Performative workaholism has been on a steady rise over the recent years. Pretending to love work, grinding round the clock, and gambling with one’s mental health have substituted the notion of productivity to feed into the ever-demanding capitalist structure. Earlier limited to the confines of toxic workplaces, the grind culture has transcended all boundaries to seep into every orifice of the corporate world – a walking disaster set loose by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The grind culture, propagated by capitalist bootlickers and furthered by devout LinkedIn worshippers, is no more than a farcical stunt performed in response to the rising threat to job security on a global scale. The pretentious affinity towards a false sense of productivity is a subconscious attempt to please the upper-level employees to either curry favors from the management or to ensure longevity in the office. The capitalist system thrives on such fears and has done nothing to drag the corporate world out of this maelstrom of lies. And why would it? After all, this is exactly what the rich want – to profit off the fruitless slogging of those residing in the lower stratospheres of the industrial hierarchy.
A single drop of toxic water is enough to poison the entire ocean. And that is the problem with hustle culture – it is radiating off the charts to seize the normalcy of an average corporate employee. Staying late at the office even after the working hours are over has been made into something that is expected of every “employee of the month”, irrespective of what anyone could have achieved by working comparatively lesser. The hustle culture is no longer an exclusive circus where only the hustlers are invited – the entire corporate workforce is dragged into the eye of the storm; their mental health and peace long forgotten. The final nail in the coffin was put in place by something unexpected, something magnanimous – the global pandemic.
When COVID-19 struck, people were expecting a nice and long break from work so that they could concentrate on their mental wellbeing. Capitalism said: Psych! The long-contested debate as to whether the concept of “work from home” would be feasible was concluded in a matter of days as employees were asked to don their online apparel and start working remotely. While this was a welcome change, the nature of implementation was nothing short of staggering. As work from home embraced the toxic hustle culture, everyone was made a target.
The first tremors of work from home were felt when the thin line between an employee’s office hours and personal time became increasingly blurred. Because of how highly accessible and interconnected everyone was, thanks to the internet, employers and team leaders became increasingly adamant that every hour is an office hour. Employees reportedly received work emails at midnight and were expected to take up new projects irrespective of what time it was on the clock.
This toxic notion of productivity was further enabled by the so-called hustlers, who took to Instagram to post pictures of their workspaces at 3 in the morning to prove their diligence to an uninterested, invisible audience. As more and more people fell into the trap of the hustle culture, it began shaping into sort of a norm within every corporate workspace. Managers unapologetically demanded that their employees extend their services beyond the contractual boundaries of what we once called “work hours”. Not only is this gross and exploitative, but it’s also resulting in a drastic decline in employees’ mental health, further deteriorating an already washed-out job market in the process.
While a majority of the corporate workforce is forced to participate in the cabaret that is the hustle culture, others (who propagate it) prefer to lead by example. What compels them to agree to be exploited is an intense fear of losing their jobs along with a constant desire to climb higher up on the corporate ladder. Unfortunately, capitalism doesn’t necessarily reward all those that work harder than the rest.
The notion that hustle culture would ultimately lead to an unearthly success is a hoax that has ruined multiple lives and is on course to engulfing whatever crumbs of ethics remain in the world of corporate executives. To give you an idea, for an average U.S. worker who earns about $50,000 annually, hustling for 22,000 years of their lives would equate their net worth to around $1 billion. To reach what Jeff Bezos has earned in his life, it would take them around 4.4e+15 years. And, you know the math is long when even the calculator starts using the alphabet.
Jeff Bezos didn’t reach where he is today because he was a participant in the hustle culture. He’s sleeping in wads of cash, instead, because he can capitalize on the tireless slogging of these hustlers who are either there by choice, or because they’re forced to.
Hustle culture was dangerously fatal before the arrival of the COVID-19 virus. It leads to stress and anxiety; the road to an ultimate burnout is also inevitable if not controlled to certain degrees. Pandemic only made things worse, and little flickers of flames have now morphed into an uncontrollable wildfire. It has gotten to an extent where employees are reprimanded for working only to the extent that was agreed upon during the recruitment stages.
Seemingly, the only solution to this grave issue metaphors the great fall of Titanic, where the only ones who survived jumped out of the sinking ship on a limited number of lifeboats. But it doesn’t have to be like that – the corporate workforce is big enough to take matters into their own hands. The process starts with awareness – the awareness that one is being exploited and is not in the wrong for not working more than what was on the job description.
Replacing a lost job could take months and hundreds of rejected applications. And relapsing into deteriorated mental health can have colossal ramifications that might stick with you till the end of time.
Those trapped under the umbrella of the hustle culture need to embrace the notion of treating themselves today, and not later on. The entire foundation of hustle culture rests on the mantra that hard work will pay off someday. To break the wheel of exploitation and prevent burnout, creating stringent boundaries in one’s work schedule is of the utmost importance.
Anzal Khan is a student pursuing Bachelors in Commerce from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Farzan Ghani