Do a quick search for #hustle on Instagram, and you’ll be hit with nearly 30 million results. From the fitness influencer touting a new personal record from their “no excuses” 5AM workout, to the entrepreneur sharing a motivational quote with the message of “just work harder” woven into their caption, the hustle culture mindset can feel inescapable at times.
On the surface, hustle culture might seem like a positive credo to align yourself with. Fuel that ambition! Chase those goals! Do what it takes to succeed! Why stop at 100% capacity? Aim for 110%! Show that work ethic who’s boss! After all, it claims to deliver on everything that our Western society expects you to be: tough, successful, productive, tenacious, capable, fierce, powerful, unyielding…No. Matter. Freaking. What.
But therein lies the core problem with hustle culture—it’s an unsustainable, unrealistic ideal for any human being to hold themselves to long-term. And in spite of what those hustle evangelists continue to espouse on social media, a constant, relentless grind will not transform you into a superhuman productivity machine. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Hustle Culture and Productivity
It sounds like an oxymoron, but this toxic trend might actually be the reason you’re less productive on the job. (Hard to believe? We spent a whole episode of The Sundaze Journey Podcast examining the “Dark Side of Hustle Culture,” so have a listen!). There’s data to prove it too. As Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index reports, in these last couple years, the length of a normal workday has increased by 46 minutes, while consistently putting in time after-hours or over the weekend has grown by a sharp 42%.
That pressure to be accessible and hyper-connected on a moment’s notice—with your Outlook inbox, Zoom meeting ID, Slack Channel, and Google Drive all within reach—only reinforces the hustle culture mindset. But it also comes at the expense of your own mental health and job performance. Along with an increase in work hours or demands, the consequences of anxiety, stress, exhaustion, and burnout are rarely far behind.
Over time, chronic stress can lead to atrophy (stunted growth or function) in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, according to neuroscientists at the University of Texas Health Science Center. This can impair working memory, attention span, decision making, concentration, and cognitive flexibility—all of which share a direct correlation to productivity. In other words, if you hustle to the edge of burnout, you’ll be no closer to achieving success because you won’t have enough resilience, motivation, or energy left in the tank.
Who Is Most Vulnerable to Hustle Culture’s Toxic Message?
No one who lives in a capitalistic society is immune to the stress and expectations of hustle culture. In fact, social conditioning both normalizes and glorifies it, which means anyone could be at risk for eventual burnout. However, three segments of the workforce are disproportionately vulnerable to those stressors—women, racial minorities, and young adults.
According to Naz Bereshti, executive wellness coach and author of Pause. Breathe. Choose., these three groups are more likely to face obstacles or discrimination in their careers. Some examples include microaggressions, barriers to advancement, limited resources or support, increased emotional labor, inequitable compensation, and lack of cognitive maturity (for young adults, since the brain does not fully develop until age 25).
Not only do those factors tend to exacerbate negative mental health outcomes—they can also make it feel damn near impossible at times to earn recognition, opportunities, or even the most basic respect. If this describes your own experience, it’s no wonder you feel intense pressure or resolve to hustle nonstop. You’ve been forced into a situation where proving your worth means contributing twice as much as others around you.
Given those expectations—whether clear or covert—it can often seem like there’s no choice but to grind if you want to maintain a secure foothold in the workplace. However, this is not your professional burden to carry. It’s the sign of a dysfunctional culture which places a higher premium on deliverables, quotas, and bottom-lines than on the humans who make these results possible. So how can you respond to this toxic cycle? Start with rejecting it.
How Can You Challenge Your Own Hustle Culture Mindset?
We know…easier said than done, right? It’s a process to unlearn harmful messages or patterns of behavior—and it becomes even harder when you have to face off against a trendy social convention. (That hashtag alone has 30 million hits, remember?) The hustle culture mindset is everywhere, which means it won’t always feel like a breeze to combat.
But if you leave this discussion with one takeaway, please bear the following in mind: your intrinsic value isn’t measured by hustle, performance, achievement, or external success. It has nothing to do with 5AM alarms or 15-hour workdays. It’s not about the number of hobbies you monetize into income streams or the volume of side projects you can churn out on a weekend. There is no badge of honor in chronic stress, exhaustion, and burnout.
You don’t have to earn your rest, prove your worth, upgrade your skills, stretch your boundaries, ignore your health, deplete your reserves, or max out your schedule until all you can manage is just to run on fumes. Hustle culture is a recipe for mental, emotional, and physical breakdown. But when you ease off the accelerator and aim for balance over hustle, you’ll make consistent, sustainable productivity gains—with passion and energy to spare.