Article: Rethinking the "hustle culture"

Employee Relations

Rethinking the "hustle culture"

India's startup scene has flourished, but it's associated with a draining "hustle" culture. To attract talent, entrepreneur CEOs should prioritise employee well-being and work-life balance, fostering a healthier work environment.
Rethinking the "hustle culture"

In the past decade, India has seen a surge in startups, fostering entrepreneurs who tackle important issues. However, this entrepreneurial culture often emphasises a relentless "hustle" mentality, driven by the idea that hard work leads to success. This ethos, rooted in the American Dream, has permeated society, pushing people to prioritise work over everything else, even from a young age. The result is a population at risk of stress, burnout, and health problems due to constantly moving goalposts in pursuit of success. 

If you are an entrepreneur CEO, ask yourself the following questions. 

  • Do my employees find time for themselves, friends, and family only on weekends? – Do my employees send emails or messages (e.g. Slack) at all times during the day/weekends? 
  • Do my employees take pride in not taking pay off (PTO / Leave) / Are employees being encouraged not to take PTO despite having a healthy balance? – Are my employees bragging about the previous night’s long hours at work, skipping meals/break time?
  • Are my employees openly asking for help (time, resources, budget, collaboration, etc.) and are they receiving the same?
  • Is there still a ‘senior-junior’ culture in the firm – where the aspect of ‘juniors must respect seniors’ prevails?

If yes, there could be a lack of talent willing to work for you. The fear of such a culture keeps high-potential talent from applying to today’s entrepreneurial firms - this is talent who wants to contribute, but who also believes in living a balanced life. It’s time that the entrepreneur CEOs look inward and think about how they can build an employee value proposition which doesn’t glorify only the ‘hustle’ culture, but gives high importance to crucial aspects like wellness, having a good quality life and time for family, friends, and recreation. In the recent Aon India Primary Care Benefits Report 2023 (which mapped 250 companies), it was identified that 8 in 10 companies in India decided to increase their spending on employees’ well-being in 2023 when compared to 2019. Also – two out of every three firms believe that unhealthy employees have a direct impact on business financials. 

What else can entrepreneurial organisations do to better their ‘hustle’ image?

Evolved Paid-Time Off policies and benefits: Having a section of Paid-Time Off as ‘mandatory’ can simply cut off permission-seeking or leave-hoarding habits. The second could be how the CEO and the leadership team role models a culture of taking regular time off. A good example is Netflix, which has always had an Unlimited Paid-Time Off concept but to really build a culture, it is interesting how every member of the leadership team talks in explicit detail about their vacation to others when back from holiday, and how everyone has to listen intently, give time and appreciate - an aspect which Reed Hastings, the CEO had once initiated.

Perfectionism vs drawing balance and saying ‘no’ – While perfect is the best, the definition of ‘perfect’ may vary from one pair of eyes to another, and never eventually draw fulfilment. Individuals should aim for a balance within their own lives and call it a day by setting boundaries. How to estimate your work, how to prioritise, and how to say ‘no’ when the scope of work is too much – all these are key skills to be taught. 

Encouraging the aspect of vulnerability – When someone is unable to finish one’s work due to time constraints or is unaware of an important detail, one needs to speak up and ask for help. Acknowledging one’s limitations and how others can add value to them does not show a weak individual – it builds resilient organisations, and the ‘not-so-perfect’ authentic image attracts real talent.

Talking openly about ‘guilt’ – Acknowledging their ‘guilt factor’ can help employees be themselves. When the CEO and the leadership team use language like - it's okay to take a day off even when you just want to, - it's okay to be late to the office in your first week after joining, or - it's okay to not know something about your function – this shows a mature organisation which wants to build a guilt-free culture.

Watching out for spoken words – The lingo within an organisation is an important culture-builder, and it’s up to the leaders to role model the right behaviours and cultural aspects, even if it means correcting words to correct behaviours. New joiners only learn things by watching other experienced folks. Hence if one wants to create the right culture, it’s important to be mindful of the words spoken, which may constitute a key part of an organisation’s behaviour. 

It is understandable that the entrepreneur CEO has a lot to deliver and wants passionate individuals as part of their firm’s mission. However, passion should not come at the cost of a heavy ‘hustle’ culture that would eventually exhaust the passion itself! To build an engaging work environment for high-calibre individuals, entrepreneurs must realise that each person is different and has different motivators. Focusing on some of the above nuances to build a ‘hustle-free’ culture will take the organisation far ahead and build a brand which talent would vie for.

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Topics: Employee Relations, Leadership, #Wellbeing

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