Our outlook on work has changed over time. From regular nine to five hour jobs and factory shifts to the current normalization of remote jobs, the concept of work has shifted as lifestyles and aspirations continue to change. Co-working spaces, working in cafés and workstations are no longer new. The pandemic years have further normalized work-from-home and hybrid work models.
Terms like hustle culture, side gigs and moonlighting have all found their way into discussions around modern work. As we grapple with the culture of hustle and bustle, concepts such as silent shutdown (doing only what is necessary and no more) have also gained credence. We are also seeing the emergence of concepts such as mindful slowing down and mindfulness. Japanese concepts like Ikigai, (finding purpose) and wabi-sabi (accepting imperfection), and Chinese tang ping (rejecting overwork) have also been accepted, another indication of the great churn of recent times. For every aggressive approach to the culture of the bustle and the importance of working long hours and staying productive at all costs, there has also been a steady increase in the number of young urban professionals who are consciously slowing down and staying alert.
Take the case of the CEO of a personal care and personal care solutions brand who recently sparked a debate about restlessness and toxic productivity by advising newbies to work 18-hour days without complaining. In a post on LinkedIn, he wrote, “I see a lot of young people watching random content everywhere and convincing themselves that ‘work-life balance, spending time with family, rejuvenating blah blah’ is important. It is, but not so soon. So soon, love your work. It doesn’t matter what it is. Don’t take chances rona dhona. Take it on the chin and be relentless. You will be much better at this. He later left the platform with an apology after his post went viral and saw a lot of pushback.
“What does work mean to you?”
Hustle culture is the notion of putting work at the center of one’s existence to the denial of everything else This is not the case, for Sukhada Chaudhary, a Nagpur-based digital marketer for a peer-to-peer lending platform and a LinkedIn trainer next door. “Work is not a big part of my life,” she says, adding that it’s a catalyst that helps her live the kind of life she wants to lead and pursue her interests. Also, she notes that the job is something she’s “decently good at and loves to do.” “What do you do” (for work) during downplay introductions, she says.
Sukhada keeps her working day no longer than six hours so she has time to focus on her interests. On the culture of the relentless pursuit of productivity and restlessness, she says such a lifestyle creates unrealistic expectations for those without privilege and can, in fact, be an alienating and isolating experience. for them.
The pressure to succeed is so high and not everyone may be able to break through, she notes, adding that young people are then forced to behave hard. Sukhada cites the analogy of fundamental aspects of his life such as health, relationships and family as balls in the air. She explains how if the ball called work falls, it can bounce back but the same is not true of other balls like health or family which are fragile and can break. Goals like “working hard for a year and retiring at 40” create undue pressure and risk sacrificing health, relationships and other aspects of life, she observes.
For Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, director and co-founder of a sleep and home solutions company, learning something new at work every day is a rewarding experience in itself. “We are a young and dynamic organization and we believe in being agile and flexible in our approach. I’ve worked Monday through Saturday for the past decade, and I’m totally on board with this method.
Work-life balance is important to him and he makes sure that on Sundays he reads, takes long walks and gets a quick workout. “Being able to create a balanced mix of work and play is imperative, and it gives me the opportunity to perform better, while being able to lead a fulfilling life.”
Angad Dutta is a freelance writer and has several ongoing projects for him. He happens to have embarked on independent life after the pandemic. Angad’s independent life gives her the opportunity to socialize while meeting the demands of her job. As a full-time employee, he found that the pressure of his work life was high and the early months of the pandemic only added to stress levels as everyone moved away and the boundaries between work and home were blurring.
During his first stint as a full-time employee, Angad found that the long working hours pushed him into burnout mode – he suffered from frequent headaches and backaches. There was a feeling of never being satisfied, and that’s when he considered therapy, which helped him refocus.
He took the opportunity to take a few steps back and “pull himself together”. Angad gives the example of how a phone battery drains with constant use and it needs to be turned off for battery and phone health to stress the importance of slowing down and hitting the power button reset.
A glorification of stress?
Ahla Matra, a self-employed psychotherapist based in Kerala, explains how ‘bustle culture’ impacts mental health. “This culture encourages work to dominate your life. It glorifies stress, and in a stressful environment, the body and mind go into flight vs. fight mode. A prolonged state of stress releases cortisol (the body’s stress hormone) and can have a long-term physical and mental impact,” she says. “Overwork reduces your ability to be more capable in the long run. A toxic work culture can cause one person to feel burnt out all the time and can make another feel nervous, snappy, irritable, and unable to cope. empathy. The pressure to constantly stay productive can also lead to inhuman expectations and feelings of guilt and shame if someone is unable to catch up. This can cause professionals to question their self-worth,” she explains and adds that in the long run this could lead to social isolation and depression, and in some cases the person may resort to substance abuse to cope. includes cardiovascular problems and chronic sleep disorders.
Work-life balance: no fixed formula?
The concept of work-life balance isn’t the same for everyone, says PR firm CEO Priyan DC. “Person A may find an optimal 8-hour workday, Person B may be happy to work 14 hours and balance work and side activities. Maturity comes when a person is able to balance their career in this way. than his social and personal life in a supportive way,” he explains.
Despite every effort to maintain a balance, modern work culture normalizes not being able to disconnect. As remote work accessing the internet at all times and being glued to our devices around the clock is increasingly seen as normal, toxic productivity manifests in the most insidious ways, notes Ahla, the psychotherapist. It could start with “I’m on a break but I’ll only take one call” or “I’m scheduling a meeting for 11 p.m. all at once.” Sometimes one may not even have a choice because organizations may encourage such mindsets or one is afraid of being left out of the race.
Staying out of this poisoned “work is everything” culture is not just an individual’s responsibility. Agency and privilege are at work, and not everyone is able to say no, for various reasons. “Change needs to start at the organizational level and the culture at the top needs to be redefined,” says Ahla. Toxic patriarchal work structures must be changed, she adds.
Some modern businesses are moving away from rigid work structures. For example, Chaitanya Ramalingegowda’s company launched a “right to nap” campaign in 2016 that normalized naps at work. “During the 2-2:30 p.m. window, our employees can take a nap to recharge, read a book, take a walk, meditate, or basically do anything that helps them refocus. This policy has been important in boosting workplace productivity and helping our employees focus on their well-being,” he says.
Perhaps Sukhada’s email signature lines, “My working hours may not be your working hours. Don’t feel like you have to respond outside your normal work hours” should be the approach organizations and leaders need to take to get out of toxic productivity mode.
The allure of the sideways bustle
There are plenty of urban professionals who go into a side hustle. Many are also forced to take on second full-time jobs to support themselves further. The reasons vary from individual to individual. Priyan explains, “It’s almost impossible these days to log on to LinkedIn and not see an article about how someone built a six-figure income on the side. And that can create a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out), especially among millennials who may feel threatened by high school or college kids making money on TikTok. Real scammers don’t do it because of others,” he notes. “Starting a side business is hard work – you have to be really committed to your business idea to make it work. once the novelty has worn off,” he adds.
“Gen-Z are digital natives and have a lot of exposure to emerging opportunities while keeping their core jobs intact. In fact, there is peer pressure to create parallel turmoil,” says Priyan. In his company, although team members are expected to remain committed to the company, its values and vision, and to its customers, any mission or hobby that does not conflict with their company or their customers is entirely the employee’s choice to accept or not. “And in fact, I’d be happy to hear that their side projects are doing well – success of any kind is precious,” he notes.
Is a side job or a second job good? “It depends on the individual. If there is a balance between stress and rest, everything is fine,” says Ahla. Sukhada is also a trainer on LinkedIn, in addition to being a digital marketer. But it’s more for a sense of fulfillment and she’s picked it up to help many young urban professionals spruce up their LinkedIn profiles during the pandemic.
In a gig economy where multiple jobs are the norm, sometimes workers may have no choice but to accept multiple gigs. In such a situation, organizational support and a change in C-suite mindsets in terms of flexible working hours could help. In the long run, asking yourself why you took on a second job or an extra gig is very important.