The Dangerous Side of Hustle Culture
Why working 24/7 will literally kill you — and how to lead a less stressful and more successful life.
This is a piece I wrote in 2020—so there’s a few bits that need updating. Despite this, the core advice is timeless. I hope you’re able to take something away from this — or that it serves as a reminder to take care of yourself, at the very least.
Are you working harder? Do you rise and grind at 5 a.m.? Are you spending your days as productively as possible?
These are questions that I ask myself all the time. I can’t help it — I’m obsessed with work. I glorify having a busy schedule, I try to occupy my time with as many different projects as possible, and I cannot, for the life of me, get a full night’s sleep without being overcome with guilt. And I hate it.
In today’s fast-paced world, we face more pressure to work harder than ever before, and we see ‘hustle culture’ becoming the norm for more and more people in the workforce.
On social media, we’re bombarded by motivational quotes, productivity tips, and people celebrating the rise-and-grind lifestyle. After all:
- VaynerMedia founder and CEO, Gary Vaynerchuk, advises start-up founders to work at least 18 hours a day if they want to succeed.
- Former Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, put in 130-hour work weeks and slept under her desk when she worked at Google.
- Famous filmmaker and social media star, Casey Neistat, has ‘work harder’ tattooed on his left arm.
Inevitably, we look up to these role models and we think that nonstop hustling is the only way to success.
What we don’t see, however, are the incredibly detrimental effects that such work schedules can have on our health.
Whether you’re a student, an aspiring leader, a full-time employee, or an entrepreneur, there’s no question that career success requires hard work. But ‘hustle culture’ can get addictive, and it comes at a cost.
Overwork, Burnout, and Even Death
There are countless studies highlighting the effects that overwork and stress have on people’s health — and the results are terrifying.
A 2017 study published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found some shocking statistics:
Researchers found that working 61 to 70 hours a week increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 42%, and working 71 to 80 hours increased it by 63%.
Another study published in The Lancet found that ‘people who work long hours have a higher risk of stroke than those working standard hours.’
If that’s not enough, another 2015 working paper from Harvard and Stanford found that ‘health problems stemming from job stress, like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and decreased mental health, can lead to fatal conditions… killing about 120,000 people each year.’
Yes — This means that workplace stress is deadlier than diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and influenza.
Less Work = More Output
If you work longer hours, it only makes sense that you’ll produce more output, right? Well, it turns out that’s not necessarily true.
How is it that Germany boasts the 4th largest economy in the world, and yet the average worker only spends 35.6 hours per week on the job?
That’s because most of the time, working less can actually produce better results. Conversely, working longer hours can result in lost productivity (and consequently, lost profits).
Apart from an increase in absenteeism and employee turnover, researchers have found that ‘stress-related health problems’ are responsible for about $180 billion annual healthcare costs in the US.
Working longer hours also doesn’t result in increased productivity.
There’s a reason why we have a five-day, 40-hour work week. In 1926, Henry Ford — founder of Ford Motor Company — wanted to test something out with his own employees:
He shortened their daily hours from 10 to 8, and he cut the work week from 6 days to 5. Consequently, his workers’ productivity increased.
This doesn’t only hold true to manufacturing jobs. Over a century later, Leslie Perlow and Jessica Porter — two professors at Harvard Business School — repeated the experiment with office workers:
Time off (like nights and weekends) actually made teams of consultants more productive.
Hustling Isn’t As Glamorous As We Think: A Real-Life Example
Elon Musk is notorious for working nonstop — and the consequences are evident.
Musk is one of the world’s most revolutionary entrepreneurs. His companies are disrupting at least 8 different industries and he is undeniably changing the way the world works. He has launched tens of rockets into space, he set the Hyperloop in motion, and he is paving the way for a more sustainable future with Tesla.
However, what goes on behind the scenes isn’t nearly as glamorous.
In a 2018 interview with The New York Times, Musk ‘alternated between laughter and tears’ as he acknowledged how his 120-hour work week takes a toll on his health. Musk admitted that he hadn’t ‘taken more than a week off since 2001, when he was bedridden with malaria.’
Overcome with emotion and at the verge of tears, he confessed that ‘he spent the full 24 hours of his birthday at work.’ He also struggled to recount how he almost missed being best man at his brother’s wedding, flying to the celebration directly from Tesla HQ and returning immediately after.
“There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days — days when I didn’t go outside. This has really come at the expense of seeing my kids.”
Musk also conceded that his sleepless nights have played a part in some very bad decisions, including a tweet that brought upon Tesla a class-action lawsuit and lost the company tens of millions of dollars.
So if you’re not going to take this advice from me, take it from him:
“No one should put this many hours into your work… This is very painful… it hurts my brain and my heart. This is not recommended for anyone.”
3 Things You Can Do To Fight Workaholism
If spending every living, breathing hour of your day working makes you happy, then more power to you — but the 24/7 hustle lifestyle is simply not sustainable for most, and it’s definitely not the only way to success.
If you ever find yourself overworked, overstressed, or overwhelmed, here are 3 helpful tips to slow down and live a happier & healthier life:
(and if you’re an employer, take these into consideration for your employees)
1. Take a break
So simple, yet so difficult!
A 2019 study by the U.S. Travel Association found that 55% of Americans aren’t using their paid vacation time:
Last year, Americans left 768 million days of paid time off unused.
Another 2019 study by TurnKey Vacation Rentals found that 54% of U.S. workers reported ‘feeling guilty about taking vacation time.’
Stop being so hard on yourself! Taking breaks should be encouraged rather than frowned upon. As counterintuitive as it sounds, taking breaks has been proven to result in:
- Increased productivity
- Improved mental well-being
- Creativity boost
- Higher engagement with work
So step away from the computer, take your lunch breaks, and take advantage of your time off. Meditate, go for a walk, try journaling, or practice ‘white space.’
If you need an example, Sarah Kauss — founder of S’well — had her ‘aha’ moment while on a hike in Tucson with her mom:
“I was working so much and I wasn’t really making the time to think about what came next… I literally had to get outside of my own life to reflect.”
2. Don’t spread yourself too thin
Darius Foroux wrote about the the key to achieving anything you want in life:
“You can achieve almost anything in life… as long as you focus on achieving one thing at a time.”
This is how Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, runs both companies simultaneously.
To achieve success, you need to find out what your priorities are in life.
No, really. Take some time to yourself and figure out what’s most important to you. Learn to say “no” sometimes, and only focus on the things that are most meaningful to you. Take it from the 4th richest person in the world:
“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”
— Warren Buffett
3. Don’t just do it for the resume.
To conclude, I leave you with one last piece of advice from Mr. Buffett:
Stop doing things just because they look good on your resume.
As a college student, my friends and classmates often tell me that they’re taking jobs they don’t like or following certain career paths simply because ‘they look good on the resume.’
Don’t just do things because they look good on the resume. Do things because they make you happy!
Explore new things and pursue interests outside of your major or field of work. A lot of people (for example, the founder of Slack) end up doing something completely different from what they studied in college, or from what they were doing even the year before.
After all, you never know what could come out of it.
This is a piece I wrote last year, in 2021— so there’s a few things that need updating (e.g. Jack Dorsey no longer runs both Twitter & Square). Despite these small details, the core advice is timeless & proven. I hope you were able to take something away from this—or that it served as a reminder to take care of yourself, at the very least.