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The Millennial Hustle Culture and Why It’s So Dangerous

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A grim and exploitative "hustle-mania" culture is being pushed on a young generation in the workforce, encouraging them to find their self-worth in the quantity of their work at the expense of their overall health and well-being.


In January, the New York Times released an article by Erin Griffith titled, “Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work?” In an exploration of current work culture and a disturbing shift seen in the millennial generation, Griffith explains, “I saw the greatest minds of my generation log 18-hour days—and then boast about #hustle on Instagram. When did performative workaholism become a lifestyle?”

The article has served as somewhat of an awakening for many young people so deep in a performative workaholism lifestyle that they haven’t been able to stop and evaluate the why behind the work.

As a result, worshiping productivity has turned rest into the enemy.

Many of us see examples of performative workaholism multiple times a day. Some call it “toil glamour”—your coworker’s “Good Things Come to Girls Who Hustle” quote-card screensaver or competitive need to be the last one to leave for the day, or your friend posting a selfie to her Instagram story at 7 am from her office desk with the caption, “No pain, no gain! #WorkLife #Hustle #NoDaysOff #DailyGrind.”

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It’s no longer enough to go to the office, perform your work in a satisfactory manner and leave at 5 pm—now, you have to love it and live for it.

Where has this performative workaholism come from? Many are quick to blame those on top—the managers, financiers and business owners.

“No one ever changed the world on 40 hours a week,” Elon Musk, announced on Twitter. Musk went on to recommend “80, sustained’” hours a week, “peaking [at] about 100.” Musk and his fellow “Thank God it’s Monday” movement followers have created the idea that performative workaholism is advantageous, life-giving and meaningful. If we take a hard look at our work culture, we see a 24/7-toil environment with millions of #workinglate selfies to prove it.

LightWorkers hustle culture

Image courtesy of Shutterstock, Inc., Used By Permission.

In the New York Times article, Griffith speaks to David Heinemeier Hansson, the co-founder of Basecamp and author of,  It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, a book about creating healthy company cultures. “The vast majority of people beating the drums of hustle-mania are not the people doing the actual work. They’re the managers, financiers and owners,” said Griffith. He goes on to explain that despite data showing long hours improve neither productivity nor creativity, myths about overwork persist because they justify the extreme wealth created for a small group of elite techies. “It’s grim and exploitative,” he says in conclusion.

There’s no doubt that it’s happening. But what has made this young generation so vulnerable to this kind of exploitation?

To start with, it doesn’t help that an entire millennial generation was raised to expect that the good grades and extracurricular overachievement they worked so hard at as children would reward them with fulfilling dream-jobs that feed their passions and change the world.

The reality? For most—sadly—uneventful, meaningless work and a mountain of student loan debt. But this is the truth of their reality. And in an effort to cope and rebrand “surviving the rat race,” simply enduring one’s job is not good enough. They must love it and show others that they are happy and loving their work as a defense mechanism—and as a result, fusing their identities to their employment.

And to make matters worse, those who are living their dream in passion-fueled, world-changing jobs are sharing their success on social media for the world to see and praise, leaving the masses stuck in their cubicles crunching numbers and sorting spreadsheets feeling worthless and unhappy.

But more importantly, this mass exploitation and performative workaholism movement point towards a generation that is increasingly hungry for purpose and meaning.

Multiple surveys have indicated that members of the youngest generation of adults in the U.S. are far less likely than older Americans to identify with a religious group, with a high percentage identifying as religious “nones” (saying they are atheists or agnostics, or that their religion is “nothing in particular”). In a time when faith is so needed to ground us in purpose and truth, millennials are searching for meaning and finding it—or something disguised as it— in productivity.

The concept of productivity has become a spiritual one for many young people who have turned work from something that you do to get what you want into the goal itself. Any job that glamorizes long hours, #hustle and work-hacks that allow one to fit even more work into a day are therefore not only attractive but inherently good.

It’s time to give ourselves permission to draw healthy boundary lines, take the power away from “toil glamour” and reject productivity-worshiping.

As a result, worshiping productivity has turned rest into the enemy. People report feeling guilty and anxious if they’re not as productive as their peers. Being a part of the rat-race is more comforting than the idea of falling by the wayside—when in reality, the rat-race often leads to nowhere and the “wayside” is actually living a full, well-rounded life.

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There should be credit given to the hustlers—those who passionately and tirelessly work for something they believe in and are passionate about. Hard work and discipline is incredibly valuable, and goal-setting brings numerous benefits and enjoyment to life. But we should only hustle for a purpose—if there is an end goal that brings us needed change, reward and rest for the good of all.

We don’t have to hustle for the sake of hustle. You aren’t a better or more successful person because you get to work at 7 am. We won’t be happier because we’re completing more work per day than ever before.

Millennials, you don’t have to pretend to love your jobs. Yes, you should look for a job that you like and that brings you enjoyment and pride if you can. But you don’t have to pretend to love it and live for it. Love and live for your faith, your family, your hobbies and your personal goals.

#Hustle to try something new, like rock climbing or playing the piano.

#Worklate to finish that puzzle that you and your roommate are determined to master, or to finish the chapter of that novel you can’t put down.

Be an #EarlyRiser so you can watch the sunrise on your morning hike or from your porch as you sip coffee with your spouse.

If we can, let’s start to push back on the performative workaholism being forced upon us. Our jobs do not define us. It’s time to give ourselves permission to draw healthy boundary lines, take the power away from “toil glamour” and reject productivity-worshiping.