Hustle Culture: More Harmful Than Helpful

People often admire the “hustle.” “Don’t knock on the hustle,” they say. True enough, in some instances having a hustle culture is a good thing, in a workplace environment the opposite is generally true. Especially in today’s highly competitive and fast-paced lifestyle, hustle culture is becoming the norm for more and more people in the workforce today.

Millennials in particular — especially fresh graduates and singles — are particularly keen on the kind of workaholism that hustle culture perpetuates. It’s all about how “busy” they are, how many million things they’re juggling at the same time. Hustle culture has become the standard for many to gauge things like productivity and performance.

The thing is, hustle culture isn’t really as great as it’s made out to be. It’s dangerous, both to individuals and to a workplace environment in general. It may seem like a good thing on paper, but in practice, there is a lot to at least be extremely cautious about.

What is hustle culture anyway?

In a nutshell, hustle culture (as the name also implies) means constant working. It means devoting as much of your day as possible working — hustling. There is no time out or time in at work. Work is done in the office, outside the office, at home, at coffee shops — anywhere. And in a world constantly on the go and equipped with the tools to achieve that, working constantly on the go is very possible.

And it’s a mindset, a philosophy and a life embraced by many, both by individuals and even companies. When you talk of hustle culture, the more you work, the more celebrated you are. Never mind that you miss meals, sleep, and other important events. In hustle culture, taking a break is for the weak. Your brain becomes trained to always be active and always churning out idea after idea after idea.

Even popular and successful people push for a hustle culture. Take Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. A Business Insider article quotes him as saying, “There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.” Musk, despite his success, is still notorious for being an ardent workaholic. He gets very little sleep and believes that people who want to make a difference should work longer.

Erin Griffith, writing for the New York Times, reports on her look into the hustle culture. She writes:

“Never once at the start of my workweek — not in my morning coffee shop line; not in my crowded subway commute; not as I begin my bottomless inbox slog — have I paused, looked to the heavens and whispered: #ThankGodIt’sMonday.

“Apparently, that makes me a traitor to my generation. I learned this during a series of recent visits to WeWork locations in New York, where the throw pillows implore busy tenants to ‘Do what you love.’ Neon signs demand they ‘Hustle harder,’ and murals spread the gospel of T.G.I.M. (Thank God It’s Monday). Even the cucumbers in WeWork’s water coolers have an agenda. ‘Don’t stop when you’re tired,’ someone recently carved into the floating vegetables’ flesh. ‘Stop when you are done.’ Kool-Aid drinking metaphors are rarely this literal.

“Welcome to hustle culture. It is obsessed with striving, relentlessly positive, devoid of humor, and — once you notice it — impossible to escape.”

Hustle culture is pervasive, and is increasingly becoming popular and a benchmark for best practice in many workplaces. But again, it’s nowhere near as great as it’s made out to be.

>> Recommended reading: Work overload: an issue that your business can learn to work around

Hustle culture is harmful

Here’s why many think that hustle culture is helpful: It usually equates to getting up in the corporate ladder faster. A study published in Occupational Medicine showed that “[w]orking time was significantly positively correlated with higher corporate position.” However, the other side of the coin was this: those same corporately “successful” people also “had significantly more depressive and anxiety symptoms and worse sleep quality.” The study concluded that “longer working hours are associated with poorer mental health status and increasing levels of anxiety and depression symptoms. There was a positive correlation between these symptoms and sleep disturbances.”

Hustle culture isn’t as great as it’s made out to be, and here are some of the reasons why:

1. Hustle culture kills.

If you’re looking for workaholic people, Japan is probably where you should look first. While their attention to detail-oriented work style is good, many go above and beyond. And it doesn’t just cost them their health, it costs them their lives. The Guardian reported that a 31-year-old journalist named Miwa Sado literally overworked herself to death. She suffered from heart failure after logging a whopping 159 hours of overtime. Others have even killed themselves over stress due to long working hours.

And we’ve already mentioned that overwork leads to poorer mental health, more anxiety and a greater propensity for depression. Overwork can lead to a cornucopia of illnesses and conditions that just don’t make it worth it at all.

2. It’s not productive at all.

Working on and on and on may seem like an attractive thing at first glance, but what is actually accomplished? With studies showing that working overly long hours results in poorer mental health and increased anxiety, what kind of work output would you expect from a person suffering from these things? Hustle culture promotes simply accomplishing as many tasks as possible, with little regard to the quality of the work churned out. Many other studies abound showing that working long hours is detrimental to both productivity and creativity — especially in the long run.

>> Recommended reading: What is multitasking? Is it a boon or a bane for your workflow?

3. Hustle culture is deceptive.

An article in the Australian Financial Review quotes David Heinemeier Hansson, the co-founder of Basecamp, a software company as saying, “The vast majority of people beating the drums of hustle-mania are not the people doing the actual work.” He adds that the people who truly reap the majority of the rewards of a “grim and exploitative” hustle culture are not the actual people who hustle, but rather their managers, and the owners of the companies they work for.

And it’s not hard to imagine how true that statement is. Even if you are paid for overtime, is it worth the stress and anxiety that comes with overwork? How can you even enjoy the fruits of your labor when you don’t have time for anything else except work?

Doing better than hustle culture

When Elon Musk posted his pro-hustle culture sentiments on Twitter, he was met with staunch opposition. One person said that the smart thing to do was not to work longer, but to work efficiently — getting a lot done in less time.

Hustle culture is not the be all end all of working. In fact, it’s far from it. There are better ways to get things done.

1. Work smart.

Again, the best practice would not to be just logging in as many hours as possible. Working smart is the way to go. Imagine accomplishing a task in three hours instead of six. That way, you have time to double check, and move on to another task. Mindless labor won’t do you any good, so avoid it altogether. Overwork isn’t the stepping stone for success, efficiency is. And imagine how much a business would save if people worked more efficiently, instead of lengthily. Just saving on overtime pay would be significant.

>> Recommended reading: Key Ways to Develop a Performance Culture in the Workplace

2. Embrace a work-life balance.

A fresh mind is a creative mind. Constantly working, on the other hand creates monotony and dullness. So make sure to take time off — spend it with family, volunteer for a good cause, pursue or discover a new hobby, travel to a great place. Anything but talking shop or obsessing about work. Doing so will allow your mind to rest and recharge, and when you get back to work, you’ll be armed with unique and creative ideas you would never have managed to come up with otherwise. Creativity helps the organization too, as it drives development and growth. So the more creative workers are, the better.

>> Recommended reading: Mentally exhausted x engaged: how we can achieve balance in our professional lives

3. Equip your team for true productivity.

True productivity and efficiency are achieved with the right mindset and the right tools. The pioneering technology offered by Runrun.it is one great example. Take its Time Tracking tool which gives managers not only access to basic timekeeping tasks and tools, but also to data on how time is spent. You will also have data that indicates, for example, how much time a particular task needs before it sees completion or how long on average does a particular team take to complete assigned projects.

And that’s just the beginning. Another tool, The Dashboard, gives access to a lot more kinds of data. To make things easier and more efficient, all these datasets can be generated in real time. The kind of information these kinds of tools give are essential for managers, leaders, and decision-makers to see where workflow and productivity can be enhanced and improved. Runrun.it is the manager’s peace of mindo. To see how Runrun.it’s business tools can improve your organization’s workflow, check out the free trial here.

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