Lean into the Hustle Culture? Not so fast.

We speak to some of the the women in digital at Peach to discuss Hustle Culture and how we learn to work with it and not against it. 

01 February 2023

This article features our own Shelby Akosa, VP of Global Growth Emily Young, UK&I Sales Director, Creative Industries, Lolly Mason, Global Partnerships Lead and Zoë Smits, Communications & PR Manager chatting about hustle culture and the importance of work life balance.

Lean Into the Hustle? No, it is not a dance move!

In 2013, Sheryl Sandberg, a business executive and then COO of Facebook (now Meta), wrote the global bestseller Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. The book outlined the challenges women face in the workforce and advancing through the proverbial ranks, especially within the tech industry. It presented case studies and examples citing how women are often overlooked, undermined, or discouraged from going after what they deserve or even wanting more. The solution offered by Sandberg was to ‘lean in’ – a mental reset that would help women harness their power and translate it to personal advancement in the workplace. As soon as the book was published, the backlash began, with critics pointing out that the book asked women to sacrifice their work/life balance in favour of a single vision of success. 

A decade on, the ‘lean in’ philosophy has arguably transformed into something even more taxing: hustle culture. Though it doesn’t have a set definition, hustle culture is the umbrella term for frequently working long hours, always saying yes to more tasks, and making work the centre of your life; done because those who run this kind of culture feel that in doing so, it will make them a success, but what about the people around them? Hustle culture is now known as ‘burnout culture’ – that’s no wonder!

No 9-5 anymore… Positive action can come from difficult times.

Shelby adds: “We want to open this conversation up – as women, we might be best served by not just voting on women’s issues, and the most pressing challenge and opportunity at the moment is the work-life family balance. But this is about more than just the women; as much as we spearhead this, especially as this is a Digital Women piece, I wonder if women are more likely to raise conversations about this. Still, it is about the men, too – we want more flexibility and understanding for everyone. We are getting there slowly.

“Lean in and hustle culture can carry with them subtexts that any additional time you have, is ‘unproductive’ and should be used to help further one’s career. Sacrificing work/life balance is the point here because success and monetary gain are the only goals. We’ve seen a super positive turnaround in culture since the pandemic. I am sure we’ve all had enough of hearing about it, but the truth of the matter is that almost two years of lockdown fundamentally changed our relationship with work. While long hours may still be in, commutes are out; many people got used to having time with their families and for their hobbies too. The elusive work/life balance shifted.”

Less Hustle and More Understanding

In 2021, the ADP Research Institute survey found that 1 in 10 employees across 17 countries reported working 20 hours on top of their contracted hours. So is hustle culture trying to convince people that some value lies in overachieving, defined by long hours and compromise on the work/life balance? What’s wrong with putting maximum time and effort into work? I hear you ask, nothing, but this is really about where to draw the line for employers and employees, and this will be different for all ages and genders. So whether you are young and new to the industry and trying to build your career, returning from maternity or paternity leave, or even just ARE NOT SOCIAL and don’t want to go to the pub to celebrate a win, there has to be more understanding.

Lolly comments “Of course, it is important to build a foundation early on in a career and make your mark in the workplace, but not to the detriment of your health and home life, as many of us, I’m sure, will have done in the past. But it is equally important to develop and sustain your career as you get older and have family or other life commitments. When we prioritise hustle culture our health and – outside of work – commitments suffer – let’s change that”

This ‘always-on hustle culture’ can short-change men. Two weeks are given as time off for paternity leave. The companies that do go above the minimum see little uptake, with men citing fears over the image they’ll project by stepping away from their roles to take up caretaking, like being seen as weak or not as committed to their careers. Workplaces that offer significantly disparate amounts of parental leave can signal that men – or non-birthing parents – are not, or should not be, as invested in their child’s first few months, thus creating a stigma that prevents them from taking the leave or advocating for more parental leave for everyone. However, some organisations offer shared parental leave and other great benefits, so it is well worth exploring the options. 

Lolly adds: “I’ve managed many teams – different genders and age groups – and in some past companies have experienced colleagues being worried about asking for family related or personal time off, which has been harmful, particularly for male colleagues. We are all human and we all have lives outside of work and some companies are better at understanding this than others. This is also about how the individual feels and it is important companies show and enable a more flexible approach, not only stamping down on biased reality perspectives from those cultural demons but creating a more flexible, safe environment. I am pleased to see that companies these days are taking this seriously, but overall there is more work to be done.”

The flexible Future WorkPlace: Balanced, inclusive, and non judgemental

Tech is a traditionally male industry. Current figures show that only 19% of tech workers in the UK are women compared to 49% of women in the workforce overall. According to Tech Nation, only 22% of Tech Directors are women. That’s a problem because it means that men for men run most tech companies. 

Emily said “It’s naive to think that people won’t become even more sensitive to the creep of work in their personal lives as time passes. It is also naive to think that those who are older, or returning to work, or who may leave the office early some days might be old hat or just not up to the job – this is where some teams fall short in their opinions. We are all in this for the long run, tall, short, old, young, creative, analytical, introverted, or extrovert – we all have something to add. Yes, we can all hustle, but let’s do it the right way and do it together.”

Research has shown that women continue to do a more significant share of housework and take more responsibility for childcare duties. With the industry maturing, another issue is entering the conversation: menopause. We’ve just seen the likes of Saatchi & Saatchi marking the Anniversary of Roe v. Wade with ‘Pregnant Man’ Ad to support women’s rights, but we still have so far to go.

Gartner’s 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey found that 43% of respondents felt that flexibility in working hours helped them achieve greater productivity, while 30% of respondents said that less or no time commuting enabled them to be more productive. With this in mind, the industry needs to stop dictating who gets the benefit of flexible work. Every person is multifaceted with a life outside of work that employers will never be privy to (nor should they be). The industry can attract and retain even more talent while delivering outstanding results by granting employees the flexibility and freedom to make their roles their own. Rather than leaning into hustle culture, let’s take a more holistic approach to work and life. 

Zoë added: “I think it is important to have time to unwind, reload and dedicate your spare time to your hobbies and friends. When I’m in a better state of mind because of working out, spending time with friends or family, or reading, I feel like I bring more energy and a positive mindset to my workplace. Regarding career perspectives, networking, and getting more ideas and opportunities for your future career, this doesn’t happen solely on your work floor but even more so during your ‘free’ time.


This article was originally featured in New Digital Age, read here