Gen Hustle – Who’s hustling who?

The word ‘hustle’ has been resurrected, re-purposed, and dropped into the workplace like a fresh excerpt from the gospel. If you aren’t in the hustle congregation right now, you might feel like a bit of an out-sider who’s lacking career ambition.

Using the word ‘hustle’ in the world of work is on trend, it’s ‘cool’, and it captures the current work climate perfectly; long hours, fast-paced, competitive, high-energy and non-stop productivity. All of this seems to be tied in with an expectation to devote yourself to your job, to live the company values at all times, and of course post about it on your social media platforms. This is what’s now known as ‘hustle culture’ and our young workforce are eating it up!

But! In recent years, a wave of criticism aimed at the more toxic side of hustle culture has emerged. As a millennial I’ve hustled and been hustled so I thought I’d weigh in on the discussion.


In my opinion the slippery slope of toxic hustle culture starts with company expectations that are unsustainable and breed toxicity amongst its workers. The characteristics of one particular environment I worked in could be described as highly competitive, polarizing, exclusive, ego-centric, and even cult-ish. The unspoken pressure to conform to unrealistic workloads and long hours whilst sacrificing your leisure time was palpable. If you didn’t mould yourself to fit you were placed on the outer circle, if you did choose to participate you were only as valuable as the next work goal you kicked.

I see the newest generation faced with even greater expectations to not only become the high achieving workhorse but to change the world while they’re at it! This is quite noticeable in university start-up environments (where hustle culture is rife) and non-stop productivity is a norm. It seems to me, what started as a culture that encourages young people to pursue socially conscious start-ups, adopt the entrepreneurial mindset and develop a hard-work ethic, became a culture at risk of exploiting young workers and ultimately setting them up to fall.

As a culture the propaganda-esque mantra’s and mottos like “rise and grind”, “sleep when you’re dead” and “hustle harder” are promoting a blatant disregard for workplace wellness and self-care. Elon musk said it himself “nobody ever changed the world on a 40 hour week”. How do you rebut such a comment when the man is a billionaire? You heard it from the top, it must be the only way right?

It’s an undeniably clever way to promote more work and less play, glamorise unpaid over-time as a determining factor of success and offer the false concept of belonging to an elite group. The reality is you are making money for people who are already wealthy whilst you run yourself into the ground on a basic wage.You belong until you are expendable and being ‘busy’ is a badge of honour until you reach burnout. It’s a way of thinking that is setting us back decades in regards to work-life harmony, wellness, job fulfillment and happiness.

Economist Jim Stanford, the director of the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute has made comment in various ABC articles on the ‘over-worked Australian’ stating that “Across the economy, we found about $116 billion worth of labour time each year is uncompensated” suggesting that the reason is a combination of factors such as a competitive job market, businesses encouraging overtime and an over commitment from staff who are driven to work longer as a result of hidden (or not so hidden) company expectations.

The curious thing is Australia was once leading the way in work-life balance with the introduction of the 8 hour day/48 hour week during the 1950’s. One of the reasons for that 48 hour work week (still the status quo today) was to allow more time to educate one-self, be a better family person and citizen to society through reasonable leisure time. Aren’t these still valid reasons today?

The hustle trend might be prolific right now but research over the years has disproved any notion that longer hours improve productivity; with one UK study suggesting that a 4 day week actually increases productivity. Other insights suggest we would be more productive and happier if we worked less hours.

In my experience stepping out of the bubble of toxic hustle reminded me that I am a human-being not a human-doing, and there are many other ways to be effective, successful and highly productive that don’t require dropping all other areas of your life to marry your job. I’d personally like to see more positive workplace wellness mantras and affirmations used like;”work doesn’t work without play”, “work hard eat well”, ” but first health”or “I’m allowed to say no to others and Yes to myself!”.

It’s truly an act of rebellion today to practice self-care, it’s time to re-prioritise wellness at work and in life!

Here are my top tips on stepping out of the toxic hustle environment and moving towards greater wellbeing and self-care:

Reassess your priorities ask yourself, is my current workplace adding value to my life or negatively impacting it? Determine what matters most to you, rather than what you feel is expected of you. This is a simple exercise, but not to be underestimated as it’s not often that we stop and reflect when we are in the hustle mindset.

Take back your time (leaving or starting at reasonable times, having a rested days off):
– If you are staying back each day then you may not be managing your time during the day effectively or your workload needs to be reassessed.
– Work on more challenging tasks at times of the day when you are most alert and schedule less dense brain work in times when you are feeling lower energy.
– Maintain hobbies and passions outside of work and use your days off to rest properly, sleep is crucial to boosting your wellbeing.
– Take regular breaks, walk outside, practice mindfulness (try some mindfulness or meditation programs/apps).

Set full-proof boundaries remember to respond not react, if you don’t feel you can achieve a task by a certain deadline, learn to say no and offer alternative solutions. Negotiate workloads and offer reasonable options to your manager, find out what is the highest priority and ask to focus on that. Stop trying to multitask (it’s not a thing!).
The Myth of Multitasking.

Think big look at the whole picture of your life; your relationships, your finances, your health, your family, your passions etc. ask yourself am I moving towards or away from a future I want? Try to step out of the daily grind and imagine where you see yourself in 5 years from now. Is the job you are doing now complimenting your life? Can you see yourself staying in this job?

More on ways to step out of the hustle and foster wellbeing at work in my next article.

If you are feeling burnout, depression, stress or anxiety and want support you can find help:

Black Dog Institute – https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au

Beyond Blue – https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/get-immediate-support

Work place strategies for burnout -https://www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com/managing-workplace-issues/burnout-response

What is being done about burnout – https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/news/news-detail/2018/05/15/burnout

Reference:
National Museum Australia – https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/eight-hour-day
ABC: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-21/workplace-culture-driving-rampant-unpaid-overtime-experts-say/8287376
ABC: https://www.abc.net.au/triplej/programs/hack/four-day-working-week-could-make-us-happier-and-more-productive/10833924
UK Website: https://www.4dayweek.co.uk

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