Long gone are the days when a quote from the cult movie “Office Space” — famous for lauding office-place indifference and deploring the life of the exploited little guy —would elicit giggles of understanding from the working population. At least, this is the case with a large section of the Millennial generation. Today, we live in a grind culture of “workplace hustle” and “go big, and don’t go home” mentality. These days, the Millennial generation appears to have grown to love working long hours in the name of an inherent appreciation for “the grind.” This trend is especially pervasive in start-up culture and famous tech gigs. And it’s showing up in our health, as a new report from the World Health Organization found 488 million people worked 55 or more hours per week.
The workplace hustle in action
But we applaud it. Are these endlessly productive and overzealous employees lying about the joy of working long hours? Maybe lying to themselves, even? Or are they just being exploited by company bigwigs who make money off of their employees’ misguided belief in the virtues of an unending workday?
The propagandizing 1%
In large part, it is not the employees who are benefiting from this perspective on work. In fact, it is the organization or enterprise that profits from the employee’s belief that income is not the point. Employees have come to believe that work is not “a means to an end,” but rather is the end in itself, or as it is sometimes described: all about doing what you love. Or, at least, what you think that you love.
Elon Musk, for instance, has said in the past that “nobody ever changed the world by working 40 hours a week” and then went on to extol the “100-hour workweek.” Although some critics did pan Musk for these comments, many, many more people tuned in to comment on how they felt the same way about their work. Many mentioned that the love for what they did kept them going long into the wee hours of the night, energized and satisfied. And, apparently, income is irrelevant for these people. Or, at least, not the most important factor for them when it comes to their work.
It benefits these heads of companies to endow their workplaces with perks like cucumber water, yoga studios and other such luxuries that encourage workers (perhaps subliminally) to never leave the job for home. And it is not uncommon for admired bigwigs to “go public” with their supposed beliefs in grind culture either. Especially, now that many people are working from home, it seems the work never stops.
A little culty, no?
As has been mentioned before, the new culture of endless work, which nearly has attained a level of spiritual or religious zeal and adherence, stands in contrast to both the perspective of past generations and proponents of shorter work weeks (who argue that longer work hours neither lead to greater productivity nor to greater happiness). For some analysts, the goal is actually less work and more leisure time.
And how to explain that, despite the cultish dedication to work in terms of putting in long hours and being reachable 24/7, Millennials are behind their parents when compared to the amount earned, saved, equity owned, and almost every other financial measure? Many people believe that the end result of the grinding culture will not be more entrepreneurs, more Facebooks, or Googles but will, instead be burnout. Critics of the new work culture believe that burnout will be the critical turning point in the minds of these employees; the moment when they become cognizant that their love of work may, in fact, be a form of exploitation.
When Millennials recognize that the 10-hour workday and the seven-day workweek are not being met with a commensurate income, they may just rebel against the endless workplace hustle. And, as Millennials grow older and have increased responsibilities outside the workplace, they may come to recognize the value of time away from work more and more. They may just stop being delighted with a few free power bars and lattes meant to keep them going, and instead insist on a more favorable work-life balance.
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