This post is part of our blog series on Working Well — Hustle, Burnout, and the Future of Work.
I'm sitting across from another founder in our shared co-working space, eating a lunch I brought from home. I had leftovers from the meal I cooked the night before. With a breath of judgement in his voice, he asks: "How do you have the time to make dinner every day?"
"Easy," I say. "I make time."
I've had many conversations similar to this one, and it appears that I have a lot more spare time in my life than most other entrepreneurs — in their eyes, at least. That I'm capable of having a daily workout routine, to never skip a home-cooked meal, and to enjoy time with my friends and family on weekends comes as a surprise to most other founders I speak to. But surprisingly, none appear to be very envious of my balance between life and work — instead, I'm the odd one out, judged by a culture obsessed with the hustle.
The hustle obsession has led to a burnout epidemic
At Web Summit this year, Alexis Ohanian took center stage and spoke at length about what he shamelessly calls hustle porn. "This idea that unless you're suffering, grinding, working every hour of every day, you’re not working hard enough — this is one of the most toxic, dangerous things in tech right now,” Ohanian said to a 10,000 person crowd. “It’s such bullshit, such utter bullshit. It has deleterious effects not just on your business but on your well-being.”
"This idea that unless you are suffering, grinding, working every hour of every day, you’re not working hard enough — this is one of the most toxic, dangerous things in tech right now."
Behind Ohanian on two giant screens was a slide that read Health > Hustle, articulating very simply and effectively his rare point of view.
The popular work culture, especially for fast-growing startups, has increasingly placed work priorities over health and well-being, making employees feel like they’re unable to disconnect from their work — whether intentional or not. According to Deloitte's Human Capital Trends Report from 2015, more than half of professionals feel like their employer doesn't care about their life outside of work, and 33% will consistently prioritize work over personal or family commitments.
That's why it's not surprising that work-life balance has become a top priority for young professionals, after experiencing life at companies where leaders have forgotten to make it a priority. The 2017 World Happiness Report found that work-life balance has become one of the strongest predictors of happiness, and a majority of millennials now place work-life balance second in importance when evaluating new job opportunities (salary is first).
In other words, the hustle culture is so bad that having better work-life balance has become a deep desire — a craving even — that everyone on your team wants a lot more of, but is probably afraid to say they do.
A friend of mine working at a fast-growing startup put it to me this way: "The free yoga, the weekly after-work events, and free lunches all make me feel guilty when I don't want to participate. And Slack messages over the weekend make me feel like I have to respond," he explains.
His guilt as an employee is shared by many non-founders I speak to — all of whom have lives outside of work that they want to truly enjoy free of guilt, anxiety, and stress. Leaders who share in their desire — who themselves celebrate and encourage time spent away from work — are surprisingly hard to find.
The hustle culture is so bad that having better work-life balance has become a deep desire that everyone on your team wants a lot more of, but is afraid to say they do.
"As entrepreneurs, we are all so busy crushing it that physical health, let alone mental health, is an afterthought for most founders," Ohanian wrote on Medium earlier this year, intimately reflecting on the impact of well-being in his life.
We need more leaders, like Ohanian, recognizing that burnout culture is a race to the bottom. And we need more leaders recognizing it proactively. Push your teams to work smarter, not harder. Encourage time off and celebrate rest. And, most importantly, if you're going to preach it, practice it, too.
With Workwell by Flipd, we empower leaders with the knowledge that burnout is no longer a desirable norm, and that their teams are stronger and more effective when their time off is celebrated. Our mobile platform uses behavior-change technology to nudge people away from their work at the end of the day, motivating them to feel good about time spent on more mindful activities.
Combined with on-site leadership coaching, we help employers understand the value of work-life balance and how it can be woven into your company’s DNA. We help leaders reimagine what a healthy, productive, and successful workforce looks like and provide strategies around how they can help their teams get there.