Everywhere we turn, we're bombarded with messaging that we should be working—and if we are working, we should be working harder. Rise and grind. Hustle harder. Own your moment. Always be closing. Sleep when you're dead. If you love what you do, it doesn't feel like work. Elon Musk is telling us that "nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week" while Marissa Meyer says a 130-hour work week is possible "if you're strategic about when you sleep, when you shower, and how often you go to the bathroom." And who can forget when Kanye West asserted that he has “no interest working with anyone who is too important or too good or too traditional to take a call at 3 a.m.” We're living in a society, at least in America, where working past the point of exhaustion is exalted.
Thus goes the thesis of a recent New York Times article titled "Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work?" in which writer Erin Griffith also wonders, "When did performative workaholism become a lifestyle?"
All this hustle culture, Griffith writes, leads to toil glamour. "In the new work culture, enduring or even merely liking one's job is not enough," Griffith adds. "Workers should love what they do, and then promote that love on social media, thus fusing their identities to that of their employers."
Meanwhile, the scarcity mindset has us all thinking there's not enough time in the day to do everything we want to do or feel like we have to do, but if we can work hard enough and efficiently enough, maybe we can "have it all." So we wake up hours before sunrise to capitalize on those pre-dawn hours of productivity we're told are so important. We listen to podcasts at double speed. We read book summaries instead of the books themselves. Instead of focusing on the quality of our lives, we're thinking about the quantity of what we can buy, learn, or do.
But, ironically, this dogged devotion to productivity is costing us dearly in productivity. Hustle culture and toil glamour lead straight to burnout. As we've discussed before on WerkLife, there's a point of diminishing returns in the workweek, and it's probably a lot closer to the 40-hour mark than it is to the 130-hour mark, even for former Yahoo CEOs. This burnout hits millennials particularly hard, as they're the ones whose societal expectations of life—college degrees, job offers, steady employment—hardly match reality—student debt, job scarcities, gig economies. Millennials feel guilt for any time spent not working because we have been conditioned to believe that we would have it easier—or that we could have it easier if we just hustled harder.
But at Werk, we've always believed in a better way. Work doesn't have to be at odds with personal wellness. While ambition and passion are great qualities, our work shouldn't come at the expense of our relationships, our families, or our sleep schedules. We are humans, after all, not resources. By now we know that work-life balance is a myth, but the scale can't be tipped to one side all the time. We need flexibility. We need vacation. Because the truth is, we all have responsibilities and desires and needs outside of work, and the more employers accept and embrace this reality, the more we can be our whole selves. And the better we'll fare in all aspects of our lives—including, but certainly not limited to, our jobs.