Anti-hustle: it's too late to go back to the grind

As the pandemic allowed many of us to slow down and reassess our life priorities, has the end of the rat race finally arrived in the world of work?

Spend just five minutes reading startup threads on Twitter and you'll quickly notice one recurring theme: wealthy business owners or investors congratulating themselves on how hard they hustled to get where they are today.

For years, people have followed the idea that, to be successful, you have to work hard, sacrifice everything and put your personal life on hold (or not have one at all) to build the business or lifestyle that you want. Leaders in high-ranking positions tend to reinforce this narrative. After all, ‘nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week’, Elon Musk famously tweeted in 2018.

But is hustle culture sending the wrong signals? Our obsession with productivity can reinforce an unhealthy attitude to working life that proves to be unsustainable. At Courier, we've profiled business owners the world over who've worked themselves to the edge of burnout (or beyond) in search of success, but at what cost? What did they give up in their journeys, and would they do it again if they had the chance to start over?

The tide could be turning, however. People have realized that the work-hard, play-hard rhetoric can't always fly. From Covid-19 and the economic crisis to the rising cost of living, stagnant incomes and greater disparities between the ultra-rich and the rest of us – the backlash against the rat race is hardly surprising. 

Just look at the r/antiwork Reddit community – aimed at those who ‘want to get the most out of a work-free life’ – which, at the time of writing, has 1.8 million members (‘idlers’, as they're known on the site) following a surge in numbers last year. Threads range from rants about poor workplace conditions and pay to people praising the benefits of universal basic income, the need to reprioritize leisure time and calls to abolish work altogether. 

For many, work is simply a way of putting food on the table, paying rent and looking after your family. And a lot of jobs are a grind; they require hard work, mental or physical. While there isn't a consensus on r/antiwork, one thing is clear: people want a different approach to work – one that involves sensible hours and employers who care for staff wellbeing.

Some companies are shaking up the status quo in an effort to retain valued employees. Take meal-kit delivery service RNS Meals, which aims to roll out a share-equity program to full-time staff this year, or Brooklyn restaurant Santa Fe BK, which has restructured pay for front-of-house and kitchen staff to be more equitable.

While hospitality companies have been pressured into changing – particularly following a mass exodus of workers over the past two years – they won't be the only ones hit by the Great Resignation. Being proactive to look after staff is something that every business should consider – before it's too late.

This article was first published in Courier issue 46, April/May 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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