Hustle Culture is Toxic, and Here’s Why! (5 Definitive Explanations)

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If you’re a regular user of LinkedIn and/or searched for some motivational boost, I’m sure you’ve seen this quote from Elon Musk.

Nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week”,

says the celebrity multibillionaire, while emphasizing why people need to put in extra work and effort at their workplace as well as their own ventures. And he’s not the first/only guy to have said that. 

Books, magazines, podcasts, and the whole wide internet are filled with people saying how success is a ladder and relentlessly working day & night is how you climb to the top.

From Gary Vaynerchuk to Mark Cuban, influential people around the world who’ve “made it in life” have encouraged and vouched for this lifestyle. So much so that it’s got its own term — Hustle Culture

But the question remains: despite having so many hustle culture influencers around us, why do some people still claim that hustle culture is toxic?

What is hustle culture?

Hustle culture is basically following and promoting a specific lifestyle or a way of living closely associated with one’s work/professional life. It revolves around the idea of working day & night in pursuit of success or a goal without caring much about anything else in life.

Also, people falling under the mantle of this culture believe in and/or glorify overworking to an unacceptable level.

Also referred to as “Burnout Culture”, “Grind Culture”, and “Toxic Productivity”, it won’t be wrong to term Hustle Culture as a sociological epidemic of modern civilization. It’s a relatively new concept — awareness of which is still quite rare among the masses. As a result, it’s gradually getting deeply rooted in our work lives, hence the claim that hustle culture is toxic!

Work-life balance is almost always missing in toxic hustle culture, along with the absence of leisure and vacation. Working nonstop and making the most out of our tiny lifespans with skyrocketing productivity is the mantra of this extreme 21st-century practice.

Hard work = hustle?

Let’s get something cleared up right away — hard work and hustle are not synonymous and not hustling doesn’t necessarily mean slacking off or being lazy. So, the last thing this write-up aims to do is to discourage people from working hard.

I personally feel that there’s a fine line between working your heart & soul to achieve a life goal and devoting your entire life towards that goal without batting an eye on your mental health.

If the classic fable of The Tortoise and the Hare has taught anything aside from work-life balance and toxic workaholism, being consistent and smart in whatever you do is always better than mindlessly overworking yourself to death!

In short, maintaining a healthy balance in your time allotment for work, personal life, and relaxation is a must if you want positive results in the long run. Continuous hustle and bustle may bring short-term outcomes, but the wear and tear of the mental self in the long term just isn’t worth it

Hustle culture is toxic, but why?

We’ve been going on and on about the negative impacts of the hustle culture psychology. But there’s something we should address right away — why hustle culture is toxic

1. Keeps you in a rat race of mindless labor

People will always have dreams to pursue. After all, that’s what keeps their spirits high and makes life an enjoyable journey. Then again, if those dreams and goals are the only things wrapped around someone’s mind, that’s a red flag

Hustling relentlessly always comes with a reason — achieving the said goal. But guess what, you’ll set a new and improved version of the goal once you finally reach it. That’s how we humans function. The hustle culture also approves of this endless loop

After this pursuit of one objective after another, you suddenly realize the journey is about to end and you’ve done nothing much to satisfy your soul in your tenure on this planet. All those hustlings may have brought some worldly success, but you missed out on so much! You haven’t lived enough.

Life shouldn’t necessarily be a rat race. Rather, it should be a shared journey that we take with our loved ones. Goals are important, and so is enjoying life to the fullest!

2. Others fall victim to the peer pressure of hustlers

While going through a write-up, I found an interesting statement on hustle culture: “necessity for some, madness for others”. It could not be more accurate

Yes, hustling to turn around a situation in life or a side hustle project every now and then is completely fine. But heavily promoting a culture of working to death and shaming whoever doesn’t fall in line is just wrong. And what’s worse is the amount of peer pressure it puts on so many others!

There are tons of people around us who’re not big on workaholism. Some might have a laid-back attitude toward life and just want to enjoy life. The problem with hustle culture is that spreads negativity and toxicity all around it. The continuous pressure and competition created by toxic hustlers around those people — at homes, offices, or basically everywhere — is just too much to stay as they are.

Co-workers/colleagues also play a vital role in this advocacy. Landing a promotion or a new job or changing the career trajectory can be tough, and often puzzling. But thinking that hustle alone can act as the shortcut to these goals is just wrong. 

The illustration depicts why hustle culture is toxic and pressurizes us into hustling, usually by our peers
All the noise and peer pressure surrounding you might be exhausting, but you must never give in!

If your work peers pressurize you into hustling to achieve these dreams, take a step back and think deeply. If your colleagues are getting ahead with career growth/work opportunities, analyze the reasons and stop blaming everything on their hustle. Find the gap and improve yourself accordingly.

While sometimes the influence is subtle, other times the hustlers become too vocal by raising questions like: “Why aren’t you trying harder?”, “Do you want to fall behind?”, “Don’t you wanna grow?” Triggering self-doubt and humiliation, this advocacy of toxic hustle culture creates an epidemic of unhealthy working professionals across societies and continents!

Add the cherry of showing off achievements & caring too much about social media on top of all these and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a mental health disaster!

3. Makes false promises for you to chase

Hustle culture often makes big promises to its devotees. The gurus of this movement claim their achievements are the result of their unstoppable hustle attitude. People, at times, also presume that the hour they put in is directly proportional to the amount of success in return.

But that’s not always the case! 

False promises cause more harm than good. The same goes for most of the buzz and myths surrounding Hustle Culture. Be it the influencers and advocates of this culture or just someone who made it, no one can guarantee anything based on probabilities. Moreover, what worked for them may not work in your context.

Maybe these promises are simply making profits for the higher-ups, selling books for the big guys, and raising some stock prices — who knows! So, before chasing these promises and dreams, assessing the whole situation and understanding the motives behind them is necessary.

Or maybe, craft your own dreams, and make your own promises!

4. Results in negative work performance & satisfaction

You know how people say “less is more” in certain contexts? Well, when it comes to modern work environments, this saying may be true for a lot of us! 

If you are a higher-up of a company that promotes overtime and “breaking the barrier of 9 to 5” — it’s just making things worse! You’re just fueling a vicious cycle of negative work performance

The image shows the negative impact of overworking, by illustrating and saying overworking hampers productivity. This further solidifies why hustle culture is toxic.
Run, run, run (mindlessly) and watch it fall, fall, fall!

Here’s a brief list of just some ways overworking can backfire:

⚠️ Error rate 

The number of errors tends to be high when people work for too long

⚠️ Inadequate sleep

Working long hours means less sleep time, which eventually hurts the future work quality/performance & increases the sick days of that person

⚠️ Physical issues

Serious health hazards like severe back pain and eye problems are a common phenomenon with overworking, with an increased possibility of strokes and heart diseases for your valuable human resources

⚠️ Mental health

Mental health issues such as stress, frustration, depression, and anxiety can induce as a result of overworking

⚠️ High costs

Company health insurance costs will be soaring high with more and more unhealthy and unhappy employees

⚠️ High turnover

Turnover rates will surely increase as the employees will always be on the lookout for better opportunities elsewhere

And if you are working for yourself and hustling like hell, almost all the pointers mentioned above apply to you as well. On top of that, putting in 16 hours a day behind a project/venture won’t ensure anything as they’re no shortcut to success.

So, instead of working more, start working smart. Prepare a good strategy, stick to it, and work consistently. And if needed, hustle within a limit

5. Excessive hustling and workaholism can be fatal

Let’s start by looking at a few Hustle Culture statistics.

Japan, the most notorious nation in terms of overworking, has a consistent rate of around 2000 deaths per year credited to work-related suicides — according to Statista. There’s even a dedicated term for this phenomenon: Karoshi, which basically translates to death caused by overwork! Japanese people are the flag bearers of this toxic burnout culture, and these statistics clearly show the consequences of taking things too far.

Also, this journal from WHO estimates a 17% higher risk of death from heart disease and a 35% higher chance of facing a stroke for people working 55 hours or more weekly compared to the usual work structure of 35-40 hours per week. They also claim in the study that nearly 745,000 deaths in 2016 caused by strokes and heart problems has a deeper root in workaholism, which is scary and concerning at the same time ⚠️

So, the real question to ask here is:

The current scenario of hustle

Those who are aware of the impact of hustle culture found a breath of fresh air during the COVID-19 pandemic. The rise of “the great resignation” showed that working professionals are finally getting the big picture — the toxicity of hustle culture. They’re gradually putting an end to mindless work, modern slavery, unfair treatment at work, and all the things in between

People are more aware than ever about their vacations and paid leaves so they don’t get burnt out. There’s even an experiment of 4-day work weeks around the work, which further solidifies the extent to which people are thinking about work hours and productivity (although some 4-day work week companies are going above 10 hours a day, which in my opinion is not acceptable as well). 

The global surge in anxiety, depression, and overall mental health issues especially after the pandemic also affected working professionals and entrepreneurs alike. Mental health has always been overlooked in contrast with physical health — more so in underdeveloped and developing countries. 

But over time, people around the globe are taking these seriously. They are acknowledging the impact of toxic work culture and workaholism on a person mentally and psychologically.

This is a big step toward building a more healthy and contended generation that works the work, talks the talk, and enjoys life as well

Wrapping up

So, what’s your take on the matter? Is hustle culture toxic?

If you ask me, I’ll say this to wrap things up —

Do hustle if you want, and it’s also cool if you don’t. Let’s just agree to take a step back when there’s toxicity growing around it — that’s all!

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M. Asif Jamil
M. Asif Jamil

M. Asif Jamil is a cosmic wanderer who's fueled by coffee and chocolate. He likes to write about marketing, branding, psychology, copywriting, contemporary society, WordPress, personal finance, cinema, and everything in between.

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