In an interview with Variety earlier this year, Kim Kardashian said “it seems like nobody wants to work these days.” Her sister, Kourtney, also in the interview, agrees with her and says, “That’s so true.” This, of course, has since become a bit of a meme, and has been taken, as Kim herself says, out of context. Nevertheless, even when taken within context, work ethic seems to be the focal point of the conversation. Toxic hustle culture, it seems, is losing its grip on workers.
Many, since the publication of this interview, have agreed with Kim on this idea. From employers whose postings go weeks without a “quality candidate” to human resources employees and business leaders who feel their employees lack motivation to work, everyone seems to agree that post-the Great Resignation, nobody wants to work. But this is not a new phenomenon. In fact, as Market Watch shows, this idea has been iterated for 100 years, now. It’s also important to note that, despite the common misconception that Gen Zers have a poor work ethic, this idea is not specific to their generation.
So, what’s behind this cultural phenomenon? And how should we approach this concern without perpetuating worker exploitation? Let’s start by establishing what toxic hustle culture is, and where it’s leading our next generation of workers.
The Root of Toxic Hustle Culture
While the term itself might be anachronistic, the idea behind hustle culture has been around for centuries. Today, hustle culture manifests as taking on more than one is expected to in order to achieve life-goals. This might mean taking on more than one job to make end’s meet, or working late to show dedication. In the past, however, it manifested in working long, laborious hours, even when under-compensated, to demonstrate work ethic. And just as they did then, workers today often assume that their bosses will recognize their hard work and would reward them accordingly. But this is not always the case.
In fact, especially in toxic work environments, employees may feel that if they’re not overworking, they might come across as lazy. And if one employee is trying to outshine their fellow workers, others may try to keep up by doing the same. So, whether it is intentional or unintentional, a workplace may begin to foster a toxic hustle culture. The key, then, is cutting it off at the source, because what’s at risk is far more damaging.
“Quiet Quitting” and the Corporate Villain Era
In their article on the “Nobody Wants to Work Anymore” meme, Snopes concludes that instead of being an indication of laziness, Gen Z’s use of “quiet quitting” is rather a refusal of worker exploitation. Instead of perpetuating toxic hustle culture and overworking without reward—tangible or intangible—workers are instead working to rule. Instead of going above-and-beyond, workers are indeed performing their duties as expected—no more and no less. And like those on TikTok suggesting in videos about entering their “corporate villain era,” those who are “quiet quitting” are refusing unfair working conditions. This, especially in a worker’s market, means that workers are finally able to take control of their compensation, duties, and the amount of their lives that their jobs take up. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see that as villainous. I see that as fair.
How to Counteract Toxic Hustle Culture
Toxic hustle culture can sometimes creep into your workplace based on your management style. It can also manifest from your employees, or even from the nature of your industry. Still, this doesn’t mean your work inherently has to be toxic. You can help your employees find a healthy work-life balance by reducing pressure to “hustle” and resetting workplace priorities. Try, for example, the following suggestions:
1. Prioritizing Your Employees
Make sure your employees know you value them as workers. Employees want to feel valued and appreciated for their efforts. And often, this is enough to keep workers engaged, even if they’re not working in their dream job. Feeling fulfilled and appreciated may be enough to keep them from “quiet quitting” and instead, engaged in their work so they want to offer the best they can. And working a set number of hours and avoiding burn out will only further encourage this, as well. You can demonstrate your prioritizing workers by offering mental health or safety leave if they’re feeling overwhelmed or burn-out. But most importantly, you should emphasize regularly that their wellness and feelings of fulfillment come before productivity and business growth alone. If your workers enjoy their work and/or the feelings you give them after working hard, they’ll want to stay and continue to work hard.
2. Setting Fair Expectations
If you’re using Packfinder to find the candidates who are best suited for a given position, you’ll most likely be able to have your standards met if they’re fair. However, if your employees, especially those who have been given opportunities and tools with which they may be able to reach their goals still aren’t able to, your expectations may not be fair. Try breaking down tasks into digestible, manageable tasks, or ask your employee where they may need support. If you show willingness to support them, they will often show a willingness to meet your expectations, as long as they’re fair.
3. Establishing Clear Communication
Often, especially when employees are working from home, they may begin to overwork and burn themselves out because of a lack of reassurance and appreciation. But establishing clear communication from day one can ensure your workplace is fair, equitable, and healthy. That means being firm on not working overtime and leading by example. Communicate regularly and make time for this communication during work hours, so that you and your employees can turn off entirely for the night, and focus on your personal lives instead.
In light of Gen Zers starting the “quiet quitting” trend on TikTok, employers should be wary of unhealthy work cultures, like hustle culture. Make sure you’re communicating with your teams clearly about their duties, and emphasize hard boundaries for a healthy work-life balance. You can help workers feel motivated by showing appreciation and prioritizing their wellness over productivity. This will help them continue to grow and feel engaged with their work. Above all, ensure your expectations are fair and do not require more than workers are paid to do.