Moving Beyond Hustle Culture

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Four-day week lets employees be ‘fully human’

I’m a recovering hustler. We held up hard work as the holy grail in my childhood home. My Enneagram friends tell me I’m a 3—which means I need to produce and perform to be worthy of love and belonging. As vulnerable as that makes me feel, it holds some water.

I spent my 20s in advertising. We’d high-five every year that CareerCast named our profession to the “Top 5 Most Stressful Occupations” list; where holiday spoofs teased the gift we hoped to receive from agency leaders was a rare chance to see our families. I’ve hired coaches to help me “slow down.”

When I was pregnant with our second child, I took a 20% pay cut in my leadership role to work four days a week. The CEO agreed to the deal, noting, “I’m allowing this because I know I’ll get 40+ hours of work out of you, anyway.” He meant it as a compliment, and worse—I received it that way!

I’d decorated my office with art depicting light switches that toggled between on and on, and a candle that burned brightly at both ends. I wore my exhaustion, effort and hustle as a badge of honor, and suffered plenty for it.

Here’s the thing I’m learning about hustle—gritty effort is effective only when it’s balanced by space to release, play, create and rest.

This concept is challenging in practice. Hustle Culture is celebrated. There’s evidence everywhere—from We Work’s “Hustle Harder” neon lights, to T.G.I.Monday murals, and Lingua Franca embroidered sweaters. Capitalism loves us when we are working hard at work. Remember Elon Musk’s viral tweet about the ideal 80-hour workweek? About the man on the mountaintop who didn’t fall there? We’re inundated with messages that hustling harder, and pushing past our physical and emotional pain, is noble and good.

This paradox is fascinating because we have extensive data showing long hours improve neither productivity nor creativity.

Redefine work + disrupt the hustle culture

After a year of working from home that felt much more like living at work, great leaders are leaning into the opportunity to define and disrupt work as we know it, questioning it all: from the value of physical space, to the role workplaces play in employee mental health. And that means disrupting hustle as we know it.

The five-day workweek hasn’t been reimagined since 1908, when a New England cotton mill closed an extra day so Jewish workers could be home on the Sabbath. Ford Motor Co. followed suit years later.

In 2021, ADVISA announced our own move to a four-day workweek during the summer months. We are a team of people who deeply love our work—being a catalyst for leaders’ individual and organizational change gets us all a little evangelical. Our collective hustle has our company productivity soaring. And that means our people—every company’s most valuable asset—need increased space to recharge and reenergize.

Here is what no business book will tell you:

The key to achieving goals is, in part, letting go of their outcomes, surrendering to the process, and trusting that the goals will materialize, while balancing the necessary effort. Surrender is not “giving up,” rather “giving over to,” and it requires dedicated time and space, just like white-knuckled effort does.

As Joe Pinsker wrote for The Atlantic the day of our announcement: “Regardless of any benefits to businesses, stripping away all of work’s extra scaffolding and paying people the same amount for fewer hours—whether they’re salaried or paid hourly—would genuinely nurture human flourishing. It would make caregiving, personal development, and the management of modern life easier for people across the economic spectrum.

“And it would reignite an essential but long-forgotten moral project: making American life less about work.”

Big businesses like Microsoft, Shake Shack and Unilever have already begun four-day workweeks. Success will be revealed in time.

In yoga, the phrase “Sthira sukham asanam” means we must strive to practice with strength and in a relaxed manner. Sthira translates as strong, steady and stable. Sukha means comfortable, happy and relaxed. I challenge leaders to create a culture with a similar seesaw between effort and surrender.

It’s always been OK to expect hard work. Start also expecting people to be fully human—less stressed, less strapped for time, more physically and mentally healthy. That’s the evolution of hustle.


Want to hear more from Leadership Consultant Mandy Haskett? Read her previous article, “Boom will force companies to reevaluate culture”.

This article originally appeared in the Indianapolis Business Journal on July 30, 2021.