Hustle Culture: Is it really worth it?

Last year, a LinkedIn post by the CEO of a popular Indian personal care and grooming solutions startup sparked debate on toxic work culture. In his post, the CEO emphasized the need to “worship work” and to put in “18-hour days” in the initial years to build a successful career rather than focusing on things like work-life balance, spending time with family, and rejuvenation. After much criticism, he clarified that all he meant is the importance of hard work in the initial years to build a strong foundation for a successful career.

In another instance, when asked about allegations of a ‘hostile work’ culture at his company, the co-founder and CEO of an Indian electric two-wheeler manufacturing company defended that it is a “very hardworking company suitable for truly ambitious and aspirational people who want to leave behind a legacy by being part of the electric vehicle revolution in India”. He opined that his company has a culture of “impact, merit, high quality, and execution” which works well for many while some may not like the management style.

While the above examples could be seen as random unrelated debates about work culture, they have common underlying threads. While the two young founder CEOs of fast-growing organizations are seen batting in favor of a hustle culture with aggressive management styles, the average employee is not in favor of the unidimensional capitalistic definition of success. As we are writing this article, social media is full of debates about the 70-hour work week for Indian youth advocated by the founder of an Indian IT/ITES multinational to improve productivity.

What do we mean by hustle culture?

Hustle culture refers to the work culture that emphasizes on an aggressive work style where employees are encouraged or expected to work for longer hours than normal and even during weekends and holidays. As such, hustle culture is characterized by a constant state of busyness and productivity, with the belief that working hard and never taking breaks will lead to success.

Why hustle culture is unsustainable?

While there is a universal agreement that working hard and achieving success through merit is a desirable trait, placing materialistic achievement over everything else, family, health, and personal life is not sustainable in the long run.

While success in the form of financial wealth, promotions, and recognition are enviable badges of honor, recognizing our responsibilities towards self, family, local community and our nation are of utmost importance. Owning a luxury villa, a 7-digit bank balance, and a luxury sedan does not make any sense if you are diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and other lifestyle diseases at the age of 35, thanks to the long hours spent in front of your laptop without a break. And all the wealth that you would have saved for your progeny would be of no utility if you have not spent time to groom your next generation into responsible citizens.

To summarize, hustle culture has a number of negative implications for our workforce, including:

  • Increased stress and anxiety: The constant pressure to be productive can lead to stress and anxiety, which can have a negative impact on physical and mental health.
  • Work-life imbalance: Hustle culture can make it difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance, as employees are always feeling the need to be working. This can lead to burnout and other problems.
  • Unrealistic expectations: Hustle culture can create unrealistic expectations for employees, who may feel like they are never doing enough. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.
  • Exploitation of workers: Hustle culture can be used to exploit workers, as employers may take advantage of their employees’ willingness to work long hours and never take breaks.

What does it take to attract and retain talent?

The Great Resignation of 2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic is one example worth mentioning. During the pandemic, lock-down-induced work from home has become the new normal across the globe, especially in the tech industry which has led to the blurring of the fine line between work life and personal life and the amplification of the hustle culture. While employees were excited about the opportunity to work from home in the initial months and did not mind putting in long hours, it ultimately led to burnout, mental and emotional stress, and unprecedented levels of employee dissatisfaction spiking employee attritions levels worldwide.

It is to be noted that the millennials and Gen Z workforce, are in a much better financial position and hold less materialistic values and beliefs than their previous generations. They subscribe to a holistic view of work-life rather than unidimensional definitions of success. To attract and retain such talent, companies need to think beyond compensation and benefits and focus on things that they care like people-centric work culture, meaningful and impactful work, and strong ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) credentials. Companies that glorify hustle culture will be in a tough spot when it comes to attracting and retaining the next-generation workforce. 

Way forward

Hence, hustle culture is not sustainable and is harmful to workers. We need to find a way to balance productivity with work-life balance and mental health. Here are some of the specific steps that can be taken to address the negative implications of hustle culture:

  • Employers should create a culture of work-life balance by providing employees with flexible work arrangements and encouraging them to take breaks.
  • Employees should set boundaries between their work and personal lives and learn to say no to requests for work outside of normal working hours.
  • We need to challenge the idea that working hard is the only way to be successful and that taking breaks is a sign of weakness.
  • We need to create a more supportive culture where employees feel comfortable asking for help when they need it.

By taking these steps, we can create a more sustainable and equitable work environment for everyone.

Useful reads

  • Balkeran, A. (2020). Hustle culture and the implications for our workforce.

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