What ‘hustle culture’ is, how it is hurting millennials, and how to break the hustle culture cycle


You want a bigger house, a faster car, and a better job. And the only way to get there is by working constantly, by “hustling”. You start restructuring your life around work, and you’re now a part of hustle culture.

People who are roped into this lifestyle find themselves constantly running trying to live up to the image of an ideal self. Millennials are affected by the hustle culture the most because they have been subjected to the ‘preachings’ of entrepreneurs and social media influencers who tell them that the only way to live your life respectably is to work way more than 60 hours a week.

Unfortunately, it has grave consequences.

In this article, you’ll learn how you can identify hustle culture, its impact, and what you can do to get out of that cycle.

How to identify hustle culture

1. Companies saying “We love it when you step out of your comfort zone”

One of the consequences of the hustle culture is that it makes you over-ambitious to the point where you can think of nothing but career growth and financial success. Unfortunately, hustle culture is also starting to modify the existing cultures of various organizations for the worse.

Various companies, when hiring new talent, especially from a pool of new graduates, like to signify that the more they step out of their comfort zone, the better their chances of ending up in the good books of their managers and performance evaluators.

Of course, in some cases, it pays well in both the short and long run to step out of your comfort zone. However, if it is the normal expectation of your employer to regularly do things that are outside the boundaries of your responsibilities, you should be wary.

You have to remember, pain ≠ progress & learning. The best way to be good at something is to exist in "the zone of proximal development". This conceptual space, which is near the comfort zone, allows for healthy and gradual growth. Keep yourself motivated by working on tasks of 'just manageable' difficulty.

2. You are made to feel guilty when you take some time off

There is nothing wrong with taking a few days off as long as you adhere to the regulations of the company you work at. Taking days off helps you recover and you can rejoin work feeling rejuvenated and continue performing at a higher level.

It is not uncommon for certain managers to make it difficult for employees to take holidays for themselves. Directed by the hustle culture psychology, an employee’s performance could also depend on how many days off they took for themselves.

The feeling of “not keeping up with the pace of their peers” propagates this.

You might also feel guilty for taking a day off if you have lived by the philosophy of the hustle culture for long enough. While taking a break you might think to yourself, “Someone else is currently working and they will get ahead of me if I take a break.”

3. Doing overtime and working on the weekends is the norm

In toxic work cultures, employers have unrealistic expectations from their employees. It is done by creating and promoting everyone to become “the ideal employee”. The ideal employee is completely devoted to work and lets nothing impede the rate of completion of tasks.

Organizations encourage that by incentivizing overtime and rewarding employees who can still be reached out to outside of office hours. Failing to fall into line will reduce your chances of getting the next promotion or a jump in the paycheck.

This doesn’t mean that you help your team pull off an impossible task once in a while or get on an occasional meeting on the weekends. However, be mindful where this is the normal expectation from you, and you are punished for not meeting it.

4. Pushing past burnout is a commonality

“Turn down your feelings and turn up your hustle.”

If you find that quote or a variation thereof nailed to the wall of your office’s lobby, you should take it as a sign of toxic work culture. That means your mental health is not an excuse for reduced output.

In this particular sense, hustle culture reduces employees from humans to entities that produce value that can be monetized. Of course, it implodes on itself in the long run.

It’s not just full-time employees. Freelancers and self employed people who are working part-time elsewhere also inflict this mindset on themselves. You know what they live by? “push the hardest when it hurts the most”.

How does hustle culture hurt millenials?

1. Higher stress levels due to increased performance pressure

As employees are treated as value-producing entities, they are supposed to keep producing value and keep up with their competition, which is their coworkers.

Whenever employees are lauded for working on the weekends or doing over time, it puts pressure on the employees who don’t “step outside their comfort zone” (or have a life outside work!) as much. Typically, this behavior can be seen in sales teams where employees are given unrealistic goals.

This results in the office being transformed into a stressful environment where employees are competing in a rat race with no real winner.

With higher stress, comes increasing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Unhealthy levels of stress hormones affect your metabolism negatively. The ability to sleep, relax, build muscle, digest food, etc., is impaired.

High levels of stress, and therefore cortisol, are linked with heart attacks and stroke. Burning out makes irreparable damage to your mental and physical health.

Read More: How Not to Burnout From Overwork: Sign & Symptoms of Burnout, How to Avoid It, And What to Do About It

2. Poor physical health due to lack of self-care

Self-care takes time. Meditation, yoga, napping, exercising, lifting weights, and whatever makes you happy and recovers your body and mind, takes time.

But hustle culture mantras dictate that taking time off for yourself means you are not “an ideal employee” anymore. It also means you don’t want the next promotion or extra cash as bad as others who skip self-care. This, more often than not, results in damaged physical health.

One of the examples of hustle cultures gone too far is when employees don’t even take a full hour off during lunch break.

3. Decreases the quality of life because of the constant “grind”

How can you enjoy the latest season of Stranger Things if the only thing you should be doing is working?

To live up to the expectations of hustle culture, you might have to neglect other aspects of life. For instance, you might prefer missing out on a friend’s birthday party or not enjoying a cup of coffee in peace over work.

The irony here is, those are the things that enhance the quality of life. Work, although important, will fail to help you lead a fulfilled life on its own.

Being too engrossed with the “hustler lifestyle” will decrease the amount of quality time you spend with your loved ones. This might lead to loneliness and isolation which are known to cause chronic depression.

A happy and healthy life is held up on six pillars; neglecting even one of them leads to an imbalance and can also signal impending collapse.

4. It is hard to stop once you adopt this lifestyle

One of the many negative effects of living in the hustle culture is that you will fall into the dangerous trap of toxic productivity that is hard to escape.

It can also put you in a downward spiral.

As you continue to neglect your physical and mental health to keep up with your coworkers, your health will keep on deteriorating. And if you want to take a day off, you will be made to feel guilty about it as you are not putting in enough work.

If unchecked, this cycle continues until a complete psychological breakdown.

Breaking the hustle culture cycle

1. Take a break, slow down, and practice mindfulness

You can break the cycle by doing the very thing that the hustle culture advises against. By taking a break you are giving yourself time to think about things rather than simply following the “rules” of the toxic work culture.

Here is how you can practice mindfulness regularly, even when you are deep in the hustle culture cycle:

  1. Before starting a task, think of all the steps you would take to accomplish it.
  2. Take a short break to reorient your thoughts after the completion of a task.
  3. At the end of the day, think of all the tasks you completed and whether you feel burned out.

People adopt different tactics that help them practice mindfulness. It depends on what works out for YOU the best. Some take up yoga, some hit the gym, and some invest more time in their hobby, some spend more time with family or friends, and some travel. The idea here is to keep yourself occupied with a very simple task, so your mind can relax.

Read More: 5 practical ways to slow down and take breaks

2. Redefine success for yourself

How much does your health cost?

The hustle culture philosophy revolves around wanting more. More often than not, it is financial success that is measured in ‘busyness’. You should take a moment to sit and decide whether you actually want that.

Everyone has different definitions of success, and having your own will help you prioritize your actions in daily life. Financial success is important but so are health and a meaningful social life outside work.

Here is what you need to do:

  1. Pick up a notepad and write down how you will define your successful self.
  2. Mention all the aspects that make that version of yourself successful.
  3. Now write down where you are.

This will help you create an actionable plan for yourself.

3. Plan days that are easy to repeat

There is no point in working for 14 hours in a day only to end up toasted at the end of the week.

For any form of success, consistency is key. Only put in the amount of work that you can do every day. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should anchor yourself at the center of your comfort zone, but push yourself bit by bit.

Take the example of lifting weights. You won’t make a lot of progress if you start too high or stay at the level you started. Push yourself one step further, every day.

Here is what you can do:

  1. Each time you add a task to your to-do list, write an estimation of how long it might take you to complete that.

2. Make sure that you don’t have too many work hours. The healthy range is 6-8 hours.

3. Don't add tasks after planning your day.

4. Prioritize your tasks to avoid procrastination

Some tasks are more important than others because they have stricter deadlines, require more attention, take longer to complete, and depend on external factors. Prioritizing them above shallow tasks such as checking your personal email is a great idea.

Proper prioritization of tasks will alleviate stress because you know what to do when. However, it can be difficult these days as there are multiple apps through which you might receive tasks.

The solution is simple, use one application where you can pull tasks from other apps and use that to prioritize your activities.

Sunsama offers integrations with popular task and time management apps such as Jira, Trello, Todoist, and Asana. Take a look.

You don’t need to “hustle and grind” all the time to succeed.

To succeed, you need to prioritize consistency over intensity. By definition, intensity occurs once in a while. If you push yourself to the extreme on the regular, you will burn yourself out and it will be challenging to remain consistent.

Get off the hustle culture train

To summarize everything we went through so far:

  1. Hustle culture is toxic as it prioritizes work above personal wellbeing.
  2. It results in increased stress, poor health, and diminishes the quality of your life.
  3. Escaping from the clutches of the hustle culture psychology is central to having a balanced life.
  4. You can take short breaks before and after completing a task, redefine success, and plan days that are easy to repeat.
  5. The easiest way to do this is by taking help from a virtual assistant, like Sunsama, that will warn you when your to-do list contains too much work.
  6. Sunsama is a time management tool aimed at helping busy professionals maintain a sustainable work-life balance. Try it for free.

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