Hustle culture is more harmful than helpful to your work life
This preponderant phenomenon whereby we perform an uncodified obligation to always be professionally engaged has created, a vicious cycle which has left little space for our well-being
The idea of hustling has inundated our professional lives with tremendous effect. Regardless of the jobs we perform with and the positions we hold, there is a constant and unflinching need to appear as professionally occupied as possible, with the connotation that work occupies the lion's share of our existence. Yet, this preponderant phenomenon whereby we perform an uncodified obligation to always be professionally engaged has created in its wake, an extraordinary vicious cycle which has left little space for well-being or even the fundamental joy of working. There are many problems with a parochial culture of 'hustling' which washes out all possibility of organic endeavour, reducing everyday work to an endless rat-race and making our relationship with work, irrevocably toxic. With burnout at work, tremendous mental health disasters and consequent resignations and tragedies, it is worth taking a fresh look at the phenomenon of hustling and the troubles therein.
A 2021 survey by The Finery Report found that 83.8 per cent of the respondents surveyed across 27 industries found working overtime to be a normal occurrence with 69.6 per cent confessing that they regularly work on weekends. A whopping 60.8 per cent of them declared that they feel guilty when they do not put in extra hours at work. One respondent spent an average of 100 hours working per week, while a handful of them worked between 75-80 hours per week. As the publication notes, given that the widely accepted benchmark of a 'full-time job' is 40 hours per week, the numbers discovered are highly alarming.
Ariana Balkeran, scholar at the City University of New York reports in her research how multiple factors have led to hustle culture enjoying its preponderance. Balkeran notes how at its core, the incentive to hustle is a defense mechanism to make ends meet and exceed high expectations and is prevalent because of several factors, including the destruction of work-life boundaries due to digital distractions. Heightened competition is established due to unrestricted connectivity and contributes to a false perception of favourability for the employee who is also accessible after work hours. She remarks however that such connectivity comes at a price, which is employee burnout and quotes statistics demonstrating how a majority of workers across industries have felt exhaustion during their careers.
These findings re-establish the dominance and pervasiveness of hustle culture, and further make the case for a conversation to balance and problematize its widespread prevalence. What are the key problems with hustle culture? Why is something apparently linked to productivity counterproductive to seek the reward of a 'good life'?
The first short and simple answer lies in this indiscriminateness and heedless nature of hustling. Hustling is an endless game of catching up. No matter what is accomplished, the bar keeps jacking itself up and making people feel unfulfilled and insecure, urging them to go beyond their most reasonable human limits. Unlike the healthy culture of productivity, the reward sought here for a certain amount of effort is not defined, leading to a never-ending chase for an obscure end which is always elusive. Such an endeavour destroys the relevance of having a vision and purpose, takes away the joy in collaborating and makes fulfillment a rarity, if not an impossibility.
Another reason to combat a mindset to hustle is again linked to its heedlessness, as it tides over the organic structure of our society and our organizations. Different roles require qualitatively different contributions and styles of working can differ across the board. The contributions made by someone in the HR department and someone handling marketing and sales are not just different in terms of quality but are also defined against varying sets of expectations and demands. Yet, hustle culture flattens these nuances out and makes every employee feel the need to deliver over and above their specific requirements.
It is time for a wake-up call, most certainly. To reject hustle culture is to realize that we are parts of a whole and have to deliver in response to our specific role-responsibilities. To reject hustle culture is to take cognizance of the necessity of work with purpose and fulfilment and of our own humanity, acknowledging that collaboration is the way to go and the end-goal of all productivity is value creation and well-being. Countering a culture of hustling can be a massive intervention in fighting widespread mental health disasters, making work experience truly rewarding and ultimately, building a better world.
(The author is Chief Impact Officer at Recykal Foundation)