By: Nicole Damron
March 25th, 2023
We’ve all heard the phrase, “The grind don’t stop,” but what happens when that really becomes the case? The rise of “Hustle Culture” has brought about an increased emphasis on time spent working, and prioritizes commitment to work over health and well-being. This kind of unbalanced, work-centric lifestyle can often lead to a state of clinical exhaustion that affects the mental and physical: burnout.
So what is burnout? The term was coined in the 1970s by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, and it describes a state caused by severe stress and high ideals in “helping” professions. Today, use of the term has been extended to anyone dealing with high to crippling levels of exhaustion caused by work or commitments. In the modern era, communication outside of work hours is more accessible and employers often take advantage of this. This can come in the form of after-hours emails, messages or requests for extra tasks after the work day is done.
A created culture of being “always-on” does not allow for work/life separation and balance, and contributes to states of depression, anxiety and emotional exhaustion. In a study conducted by researchers at Lehigh University, Virginia Tech and Colorado State University, authors found that it is not the volume of work that contributes to burnout, but rather the expectation or anticipation of after-hours work duties that do not allow for mental rest and recuperation. This in turn leads to low productivity and disengagement from the work itself. This can be extremely harmful to an employee’s mental health. When someone exists in a constant state of engagement with their work responsibilities, it can lead to chronic stress and fatigue.
Recent MSU civil engineering graduate Hannah Pfeiffer is new to the workforce, and already has an idea of just how draining after-hours tasks can be. She says, “I can definitely see why a 9 to 5 lifestyle can contribute to exhaustion. What they don’t tell you in school is that a 9 to 5 isn’t truly 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In my line of work when there are strict deadlines, whatever hours necessary to make the deadline are expected.” While Pfeiffer says that at her company, “a work-life balance is valued and honored,” this is unfortunately not the case everywhere.
What drives the appeal to “hustle”? In recent years, the disconnect between working class America and the wealthy 1% has continued to grow, and now in 2023 is the largest it has ever been. With technology and workplace systems that make employees constantly accessible, it seems that companies would rather create a competitive environment that pushes false promises of corporate achievement than pay their employees what their time and work is worth.
The glorification of hustle pushes a narrative that you don’t stop when you’re tired, you stop when you’re done. This lifestyle often comes at the expense of health, and has even gone so far as to affect significant life affairs like family planning for employees. Companies like Facebook, Apple and Google have gone so far as to offer oocyte cryopreservation—egg freezing—as a perk for their dedication to work and the company.
However, this seemingly forward thinking effort has questionable implications. Why are companies choosing to fund medically invasive procedures with many potential risks, rather than supporting time off and paying employees enough to sustain them through their chosen family planning time?
While these corporations frame offers like this as a choice and alternative for employees who wish to start families and continue working, they instead succeed in proposing a sort of ultimatum–delay your family or lose your job. As the line between work and personal life becomes blurrier, work-imposed decisions like these can have overwhelming effects on health and productivity—which is a growing threat to company culture.
In a research survey conducted by Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence, of 2,100 employees and executives across four countries, the agency found the following:
- 43% of workers claimed being exhausted always or often
- 42% were stressed
- 35% were overwhelmed
- And 23% said they were depressed
According to that same study, 47% of employees had quit a past job that negatively affected their well-being, and 57% were considering quitting. These numbers only continue to grow as the cost of living skyrockets while wages and working conditions don’t. It’s no surprise that the average worker is fundamentally exhausted.
Hustle culture propaganda is not confined to the workplace, however. Internet influencers often glorify the grind in an effort to suggest that their fame and fortune was acquired not through personal connections and pre-existing wealth, but through hard work and self-sacrifice.
One of the biggest examples of this is none other than billionaire Kim Kardashian. In a profile for Variety published in 2022, the media mogul claimed that she had the best advice for women in business. She said, “Get your fucking ass up and work. It seems like nobody wants to work these days.”
Unsurprisingly, people had a lot to say about this tone-deaf display of ignorance. Actress Jameela Jamil took to twitter to denounce Kardashian’s statements, writing “I think if you grew up in Beverly Hills with super successful parents in what was simply a smaller mansion.. nobody needs to hear your thoughts on successful work ethic. This same 24 hours in the day shit is a nightmare. 99.9% of the world grew up with a VERY different 24 hours.”
The issue here is not the call for hard work, but rather the person making these statements. Kim Kardashian is by no means self-made, and the quote comes off as condescending and extremely dismissive of millions of women and people who work exhaustively to simply make ends meet; something Kardashian has never experienced herself.
What this proves is just how out of touch and apathetic the wealthy 1% are towards the wage and labor crisis we are experiencing right now. The reality is, people want to work, but when companies will not pay their employees enough to simply live and get by, joining the rat race seems futile.
We are living in undoubtedly troubled times, and work can add extra stress to the already harrowing mental health equation. Employers need to listen to research, and begin to understand that employee health and wellness play a crucial role in a company’s success.
In a post-pandemic world many have been raring to return to business as usual, but we must remember that quality will always triumph over quantity. In order for employees to do their best work, they must function in a state that allows them to do so.
This means mental health resources, adequate time away from work and fair wages that can sustain healthy life. Then, and only then, will we have a truly flourishing workforce and prosperous economy.
Nicole Damron is a senior majoring in Arts and Humanities and Professional and Public Writing with a minor in Spanish. She aspires to work as a culture and entertainment writer, potentially freelance. In her leisure time Nicole enjoys playing guitar and trumpet, true crime, listening to music, and sleeping in concerningly late.