Hustle Culture Might Be Killing Your Productivity — Here’s How

a woman has a walking meeting with a direct report

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Kayla Heisler
Kayla Heisler1.16k

Balancing work and life is becoming increasingly difficult in a climate where the line between work and personal life are overlapping. Find out if you're working to live or living to work, below:

Hustle culture, defined

Hustle translates to work, and hustle culture is the climate wherein people feel obligated to work constantly and love it — or at least to appear to love it. Hustle culture is a society obsessed with striving for more success, accolades and prestige professionally. Despite incessantly facing criticism that they are entitled and lazy, millennials are working nearly nonstop (for better and/or worse).

Why are millennials pretending to love work?

1. Everything is more expensive, but people aren’t earning more money.

Gone are the days where a person could put themselves through college stocking shelves at the local department store. The cost of living has inflated, while the amount of money that people typically earn has not kept up. For instance, the average price of a new home in June 1998 was $175,900. Based on a typical inflation rate, the cost today should be $271,950, but the average sale price for June 2018 was placed at $368,500. 

Because wages are not keeping up with the rate of the inflation, adults have little choice other than to work more if they want to merely stay afloat. If working incessantly is inevitable, embracing it to regain at least some semblance of control is a natural defense mechanism. 

2. Technology makes working constantly easier.

It’s hard to believe, but back when people didn’t have computers in their homes, doing office work stayed at the office. There was no omnipotent cloud where people could grab their files at any hour of the day, and even calling an employee at dinner time was considered uncouth. But now, people can constantly stay plugged in. Apps such as Slack make disconnecting from the office more difficult.

3. Social media flaunting.

Constantly seeing the most fabulous aspects of everyone’s lives can have some unintended consequences. Posts that are directly related and seemingly unrelated to hard work can contribute to hustle culture. Being inundated with pictures of fancy gadgets and vacays can make it feel like we have to push non-stop to afford the best of everything. Other posts explicitly proclaim the importance of hustling by celebrating no weekends off and the necessity of pounding coffee at all hours of the day and night to achieve maximum productivity levels.

4. Company provided perks.

Perks that incentivize employees to stay at work instead of going home — like free meals and in-house gyms — also promote hustle culture. Sitting at a desk long past closing hours feels less daunting when we can post Instastories sitting in a bean bag chair enjoying fresh cotton candy (purchased on the company dime).

5. Peer pressure.

Hustle culture has become something of a chicken-egg phenomenon. The ubiquity of people proclaiming to love Mondays who are ready to #riseandgrind makes it seem like people can either get on board or get left behind. When it seems like everyone else loves working, not loving it makes one an "other," so fitting in depends on being obsessed with work — or at least projecting the image that we are.

How do personal goals dictate hustle culture?

People work harder for things that they want. When we find something we care about, it’s easy to devote a lot of energy to that something without thinking that it truly feels like work. Finding something you seriously care about can feel so invigorating that you want to devote every moment of time to working toward your cause. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to make an income by doing what you love, the lines between work and play can blur. If you’re working another job in addition to following a passion, this can lead to working incessantly to get everything done.

The effects of hustle culture

As with most subjects in life, there are positive and negative outcomes that arise from living in a culture where constant work is seen as not only the standard but a virtue. 

1. Burnout

Working too hard has repercussions. When we stay ‘on’ all of the time, it quickly can leave our energy sources depleted. The impacts of burnout are well-documented. They manifest in a multitude of ways that can involve feeling too fried to focus on basic tasks, experiencing depleted mental health, and physical symptoms such as headaches or fatigue. 

2. Frequent accomplishments

Feeling motivated to work more can lead to fulfilling greater outcomes. Diamonds are formed under pressure, so a society where people feel motivated to do their best can lead individuals to perform their best. 

3. Leisure-induced guilt

Indulging in activities that don’t directly impact one’s career can quickly become guilt-inducing. When people are expected to work around the clock, taking time to enjoy activities that don’t directly benefit. An expectation forms that any activity that isn’t completed in service of a goal or career-related task is frivolous. When taking time for non-related work activities causes more stress than work itself, the chances of reaching burnout increase even more.

4. Demoralization

When everyone seems to be living for their work, working an unfulfilling job can feel even more detrimental. Hustle culture can lead people to incorrectly believe that their self worth is determined by the job they perform and how well they perform it. Those who are not working in fields where they feel passionate and those who are unable to work can feel inadequate.

5. Workers produce more output

Seeing that everyone else is working nonstop can push us to do the same. This can be a major win for employers because people feel motivated by the culture to work more often. When a company comes to expect that all workers will constantly work, an intense standard can be created where employers who come to expect that employees will be available at all times.

What are your thoughts about hustle culture? Let us know below!

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Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.