Hustle culture is dangerous: But quiet quitting is not the answer either

Elon Musk has allegedly written to all his new Twitter employees, giving them till today to agree to a new work ethos. “Long hours at high intensity” and “being extremely hardcore” were the direct quotes seen by the Guardian. It’s strange language to use: Musk is clearly a fan of Hustle Culture.

To me, Hustle Culture comes down to the same thing. Stress.

The 7-11 November was Stress Awareness Week here in the UK – an annual event that aims to reduce the stigma and stress around mental health. With that in mind, it’s worth flagging that the most common cause of stress is work-related, with 79% of people in the UK saying they frequently feel it (Statista).

In fact, a whopping 13.7million working days are lost in the UK each year because of work-related stress, costing over £28bn per annum (NICE) – and this year’s workplace health report revealed that third (33%) of employees report moderate to high or high levels of stress.

I’m all for hard work. I’d just like to establish that. Without hard work, businesses would not get off the ground, buildings erected, children taught, people healed. But telling your team that they need to be “extremely hardcore” is not the way.

Good stress v bad stress

There are benefits to a bit of stress. Good stress, known as ‘eustress’, comes from doing something that is demanding but enjoyable, as identified by the APA (American Psychological Association). It’s the opposite of distress and according to some studies, it can help boost brainpower and immunity, make a person more resilient and more motivated to succeed. It’s the kind of stress athletes experience before an event, or some people might feel before a holiday or moving house. I imagine eustress has been the driving force for many SME owners over the years.

But the key is to be able to identify when eustress becomes distress, and has a negative impact on our mental health, our performance at work, and the performance of our staff.

Hustle Culture

To me, a major factor for company owners’ stress is the promotion of Hustle Culture – or grind culture as it is also known. Fueled by social media, podcasts and even the mainstream media (“How to get the body of a CEO!” Screamed the Sunday Times just a few weeks ago); These terms glorify hard work, early starts, high levels of concentration and an overall drive that is simply not healthy or practical for most people.

Starting a business from scratch is stressful, profits can take a long time to materialize, growing a company and managing staff is fraught with complexities. I applaud all company founders, who have the vision and passion to progress and succeed. Equally, buying a business is still a huge responsibility and brings a lot of pressure – and it’s vital that we do not take on more than we can, regardless of the industry in which we operate.

I should know. I have sold and bought scores of businesses over the last two decades, but I burned out completely earlier this year ago and ended up seeking professional help. I had a business that grew too quickly and I ended up far too emotionally invested. After a lot of soul searching, I sold it and sought treatment for what had developed into stress, anxiety, insomnia and a subsequent reliance on sleeping tablets. What a difference that made.

Of course, if it doesn’t lead to burnout, stress can drive workers in the other direction entirely: Quiet Quitting. Another trend.

quiet quitting

Apparently 50% of the global workforce is Quietly Quitting. The term started to gather pace during the pandemic and the rise of homeworking – it garnered 1.2 million searches in one month alone this Summer. Simply put, it means an employee puts no more effort into their job than is absolutely necessary. It’s about looking after yourself and stopping when the pay stops. It’s the antithesis of (and possible a reaction to?) Hustle Culture. Clock in, clock out, do the work and then go and enjoy your free time. This is not a new phenomenon, it’s just that it now has a name. Just like Hustle Culture.

My issue with both of these ‘trends’ is that I see no genuine pleasure in either. Hustle Culture, for many, means complete burnout and an unhappy team that cannot keep up. Quiet Quitting surely means a lack of interest or pride in your work that could lead to lethargy and resentment.

There is a middle ground. Work can be a part of life that is enjoyed, that instils passion, but that does not entirely take over. And this is what I talk about with my customers and colleagues. Start the business, buy the business, work for the business – do whatever is best for you and your life. But choose the approach that makes you happy, in an industry that you find enjoyable.

It’s all about balance – and of course this is not new either. It’s just something that I think many people have lost sight of. Hard work is a good thing. But switching off and relaxing is an absolute necessity. The lines of home and work have been blurred too much and the pressures of these latest trends play too much of a role in our overall happiness. We all need to be able to keep work in perspective, while still being good at what we do. Musk’s demands and very tight deadlines for responses does not sound like he is going to allow much time for switching off. There could be lots of people quitting – and not quietly.

Life is not something we should ever hustle OR quit over. There is a middle ground. Work should be the same.

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