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Hustle Culture and Karōshi: Overworking Your Way to Peer Respect

Have you ever…

  • woken up and immediately went to check your work emails or school website
  • wolfed down your meals between meetings and/or assignments, or even forget to eat entirely
  • finished your homework/task early for the day, but became so anxious of the extra free time that you decided to take on the tasks for tomorrow, the week after, or even the next month to stay ahead
  • made yourself work overtime for almost or, perhaps, all of the days of the month even when there was no deadline to catch up to
  • and/or deliberately sacrificed your sleep, personal, and/or family time in favor of more “productive” activities such as work and school

If you checked at least three out of the five boxes, chances are, you’re already subconsciously following the trend known as “hustle culture,” the lifestyle that dictates overworking and, thereby, continuous burnout to be the only way for people to earn respect in the workplace. In other words, that being productive every hour of every day is the only way for your life to amount to something. Chances are you’ve realized what kind of direction this article is taking, particularly in that it is going to argue how such a lifestyle is unhealthy and that you should, for the love of God, as employers and employees, teachers and students, and parents and children alike abandon this trend immediately to escape its associated, scientifically-proven mental and physical consequences, for being lazy and knowing when to take time off from your important duties may be your best chances at getting that promotion you’re so desperate to get, achieving the highest scores at your university so they’ll finally give you that godforsaken scholarship, and/or reaching the dreams you’ve started striving towards since the day you learned how to spell out “astronaut” or “journalist” or “statistical analysis and data reconfiguration” (which is Chandler Bing’s job in the sitcom, Friends, in case you’re wondering… don’t worry, even fans of the series don’t know exactly what this job entails – or that it is even the aforementioned character’s job for that matter). So, without further ado, let’s move on to the negative effects of “hustle culture,” and how you can slowly yet surely ease out of this lifestyle for a happier and healthier work-life balance.

Burnout is real – and it can be killer. Many people seem to doubt the validity of the term, “burnout,” believing that it is just an excuse for people to laze around and avoid getting their work done. Others may even experience it frequently, but, perhaps due to the prevalent belief that burnout is just an excuse for procrastinators, choose to ignore their symptoms, convincing themselves that it will go away as their bodies get used to the heavy workload when doing so would actually allow it to become worse. News flash: burnout is even acknowledged by the WHO (you know, the World Health Organization) as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” According to the nonprofit American academic medical center, Mayo Clinic, stress leads your adrenal glands to release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, with the long-term presence of such hormones in your body increasing your chances of getting various health problems, such as anxiety, depression, headaches, heart disease, and memory and concentration impairment. Moreover, in a study conducted by both the WHO and ILO (International Labour Organization), long working hours has actually been linked to 745 000 deaths in 2016, with 398 000 people dying from stroke and 347 000 from heart disease due to having worked at least 55 hours a week. The study continues with more data as evidence, stating that “working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.” If that isn’t enough for employers, research also shows that overworking and being under constant stress actually lowers productivity, with employees likely to experience a lack of motivation to work on top of an increased risk of depression and anxiety. 

 Of course, when talking about overworking and its detrimental effects on health, one should not forget to mention karōshi, which literally means “death from overwork,” a concept which used to be considered a Japanese myth, but has now become, according to Wired UK, “a global issue” following the COVID-19 pandemic after people worldwide choose to ignore the warning of this prevalent, ongoing work culture. In the aforementioned co-study between the WHO and ILO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General said: “teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours. No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease. Governments, employers and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers.” His warning may serve to be a direct call for action to the Japanese government, which in 2018 passed the “Work Style Reform” bill that set the limit for overtime at 80 hours a month, with the exception of “special months” of 100 hours’ overtime. Needless to say, this still places Japanese working hours well above the threshold at which the WHO identified an exponential increase in the risk of heart disease. 

 So, how can you get out of hustle culture with its risk of karōshi, yet still feel as if you’re being productive with your time?

1. Learn to differentiate between tasks you need to finish now and that which you can set aside for later

 Only do the tasks you need to finish by the end of the day and tomorrow if you happen to have enough free time, but do remember to:

2. Make room for sufficient sleep and personal hobbies in your schedule

 As mentioned before, constant stress means the continuous presence of stress hormones in your body, with the only way for you to avoid the various health problems associated with the long-term presence of such hormones to be rest, rest, and more rest. Take the time to recharge by getting at least seven hours of sleep each night, and schedule your time between tasks to do your personal hobbies, which may be doing some light exercises, reading a few pages of your favorite book, or writing about your day in a journal. You’ll find that you’ll still feel productive even if you don’t spend every minute of every day working on your school assignments or polishing up your reports for work, for a little break goes a long way in keeping you more focused and, thereby, more efficient during the moments in which you have to get to your duties as a student and/or employee ASAP. 

3. Pat yourself on the back whenever you get a task done, no matter how small it is

 The reason why hustle culture is so attractive to people is because they expect a big payoff at the end of their prolonged struggle – “prolonged” being the key word here. Simply put, don’t wait to be awarded at the end of four years when you finally get your bachelor’s degree, or eight if you’re working on your master’s; don’t wait ten years until you get promoted to manager to treat yourself to a nice meal at your favorite restaurant or finally play that PS5 game you’ve bought since the day of its release (let’s face it, PS6 would beat you to it if you wait another decade). For every step you take towards your dream or ambition, reward yourself by watching your favorite movie, taking a much-needed bubble bath, or letting yourself sleep in for the weekend because heck, you know you deserve it.

4. Negotiate and set boundaries with your employers/teachers

 If you notice that your unhealthy work schedule is coming from the top-down, don’t be afraid and talk to your employers or teachers about the possibility of flexible working/studying hours, and perhaps even negotiate to share your workload with other employees. 

References:

An aspiring writer and a nerd in almost every sense of the word, with a deep interest in books, film, anime, manga, and games.
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