacts other people’s lives. Professor at Harvard Business School Rosabeth Moss Kanter says, “A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more.”
People in a place of toxic productivity have often lost sight of their personal versions of success. To be successful in a way that feels impactful to you, create a vision statement that clarifies your purpose and priorities.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to pinpoint your top priorities:
- “What does my perfect day look like?”
- “Where do I want to be in one year? What about three years?”
- “If I could choose any career, what would it be?”
- “What are some issues in the world that I want to help solve?”
- “What do I get most excited about?”
- “What steps need to be taken to fulfill my vision?”
2. Set Purpose-Driven Goals
Hard work becomes toxic and meaningless when you’ve lost your sense of purpose, have adopted self-limiting beliefs, and spent time working toward goals that lack passion.
Go back to this question, over and over again: “What am I working toward?” Venture capitalist John Doerr said in a TED Talk, “Many of us are setting goals wrong and most of us are not setting goals at all.” He suggests that most goals set by companies or individuals lack a sense of purpose to inspire their teams. Truly transformational teams combine ambition, passion, and purpose to create goals, according to Doerr.
3. Develop a Growth Mindset
A growth mindset is a belief that your skills and abilities can grow over time. Having a growth mindset means accepting your mistakes and learning from them, focusing on learning and development, and embracing challenges because you aren’t afraid of failure. Adopting this mentality may boost self-esteem, reduce work-related anxiety, and improve resilience.
Develop a growth mindset by:
- Embracing new experiences and learning new skills
- Committing to personal growth and professional improvement
- Practicing serving others by being a source of support and encouragement
- Ditching perfectionism and seeing challenges as adventures
- Focusing on what matters to you and relinquishing preconceived notions of success
4. Practice Time Management
Basecamp co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson advocates for 40-hour weeks and 8-hour days. “That’s all you need,” he said. “If you can turn that into having 2–3–4 hours of uninterrupted time, you’ll run circles around people who are working twice as long, just thrashing all over the place, spinning their wheels, and producing a lot of smoke.” Hansson believes that time management is far more effective than aimlessly working longer, harder hours.
To practice time management, do this:
- Pinpoint your purpose and top 2–3 priorities
- Plan short- and long-term goals that get you closer to your mission
- Practice time-blocking daily tasks, dedicating a certain period of time to deep work, logistic work, and personal time
- Minimize interruptions that reduce productivity, including social media and internet scrolling
- Delegate when possible, trusting team members to take on tasks that work toward your aligned goals
5. Set Boundaries (And Stick to Them)
While there’s nothing wrong with hard work, and it will certainly serve your professional goals, it’s more effective when you build a system that works for you. An effective system involves clear professional boundaries. Dr. Henry Cloud, the author of Boundaries for Leaders, said in a YouTube lecture, “A boundary is a property line,” and you get to control what happens on your property. If your manager at work, for example, intrudes on your property with extra requests after work hours, that’s outside of your boundaries.
Set healthy boundaries at work by:
- Defining your limits and making them known
- Communicating your boundaries to your manager and coworkers
- Saying “no” when a request intrudes on your boundaries
- Being consistent, keeping your boundaries clear
6. Disconnect Regularly
In Leisure: The Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper wrote, “Leisure is only possible when we are at one with ourselves. We tend to overwork as a means of self-escape, as a way of trying to justify our existence.” To avoid getting into a routine of toxic productivity, make sure you’re putting time aside for leisurely, refueling activities.
Some ways to disconnect from work include:
- Adding designated personal time to your schedule
- Turning off email and work app notifications after work hours
- Engaging in activities you enjoy, like hiking, cycling, painting, and more
- Enjoying meals with family and friends
- Sticking to an AM and PM routine that allows for alone time
Striking a Balance Between Hustling and Enjoying Life
Working hard to reach a goal can be impactful and enjoyable, as long as you’re doing it in a meaningful and vision-focused way.
How do you work hard and maintain productivity, but still take time to enjoy life?
- Stick to a daily routine that includes both professional and personal time.
- Let go of perfectionism and shift to a growth mindset.
- Block out periods of time for 2–3 hours of deep work.
- Plan vacations and recharge days.
- Have a clear end-of-work time and stick to it.
- Go back each week and review your accomplishments; reevaluate your goals and learn from your mistakes.
Now that you’re ready to live with a better work-life balance, maximize your work time off so that you feel refueled and motivated to keep reaching your goals.
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