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America’s Re-Branding of an Addiction to Work

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by Kate Brunotts

Working 40 hours a week on its own is no longer enough. If you’re not juggling a full-time job, maintaining an impressive social schedule, and working on your side hustles in your fleeting spare time, you’re downright lazy in the eyes of America.

Sure, ambition and hustle culture can help inspire society and lead to a high level of productivity, but at what cost? In this day and age, hustle culture is simply a euphemism for dangerous workaholism. 

Is Workaholism Real?

According to the American Psychological Association, workaholism, defined as an addiction to work, is very real and has many adverse side effects. 

Workaholics feel guilty and anxious when not working and will continue working to the detriment of their personal relationships much like any other addict. 

It’s difficult to point to definitive health complications since the medical definition of “workaholism” is heavily debated, but general overworking has been shown to lead to a shorter lifespan, increased levels of stress, insomnia, anxiety, heart disease, and higher blood pressure. 

The Myth of the 15-hour Workweek

Starting in the 1930s bleeding into the mid-1970s, economists predicted a 15-hour standard workweek in the 2000s due to technological advancements. While they were right about technology, Americans continue to work more.

With the increase of startups and a focus on entrepreneurship within the past decade, it’s not hard to believe we’ve adopted an infatuation with work. Startup funding has steadily increased since 2003, though its rates of growth have begun to slow down.

Moreover, with the economic downturn of 2008, the “gig economy” (defined by taking up several smaller independent jobs in place of one traditional 40-hour job) has become an increasingly popular lifestyle, and is beginning to reshape our economic structure. Popular coworking spaces like WeWork, Green Desk, and others wouldn’t exist otherwise. 

Although the gig economy has allowed many workers to have a potentially more flexible schedule, this also means that a larger portion of the workforce misses out on healthcare benefits, workplace regulations, and retirement accounts.  

To make up for what’s lost, Americans are taught to “hustle” and work outside of their normal means. Having health concerns regarding the number of hours worked is seen as a weakness. 

It seems that your tolerance for work is an attitude choice more than anything else. Detriment to your health and body is okay as long as you have an increased output. 

Hustle Culture in the Media

With the development of social media, we’ve inadvertently developed the byproduct of overstimulation and information. We’re rewarded to compare ourselves to others constantly, and keeping up with the Joneses is easier than ever.

In order to fund the luxurious lifestyles we find all over Instagram and Facebook, we must find a way to create more money. Since wages have remained largely stagnant for the middle and blue-collar class over the past decades, the only solution is to work more consistently. 

Self-made millionaires sell a dream that is attainable for some, but a largely minute fraction compared to the vast population influenced by these hustle mantras. 

An American Problem

America is no stranger to overworking its citizens. We are centered around a “pull yourself up from your bootstraps” mentality which continues to play into the development of hustle culture today. 

However, while it used to be easier for a blue-collar worker to rise to the middle class and so forth, our social mobility has steadily declined. Not only that, but with social media, the American dream of a middle-class job and owning your home is no longer enough for the average person. 

While other Western nations may have similar individualistic cultures, they seem to be more understanding at least in terms of paid time off.

Culturally, we’re taught to work more with a “put up or shut up” mentality. We didn’t always work more than other industrialized countries, but it’s now our trademark. Hustle culture serves as a clever way to ease worker tensions instead of making the needed updates to our workplace regulations. 

As of 2013, nearly a third of all Americans work on the weekend. Days off shouldn’t be about being lazy, they should be about recharging our bodies and spending time with the activities and people we care about the most. 

If one thing is for sure, the American workweek continues to expand and is normalized as such. There’s no doubt that ambition and “hustling” in our society serves a purpose, but it’s important to consider and respect the very real limitations of our mental state and physical bodies. 

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