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What Are the Dangers of "Hustle Culture"?

Ellie Burrows
over 2 years ago by Ellie Burrows
diverse employees in corporate environment in a meeting

According to People Management, 40% of UK employees worked during their annual leave in the past 12 months, the percentage soaring to a staggering 52% for workers in a mid-management position. Whilst some might attribute the phenomenon to the recent global shift to remote work caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasing popularity of what is called “hustle culture” amongst millennials could also be a contributing factor.

With younger generations spending hours of their day on social media platforms, the vast majority of workers are exposed to content and messages around success on a daily basis. Many are glorifying and glamourising working hard and reaping the benefits, which often translate into a luxurious lifestyle.

But now, we are seeing studies and professionals around the world calling out what is deemed a toxic relationship to work. More and more, people are telling employees to set an example by letting go of that culture in the corporate world to avoid setting a harmful precedent. One of the first steps to do so? To stop working whilst on annual leave.

What is Hustle Culture?

Constantly working is part of what is nowadays called the “hustle culture”. It entails working as much as possible throughout the day - hence hustling. At work, there is no such thing as a timeout or a time in. Work can be done anywhere: in the workplace, outside of the office, at home, in coffee shops. Working on the go is quite possible in a world that is continuously on the move and equipped with the means to do so. For some people, this lifestyle might work but for others, it can lead to a “burnout” from being overworked.

Having a better work/life balance can boost work productivity, which will then benefit companies in the long run as their employees are happier. In a recent LinkedIn post, Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments, discussed the importance of annual leave;

“If you take a week off, really take it off completely. Don’t check in. Don’t check your work email. In the long run, you aren’t just taking good care of yourself. You are helping to normalise taking time off for others.”

Psychological Impacts of Hustle Culture

Hustle culture, which glorifies constant work, long hours, and a lack of boundaries between personal and professional life, can have significant psychological impacts on individuals in the workplace.

The pressure to constantly hustle and achieve more can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and burnout. When work becomes the primary focus and permeates all aspects of life, individuals may struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance, neglecting personal relationships, self-care, and leisure activities. This imbalance can erode social connections, contribute to feelings of isolation, and increase the risk of mental health issues such as depression.

The constant drive for productivity and success may also create a sense of never feeling "good enough," leading to self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and a negative impact on self-esteem. Additionally, the blurring of boundaries between personal and professional life can result in a constant state of hyper-vigilance, making it difficult for individuals to truly unwind and relax

Physical Health Consequences

Overworking and neglecting proper rest and relaxation can lead to chronic stress, which puts a strain on the body's physiological systems. The persistent activation of the stress response can increase the risk of cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

Moreover, the pursuit of productivity at the expense of sleep often results in sleep deprivation, which adversely affects overall health. Lack of adequate sleep impairs cognitive function, weakens the immune system, and increases the likelihood of accidents and injuries. Additionally, the absence of time for exercise, healthy eating, and self-care activities can lead to sedentary behavior, poor nutrition, and weakened immune function.

Rejecting Hustle Culture Is Better for Both Employees and Employers

Whilst COVID-19 paused a lot of our social lives, it encouraged a lot of people to work more than usual. Perhaps this hustle culture mindset is fuelled by the need to be busy, especially during a pandemic when everyone is confined between four walls with nothing else to do. However, for others, it has become clearer that mental health should be our priority and it is important to create a better work/life balance.

As Dan Price says, “It’s good for the company. Workers are quitting everywhere because they are burned out. A vacation won’t solve that by itself, but if employees are pressured to half-work on their time off, you’ll be making it clear to workers that they'll never be able to relax.” If employers encouraged their workers to better balance their work and social lives, then the company would be less likely to lose employees due to being overworked.

A study conducted by The Harvard Business Review has also shown the close link between employees’ intrinsic motivation and the hustle culture. The data stemming from the study is clear: when staff members work on vacation or at times when they aren’t meant to be working - such as weekends -, they are less engaged and motivated. Employees are naturally stimulated when they perform work and activities they find interesting and meaningful: by blurring the lines between personal time and work time, there is a loss in engagement and in the desire to perform at the top of one’s capacity.

How to Let Go of Work Completely When on Annual Leave

Whilst it can be hard to completely eliminate the hustle culture lifestyle, creating some boundaries to slowly find a work/life balance can be the step in having a healthier relationship with work. Unsure of where to start? Try to begin with the simple steps below.

  • Preparation is key: about a week before your last day in the office, map out a comprehensive plan which lays out the main projects you are currently working on, but more importantly your delegation team for different types of enquiries. Also make sure the latter has received enough information to be able to take on any of your tasks whilst you are away.

  • Learn to prioritise: look at your complete to-do list and establish which ones are a priority. Match each task to a target deadline and assess the time needed to complete each one. This will help you map out a realistic plan of what you can achieve before your vacation and what can be done when you are back.

  • Seek help from friends or family: if you are going away with someone, appoint them as “Accountability Officer”. They should be made aware of your plan of letting go during your holiday, and help you do so. Ask them to set you straight or to remind you of your goal if you suddenly feel the urge to look at your work emails. It has been proven numerous times that telling people about your personal goals usually help you stay on track.

  • Don’t mention limited access to emails in your out of office message: when setting up your out of office email, don’t mention anything about having limited access to emails. Make it clear that you are not only on annual leave, but unavailable during that period of time. Swap “limited access” to “no access”, and make sure to include all members of your delegation plan as well as the elements they will cover.

  • Remove all distractions from your phone: with smartphones, your work environment is only a fingertip away. When letting go, it will be important to remove all possible distractions from your mobile phone, so that you are not triggered by work-related elements. An easy fix would be to mute - or delete if you prefer - your work emails on your phone. You can also limit notifications of all apps that would be a work trigger, like a specific section of the news.​

Hustle culture has implanted in us the belief that we must succeed and work incredibly hard from a young age. This type of hustling ignores what we require both emotionally and physically. As a collective, we need to better manage hustle culture as what may seem like a small decision for one could have bigger consequences in the long run which is where toxic work culture strives. With COVID-19 highlighting the reality of the mental health epidemic, employees are now ranking it as the number one factor in overall worker well being. Mental health is at the fore of company culture trends and leaders need to take notice. An inability to let go is not helping employee wellbeing and by taking these small steps, there will be a noticeable improvement in work quality, therefore a win-win for both employees and employers.

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Ellie Burrow is a Trainee Marketing Assistant at Rutherford, the executive specialists in financial crime, legal, cyber security and compliance recruitment within financial and professional services.
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