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Hustle Culture and Mental Health: Overcoming the Toxic Grindset at Work

In today’s fast-paced, competitive corporate landscape, the concept of hustle culture, or grind culture, has taken a firm hold within our work environments. This mindset is often rooted in the belief that success is directly proportional to the amount of hard work one puts in. On top of encouraging long hours over self-care, hustle culture can lead to a cycle of relentlessly pursuing professional achievements at the cost of personal wellbeing.

Social media platforms are awash with content encouraging constant productivity and glorifying the non-stop work mentality. At the same time, as much as 60% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, causing increasing financial stress. The result is easily predictable: people are quickly turning to the hustle culture mindset, with 44% of Americans viewing their side hustle as necessary for providing essential income.

In this blog, we dissect this “grindset,” to see when hard work becomes toxic productivity and to understand the downsides of a constant hustle.

Hustle Culture: The Key to Success or a Ticket to Burnout?

Some might argue that a workplace culture built on hustling leads to increased productivity and professional development, but study results tend to show otherwise. Research from the Journal of Occupational Health found that the risk of work-related burnout doubles when employees move from a 40-hour to a 60-hour work week. Meanwhile, over 80% of employees are already at risk of burnout, with Gen Z employees feeling the most stress.

How Hustle Culture Leads to Toxic Productivity

With its relentless emphasis on constant productivity, hustle culture casts a long shadow on employee wellbeing. It also perpetuates a myth that an “always on” grindset will help a person climb the corporate ladder. 

Instead, hustling not only elevates stress and anxiety, but also paves the way for a host of wellbeing issues–impacting mental, emotional, and physical health. The culture fosters an environment where workers are expected to sacrifice their personal lives to work toward unrealistic expectations and professional goals. Toxic productivity can also result in performative workaholism, where the appearance of hard work is more valuable than the actual output or quality itself.

When toxic hustle culture reaches this level, it no longer just impacts the individual, but the wider work culture as a whole. This is a slippery slope leading directly to a cycle that’s hard to break and detrimental to everyone’s success and wellbeing. So, how can employers tell if this hustle mentality has snuck its way into their work environment?

How To Tell When Hard Work Becomes a Hustle Mentality

  1. People Work Excessively Long Hours: One of the hallmarks of grind culture is the normalization of extended work hours. In these contexts, there can almost be a competition to see who can or has worked the longest hours. Rather than a badge of honor, this escalation can have dire consequences. For instance, the World Health Organization reported 745,000 deaths from stroke and heart disease resulting from overworking in a single year. But even in less severe cases, the CDC has linked these nonstandard schedules to increased work-related fatigue, leading to employee burnout.
  2. Constant Availability Is an Expectation: Beyond working hours, a toxic hustle culture encroaches on workers’ personal time by demanding their availability at all hours. Praising immediate responsiveness regardless of the hour fosters an environment where employees feel pressured to be accessible whenever and wherever. This expectation contributes to chronic stress and anxiety, diminishing work-life balance. The truth is that nobody can be on-call 24/7/365.
  3. There’s A Stigma Around Taking Breaks: In addition to having a personal life, taking breaks is also seen as taboo in work cultures where everyone is hustling. Despite evidence suggesting regular breaks can enhance productivity and creativity while pulling employees out of the spiral of burnout, many workers feel discouraged from stepping away from their desks during work hours. This is partly due to the misconception that breaks are a sign of laziness or lack of drive, when they’re actually an essential part of preventing employee burnout.

How Employers Can Break Free of This Burnout Culture

Looking to help employees grow out of their grindset and into a healthy work-life balance? Here are 10 ways to avoid or eliminate this toxic workplace culture:

  1. Model Healthy Working Behaviors: Leadership plays a crucial role in setting the tone for any work environment. When leaders embody healthy working behaviors—such as respecting their own and other’s work-life balance, taking regular breaks, and openly discussing mental health—it sends a powerful message. This approach fosters a positive work environment that encourages everyone to follow suit, leading by example to create a more balanced and healthy workplace.
  2. Establish Reasonable Working Hours: Setting reasonable working hours is essential in combating hustle culture. Prolonged work hours can lead to decreased productivity, heightened stress levels, and an increased risk of physical and mental health issues. Companies can establish clear policies that define work hours and discourage overtime unless absolutely necessary. For instance, a standard 40-hour work week (or less) should be the target to ensure employees have enough time for rest, recreation, relaxation, and personal responsibilities.
  3. Encourage Breaks and Time Off: Regular breaks throughout the workday and time off from work are crucial for employee wellbeing and productivity. Not only can short breaks improve mental acuity and employee engagement, but extended vacations can reduce stress and prevent burnout. Employers should create and promote a culture where taking breaks is encouraged and taking time off is seen as a necessity rather than a luxury.
  4. Allow Employees To Set Clear Boundaries: Empower employees to dismantle the grind culture on an individual level by establishing clear boundaries between work and personal life. Employers should respect personal time and understand that work should not take priority over employees’ personal lives outside of the office. Team members should also be encouraged to share their work hours and availability to reinforce the idea that after-hour inquiries can wait. 
  5. Prioritize Efficiency Over Hours Worked: While taking down the toxic hustle mentality will require careful boundaries in time, employers themselves will also need to change their mindset around how they track performance. Emphasizing output over hours spent encourages a more productive work ethic that sets the stage for work-life integration and demonstrates the value of smart work over hard work. This not only boosts morale, but it also fosters a more flexible, results-oriented culture.
  6. Create a Supportive, Understanding Environment: A supportive and understanding work environment is key to mitigating the pressures of hustling to get by. Employers must recognize the signs of stress and burnout and offer support through open communication, access to mental health resources, and a genuine commitment to employee wellbeing. By cultivating an atmosphere where employees feel valued and heard, companies can enhance engagement, loyalty, and overall job satisfaction.
  7. Offer Flexible Work Arrangements: The modern workplace is evolving, and with it, recognition that one size does not fit all when it comes to work arrangements. Offering flexible options—such as remote work, flexible hours, and compressed workweeks—can significantly improve employee satisfaction and productivity. Flexibility also helps employees manage their work and personal responsibilities more effectively, reducing stress and preventing burnout.
  8. Provide Mental Health Resources: Mental health is a crucial component to overall wellbeing, yet it’s often overlooked in the workplace. Providing accessible mental health resources, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs), mental health days, and professional counseling services, demonstrates an employer’s commitment to the holistic health of their workforce. Educating staff about these resources and encouraging their use without stigma can foster a supportive environment that elevates employee mental health and morale.
  9. Remind Employees About the Risks of Grind Culture: Awareness is key when it comes to changing mindsets. Regularly reminding employees about the risks associated with grind culture is critical, especially when they begin to exhibit hustle behaviors or burnout symptoms. Hosting mindfulness workshops, sharing resources, and hosting expert-led discussions can encourage employees to reassess their working habits and prioritize their wellbeing.
  10. Check In Regularly and Ask for Feedback: Finally, open and ongoing communication is vital for any healthy workplace. Regularly check in with employees to provide a forum for discussing workloads, challenges, and wellbeing. These conversations can help identify early signs of stress and burnout, allowing for timely interventions. Soliciting feedback on these initiatives also gives employees a voice in shaping the culture and policies that impact their day-to-day lives.

From Hustle Culture to Holistic Wellness

Making the transition from hustle culture to holistic wellness can seem like a giant leap, but the grass is so much greener on the other side. Discover how WellRight’s comprehensive wellness programs can help your organization make the move toward work-life balance.

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