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The Toxicity of Hustle Culture

Your alarm rings, and you wake up. First thing? Check your phone. You go to the bathroom, then recheck your phone. Then, you eat breakfast while bolting out the door and simultaneously scrolling through emails. When you finally make it to work, you scarf down meals in between meetings. When you finally “finish” work, it still follows you home. You continue to check and respond to emails while watching Netflix and talking to your family. Finally, fall asleep, despite all the blue light—the next day: repeat.

Does this sound familiar? It sounds pretty exhausting to me… This toxic cycle is called hustle culture: the societal standard that you must exert yourself at 110% capacity to succeed. Hustle culture is the collective drive to work harder, faster, stronger. Every. Single. Day.

Hustle culture doesn’t take breaks.

Hustle culture doesn’t sleep.

Hustle culture works day in and day out, pushing to maximize all 1440 minutes in every day.

You don’t stop when you’re tired; you stop when you’re done. And throughout all of this, you must embrace the façade that you absolutely LOVE what you do, no matter the pain it may cause.

“It creates the assumption that the only value we have as human beings is our productivity capability — our ability to work, rather than our humanity.” – Aidan Harper, creator of European workweek-shrinkage campaign ‘4 Day Week’

Even though data shows that working long hours and multitasking lowers productivity and kills creativity, hustle culture exists because it is the search to justify the hustle for the future payoff of extreme success. But when is the payoff exactly? Hustle culture breads an ongoing toxic environment where if you spend too much time on anything non-work-related, you feel guilty. It fuels cognitive dissonance. By overworking and living by the mantra of ‘rise and grind,’ you can end up contradicting your actual goals and losing sight of your ‘why.’ 

So why does hustle culture exist?

Rooted in behavioural psychology, hustle culture uses a specific reinforcement schedule from operant conditioning. By rewarding individuals after a random number of times, hustle culture uses a variable ratio schedule, the strongest of all reinforcement schedules (the same used in lottery games). Hustlers become dependent on these unpredictable rewards of success, thus resulting in a rush that pushes you to hang on until the next win. Over and over and over… 

The impacts.

By forcing workers to be in a ‘go hard or go home’ mindset, hustle culture puts the body in a state of fight or flight. This constant stress releases the stress hormone—cortisol—in higher amounts and for more prolonged periods. To normalize these elevated cortisol levels, the body must enter a state of rest. But what if hustle culture doesn’t allow time for rest? Then burnout is inevitable. This continuous stress can be harmful to both your mental and physical wellbeing. Prolonged elevated cortisol levels are associated with various detrimental effects, including anxiety, depression, heart disease, memory impairments, and more. 

Research has shown that increased stress levels lead to reduced professional productivity. To produce quality work, employees must achieve personal satisfaction and conscientiousness rather than simply increase their workload. Data has also shown that there exists a positive association between wellbeing and productivity. If individuals are calm and less stressed (i.e., through taking social breaks), they experience improved productivity. So, by putting workers in a constant state of stress, hustle culture is actually paradoxically impairing productivity.

With the COVID-19 highlighting the reality of the mental health epidemic, employees are now ranking mental health as the number one factor in overall worker wellbeing. Mental health is at the forefront of company culture trends and leaders need to take notice. Hustle culture is not helping employee wellbeing.

What to do if you’re stuck in hustle culture. 

Here are some helpful tips from Shondaland:

  1. Start with awareness.
    • By becoming aware if you are in the cycle of hustle culture, you possess the foundation for change and progression. Are you feeling exhausted and depleted? Have no time in your life besides work?
  2. Acknowledge what is important to you.
    • Clarify your goals and write them down. Take a moment to think. Are your intentions honouring your ‘why’?
  3. Define what your ideal day looks like.
    • With your true priorities established, plan how you can manage to achieve them while taking care of your wellbeing. Schedule in what’s mandatory for you to accomplish, for both your work AND your wellbeing.
  4. Give your mind time to wander.
    • By taking mindful micro-breaks throughout your workday, you’ll feel more balanced and therefore protect yourself from experiencing burnout.
  5. Reward yourself now, not later.
    • Hustle culture is built on the mantra that your hard work will someday pay off. Break this cycle by creating boundaries in your schedule and reward yourself with practices that will build your resilience and prevent burnout.
  6. Work hard, rest hard.
    • Rather than treating self-care as a commodity that must be earned, lead with self-love and compassion, even take a mental health day when you need it. And if you are feeling stressed, try out these quick tips. Figure out practices that will allow you to get ahead of adversity.

“In a world that is inundated with distractions, busy-ness, and addiction to hustling, there is merit in taking a step back and looking at the big picture.”Celinne Da Costa, Forbes

After all, there are 1440 minutes in a day – why not take some time to still your busy mind – meditate, exercise, do a hobby you KNOW you enjoy. You’ll feel more calm, confident, and resilient to work smarter, not harder. And, It will actually pay off.