Hustle Culture is Killing Businesses

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As the CEO of a B2B company that sells to small business and entrepreneurs, I’ve spent years researching and experiencing what makes these people tick: what they want and what they need. For as long as I’ve been in the market, there has been a parallel industry running alongside the economy, trying to sell people on dreams and fantasies of obscene wealth. The most recent iteration and wording to come out of this industry is the idea of “hustle culture.”

Hustle culture, or the idea that you need to work yourself ragged to get ahead, competing to put in more hours than everyone around you, is the exact opposite of the age-old adage, “work smarter, not harder.”

Our business had hundreds of customers, all small business owners or people trying to run a “side hustle,” call to cancel our service over the course of the pandemic. The vast majority of them were cancelling because their business had closed, through no fault of their own. Over half cited burnout and mental exhaustion.

They aren’t alone. Despite frequently under-reported statistics about mental health in America, self-reported depression rates in adults doubled during the pandemic. Anxiety rates quadrupled.

The conversation about mental health is not fun, hence why it goes ignored despite its immense consequences, both measurable and immeasurable. The World Health Organization estimated that mental health issues around the world cause $1 trillion in lost productive annually. What is the main cause of work-related mental health issues? Being overworked.

For all the misery and hardship COVID-19 brought, you would hope we as a society could learn from it and correct some of the mistakes we were so blatantly making before, primary among them getting rid of toxic ideas like “hustle.” Psychological study after psychological study end up agreeing that hustle culture and the idea that “the grind never stops” only lead to increased stress levels, which in turn decrease productivity, happiness, and quality of life.

And yet, as things slowly return to normal, #hustle has been returning to Instagram and LinkedIn as well. Why are young people buying into this myth? Feel-good pieces on people paying off enormous student debts in 5 years or becoming millionaires by the time they turn 30 are not blueprints for success, but rather pleasant distractions to get you to buy into exploitative practices like hustle culture.

Millennials are now the largest single generation in the workforce and the population, yet they collectively own only about 5% of America’s overall wealth. Baby Boomers, those born between 1946–1964, own about half of the total wealth in America despite making up roughly 30% of the adult population. This is largely a result of the explosion in company profits over the past 20 years, which have outpaced worker salaries by 6–7 times.

This is not a promissory note for future wealth. It’s a debt-trap that has only become more dangerous due to the rise of the gig economy and side hustle mentality. It’s Elon Musk, one of the richest people on Earth, tweeting that you need to work at least 80 hours a week to achieve anything despite many workers at Tesla claiming sweatshop conditions.

Why am I here talking about all this?

I certainly can’t change the corporate environment at Fortune 500 companies, but I hope I can reach the eyes and ears of small business owners and employees, those people I’ve spent my professional life trying to help. The number of small businesses in the five years before COVID-19 was on the rise, in part due to the increasing ease of using social media to sell and the idea that being your own was more possible than ever before.

The pandemic obviously served as a wall to that growth, but hopefully over the next few years the country can slowly recover and surpass the number of successful small businesses it had in 2019.

The key to doing that is abandoning hustle culture. The most important step of opening a business is the preparation stage, a stage that disciples of hustle culture underplay, believing that 15-hour days will overcome anything. They cannot.

All overworking yourself does is lead to burnout, more small businesses closing, and less future entrepreneurs. The same goes for trying to encourage your employees to work themselves ragged. Small businesses rely on their workers considerably more than big business does, so pushing them to the edge and having them quit or burnout could sink your business.

That’s the main part people miss when they decry hustle culture. Yes, it harms productivity and decreases people’s happiness, but the end step of that is the detrimental effect on the businesses themselves, which proponents of hustle culture — especially the Baby Boomers in boardrooms — overlook. So, whether you’re a boss or an employee, the next time you have the urge to post #hustle on social media, or stay 3 hours late, or voluntarily do unpaid overtime, reconsider your situation. It may be the only thing that saves your company.

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CEO of MightyCall, husband, dad x2, strong believer in people, fan of workouts

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Dmitri Lepikhov

Dmitri Lepikhov

CEO of MightyCall, husband, dad x2, strong believer in people, fan of workouts

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