Is Hustle Culture Toxic?

7 min read • May 16, 2021 • Kat Boogaard

As you read this very article, there’s probably an ever-growing list of to-dos at your side. Your inbox is likely filling up. Your heart is racing thinking about all of the things you need to accomplish—and you’ll likely work long hours to get them done.

You aren’t alone. That constant level of stress and overarching pressure to achieve has become the norm for so many of us.

In fact, 77% of workers say they’ve experienced burnout at their jobs. Some research suggests that exhaustion is even more common among business owners because they’re passionate about their work and put in even longer hours—with 70% of them admitting that they work at least 1 weekend on a regular basis.

Somewhere along the way, the “work hard” advice that most of us were raised with turned into something far more sinister: hustle culture. It’s a term coined to represent the prevalent and pervasive mindset that we should always be working. Our goals deserve to be relentlessly pursued. Rest is for the weak. 

But where did hustle culture come from? Is it really all that toxic? And, if so, what steps can you take to resist falling into this “rise-and-grind” trap that’s become so popular? You have questions—and we have answers. 

When Did We All Become So Obsessed With the Hustle?

It’s tough to pinpoint an exact moment where we tiptoed over the line from hard, honest work to destructive workaholism. But somewhere along the way, it became normal for working professionals to be “always on.” 

We turn our hobbies and passions into monetized projects. We constantly check our emails, even during nights and weekends. We bury ourselves under unrealistic to-do lists and brag about our packed schedules and rigorous careers. 

In reality, our obsession with “hustling” probably has several root causes, including: 

  • Increased connectedness: Gone are the days when workers could punch the clock and disconnect. While technology can be an asset, it also keeps us constantly chained to our work responsibilities.
  • Glorification of busy-ness: You might’ve heard the clichés about people wearing “busy” as a badge of honor, and that type of boasting is particularly prevalent in entrepreneurship—from Elon Musk bragging about sleeping on the Tesla factory floor to Apple CEO Tim Cook emailing employees at 4:30 in the morning. These idolized entrepreneurs fuel the idea that success requires constant grinding.
  • Retaining talent: Some even think that hustle culture started when big tech companies instituted perks (on-site gyms, laundry services, etc.) to not only help their employees but also keep them at their desks longer

All of these factors undoubtedly play an important role. But perhaps the largest issue of all is that so much of our self-worth is tied to our productivity—what we’re achieving, what we’re growing, and what we’re earning. 

A whopping 47% of working adults admit that they gain equal or even greater feelings of self-worth from their jobs and careers than they do from their personal lives. 

Hustle Culture Might Be the Norm, But Is It Toxic?

Here’s the short answer: yep. Hustle culture instills pressure to be constantly working, and those long hours and raging stress can lead to: 

  • Decreased productivity: Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. More time spent working doesn’t necessarily equate to getting more done. Productivity declines sharply when a person works more than 50 hours per week. And when you work more than 55 hours? That extra time is so unfocused that it accomplishes almost nothing at all.
  • Health problems: High stress levels have been linked to a number of concerning health problems, from impaired memory to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Burnout: You can only burn the candle at both ends for so long before you flame out entirely. So with hustle culture continuing to be ever-present, it comes as little surprise that burnout is also prevalent. In 2019, the World Health Organization officially classified burnout as an “occupational phenomenon.” 

While those side effects are concerning enough on their own, hustle culture is also toxic because it continues to be reinforced. As more people feel pressure to live up to these overworking expectations, they set a bar that other people feel they need to live up to or risk feeling like guilty underachievers—and the cycle just keeps repeating itself. 

How to Prioritize Balance Over Hustle

Hustle culture is a complex issue, one that certainly won’t be solved with a few quick tips. However, if you’re eager to break the cycle and combat the pressure to be constantly grinding, here are a few steps you can take. 

1. Find Other Ways to Measure Success

Especially as a business owner who’s poured so much of your time, energy, and life into your business, it’s easy to evaluate your success and self-worth using only professional goals and standards.

It’s worth setting some objectives that aren’t tied to your business achievements and revenue so that you can live a more well-rounded life. 

Whether you want to dedicate time for a hobby, take a certain amount of weeks off in a year, or something else, make sure you’re adding some other goals into the mix. It’s a good reminder that you have a life outside of your business and career. 

2. Limit Your Time on Social Media

Social media is an important tool for running and growing your business, but it can also fuel hustle cultureand even be a detriment to your mental health. Studies show that increased time spent on social media is linked to decreased well-being

Set some hard limits for how much time you’ll spend scrolling through social media each day. It gives you less access to compare your life and business to others, which will help you to avoid feeling like you need to be doing more, more, more. 

3. Set Boundariesand Stick to Them

Finally, don’t just limit how much time you’ll spend on social media—limit how much time you’ll actually spend working. 

A squishy goal like “work less” or “have better balance” isn’t a real boundary. Instead, set hard parameters that you can actually stick to and evaluate. For example, maybe you don’t want to work past 4pm on any given day. Or maybe you want to exercise every single morning.

Come up with boundaries that you can enforce to respect your personal time as much as you respect your work-related obligations. 

Hard Work Doesn’t Have to Equate to Hustle Culture

Business ownership requires hard work and dedication. But buying into hustle culture and doing too much grinding without ever taking a beat to breathe can lead to some not-so-desirable side effects on your mental, emotional, and even physical health.

There’s no easy answer or perfect antidote to hustle culture, and combating it is a learning process for everyone.

But as the old saying goes, the first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that there is one in the first place. And without a doubt, hustle culture is a problem.  

Kat Boogaard

Based in the great state of Wisconsin, Kat is a freelance writer focused on careers, productivity, and entrepreneurship. When she’s not in front of her computer screen, she’s either hiking with her 2 rescue mutts, baking up a new recipe, or squishing her adorable son. Learn more about her at katboogaard.com.