Toxic Productivity and Hustle Culture: A work-obsessed world

Hustle Culture. Toxic Productivity. Why is the world so work-obsessed and what are the dangers of this intense lifestyle?

Toxic Productivity and Hustle Culture: A work-obsessed world

Ever feel a nagging guilt when you’re not doing something productive? Do you feel overwhelmed by a culture of non-stop hustle and grind? The pressure to always be doing, moving, creating and achieving is huge nowadays and the barrage of media that urges you to always be on your A-game of productivity is constant. I wanted to explore why we’ve built up this culture of hustle that is so harsh and relentless for many, what the dangers are of this high level productivity and what we can all do to ease the pressure.

What exactly is Hustle Culture?

Hustle Culture. The constant working, long hours and intense “grind” that is glorified within society. If you have fallen subject to the constraints of Hustle Culture, you will probably be working tirelessly hard for career-focused goals and even sacrificing life essentials. It can often lead to prioritising work over relationships, enough sleep and even basic meals.

How has Hustle Culture accelerated in society?

The speed at which technology has progressed in recent years has propelled Hustle Culture – particularly for the Generation-Z portion of society. We are constantly connected to the world via our mobile devices and find it difficult to switch off as a result. We all now have the ability to check emails and work-related projects away from home, and technology has brought social media – a hugely contributing factor of Hustle Culture – to the forefront.

As British Vogue put it, ‘you can’t miss the rise in “career porn” on Instagram’. Narratives such as #girlboss and #mondaymotivation are everywhere! Don’t get me wrong, encouraging others, being positive and ambitious in regards to your work life is not something to be discouraged but where do we draw the line and when does it become toxic?

We talk about it in regards to body image all the time and comparing yourself to others but the same goes for productivity. We can get swept up in the notion that everyone is admirably hustling and working harder than you. The pressure to be none-stop grinding can become consuming.

The role of capitalism

An interesting thing I learnt from a video by Eve Cornwell, YouTuber and trainee lawyer, is that the capitalistic society in which we live really fuels our desire to constantly be productive. Market capitalism’s main aim is to generate profit and therefore capitalism incentivises production. Production and profit become a main focus and we, as individuals of the system, start failing to see any value in tasks that lack a tangible, productive outcome. It becomes ingrained in us that through being productive we can be successful, and that’s why we feel guilty when we take a break from work.  

Why is Hustle Culture harmful?

Many of us aspire to Hustle Culture as an empowering, exciting and ultimately rewarding lifestyle, where we can feel successful. Yet the effects of Hustle Culture to your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health can be devastating. ‘Hustle culture can get toxic when you start to put your mental health below this idea of ‘constant working’’ says an article from The Courier Online.

Emulating characteristics of Hustle Culture in your lifestyle can be dangerous for many reasons. Longer hours of working can lead to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. A lack of sleep reduces your performance levels and not prioritising your social life can be detrimental to your mental health. As well, Hustle Culture affects our sense of self-worth. As author and psychologist Joe Eckler, PsyD put it “Our sense of value fluctuates wildly depending on how much we were able to do that day,”.

When we are stressed, we produce stress hormones such as cortisol and prolonged high levels of this hormone can cause a number of effects like high blood pressure, high blood glucose levels and impaired immune system function, says an article by Shondaland. In order to get cortisol levels returned to normal we must practice R&R on a regular basis.

Additionally, Hustle Culture and work-related stress can lead to burnout syndrome. From the World Health Organisation, “burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The symptoms of burnout can be “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion”, “increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job” and/or “reduced professional efficacy.”

Intense hustle culture in other countries has even been said to be a cause of death. Examples of this have been recorded in Japan as Maize magazine highlights the “Karoshi” term – meaning death from work-related heart attacks, strokes, and suicides.

Toxic Productivity

Hustle Culture links closely with Toxic Productivity, another dangerous and overwhelming cultural phenomenon. Toxic Productivity is the obsession with “radical self-improvement” and the desire to always be productive or else feel guilt when completing purely recreational activities for pleasure. Anything that doesn’t have a clear productive outcome can seem futile and being unproductive can invoke a sense of fear and restlessness.

What can you do to ease the pressure of Toxic Productivity in your life?

Many of us felt the effects of Toxic Productivity in lockdown as we were urged to use our newfound free time to complete all the tasks we’d been accruing on our to-do lists: learn a new language, decorate the house, do a workout every day, and so forth! And as life reopens we’re only going to get busier, so what tips and tricks can we use to make the pressure of productivity a little more manageable?

·         Remember that you are enough just as you are! You don’t need to validate yourself with achieving things

·         Put self-care on the to-do list! Self-care should never fall under work and productivity in your list of priorities.

·         Make sure you do things you enjoy just because you enjoy them and not because they have clear productive outcomes

·         Take breaks. Don’t underestimate the importance of rest!

·         Don’t compare yourself to others and the unattainable standards of productivity shown in the media. And remember what you see online isn’t always a realistic projection of that person’s life! 

Watch this BBC wellness video for more info!

If you need support with mental health you can visit for information on organisations you can contact.

Header Image Credit: Microbiz Mag via flickr


Daisy Mellor

Daisy Mellor Contributor

Hello my name is Daisy Mellor. I love writing about the arts, culture and literature and have a passion for dance and theatre performance myself!

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  • Juliet Sawyer

    On 17 April 2021, 19:10 Juliet Sawyer Contributor commented:

    Love this article! Especially during current times, I think people's work and social lives are becoming very merged, and it can be super hard to switch off. We constantly feel bad for not doing more because we've set the bar so high - and it's unsustainable! After all, self care isn't unproductive, and we shouldn't feel bad for giving ourselves a break!

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