A recent Twitter thread from strategic researcher Victoria Buchanan examined a growing trend among young people on social media toward anti-ambition and sharing content that rejects so-called hustle culture.
Appearing to support this further, a Randstad report in April revealed that 56% of 18–24-year-olds surveyed would rather be unemployed than work in a job that restricts their lifestyle.
What employees want:
Great Resignation vs staff shortages
Cost of living could see remote workers stay on the move
The Great Retirement – why older people are leaving the workforce in droves
The Great Resignation was the manifestation of the growing disillusionment felt by many working people after two years of repeated setbacks. The pandemic, job losses and imposed lockdowns had a huge impact on mental health and have been followed by the cost of living crisis that we now find ourselves in.
As a result, many young people have had to deal with intense pressures before their careers have even begun. In cities like London and New York, young people face exorbitant rents and the prospect of ever being able to own their own home feels like a pipe dream.
For the first time in over 200 years, millennials face being worse off than their parents were at their own age.
All this is compounding a growing sense of unease and disillusionment which has impacted the way that people approach their work and career.
We live in a consumer driven society where we are encouraged to be aspirational and to strive to achieve more all the time. While this approach can have positives, it intrinsically suggests that what you already have/are in the present is in some way undesirable – that in order to be valuable we must be productive.
But our value as individuals exists regardless of what we do for a living, even though our ego and identity can sometimes be wrapped up in our careers.
Many of us have attached great meaning to our career, to the point where it is attached to our ego and identity. But when this is stripped away, as it was for many in the pandemic who lost their jobs, we faced a kind of existential crisis about who we are and what we want our lives to be.
We were confronted with the realisation that we are more than our jobs because that, and other things we may have attached meaning to, can be taken away at any point.
Lean out or burnout?
It is well documented that rates of depression and anxiety have skyrocketed since the pandemic. In light of this, we can view this rejection of hustle culture by many as an exercise in self-care and mindfulness.
Individuals are putting their mental health first. They have learned what they don’t want and are setting boundaries that they need for self-preservation and to have a healthier, happier life.
Dawn Foster, author of Lean Out Culture said that women in particular are de-prioritising and de-centring work from their lives.
Buchanan added to this sentiment, observing: “We value time over status. Freedom and autonomy over climbing up the career ladder. Stillness over hyper-productivity.”
It seems many of us want to return to a simpler form of life, similar to the famous parable of the fisherman and the businessman and where we achieve what work-life balance means to us as individuals.
What employers can learn from this
While at first anti-hustle culture might seem concerning to employers, this change in attitude is really a positive thing. Hustle culture, over working or having an unhealthy focus on career is destructive in the long term. It may have benefited businesses short term in the past, but at what cost? Burnt out staff.
Employers need to offer staff flexibility and benefits that can help them to live a healthier lifestyle aligned with their personal needs. If employers can offer this, staff value it highly and are more productive and loyal in the long run.
Employers need to innovate and listen to what their staff really want, a huge part of this will be breaking free from the shackles of 9-to-5 office culture and embracing asynchronous and remote ways of working.
We can’t blame people for being disillusioned after the last few years and prioritising their health and happiness.
It’s up to companies to adapt and take on the learnings from the pandemic, not try to rewind the clock. Business life is never going to return to how it was pre-pandemic, the new normal is here to stay and those who prioritise employee experience and offer the greatest flexibility for their staff are the businesses that will thrive.
Tom Gibby is co-founder of The Bot Platform