An epidemic has infiltrated modern workplaces in recent years. It’s something so toxic that employees can be visibly repulsed by its very utterance. We’re, of course, talking about ‘hustle’.

Entrepreneurial influencers have taken on board hustle’s dictionary definition of pertaining to a state of perpetual activity and ran with it to the point of masochism – giving their followers the impression that it’s okay to go through the pain and anguish of struggling with their business endeavours as long as they’re working hard. But are the likes of @GaryVee right to be advocating such hardships? Or is the term hustle’s more informal dictionary definition, “a fraud or swindle,” more appropriate here?

What’s worse is when hustle is delegated throughout business teams. On the surface, getting employees to turn on the ‘hustler mode’ tumbler switch could seem like a cost-effective productivity tool, but its disastrous implications for output, turnover and worker health carries harmful effects for both companies and individuals alike.

Employee burnout

When Stanford researchers discovered that a ‘productivity cliff’ exists for employees who work for longer hours, was it really that much of a surprise? Research showed that those who stayed in the office for 70 hours per week would typically come up with the same output as somebody who put in 55 hours per week.

This may seem counterintuitive but it goes some way in showing the psychological burden that otherwise productive workers face when asked to grind their results out.

By advocating hustle, you’re effectively putting your employees in an uncompromising position that conspires to drain them through burnout.

If we accept that overworking can result in workers falling off the productivity cliff, then logically it would cause your business to lose money too. The operational costs of allowing offices to open for longer amounts of time – the lighting, heating, ventilation and supervisory labour expenses will be fruitless if your employees are hustling their way through the final stretch of an 80-hour work week.

In fact, Melanie Curtin explains in an Inc article that the notion of a hustle-fuelled session is just whimsical thinking from the off. Research suggests that the average worker is only productive for around two hours and 53 minutes of a typical eight-hour day.

Curtin explains that the vast majority of time employees spend at desks revolve around reading news websites, checking social media, non-work related discussions with colleagues and preparing and consuming food and drinks.

The reason that productivity is limited to a fairly short window, the article explains, is because it’s unnatural for humans to maintain a laser-like focus for prolonged amounts of time. Curtin highlights the practices of Henry Ford, who shortened working hours for employees while greatly increasing wages in 1914. The move brought unprecedented success in terms of employee productivity.

Hustle and health

A big problem with employers advocating hustle mode for their employees is the damaging disregard for their welfare that comes intertwined with this mindset.

The health implications of workers that hustle are vast. The British Medical Journal found that employees who typically more than 40 hours per week are more likely to drink ‘risky’ amounts of alcohol – namely over 14 drinks per week for women and 21 drinks for men.

Workers also run the risk of damaging their bodies, both physically and mentally, through lack of sleep. Health Line found that employees who work longer hours not only risk missing out on sleep but also sleep deprivation through being unable to ‘switch off’ from focusing on work-related for long enough to fall asleep.

A regular lack of sleep may lead to productivity issues due to fatigue and memory loss, but can also cause type-2 diabetes and heart disease.

Such levels of overtime and the stress it causes carries a burden on our hearts too. Work-related stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol, which has an overbearing effect on the heart – increasing the risk of stroke, coronary artery disease, diabetes and even cancer.

There’s also the mental stress that you’re putting your employees through when flicking the ‘hustle mode’ switch. According to a study by Marianna Virtanen, workers who clock 11 hours per day of work are more likely to battle depression than those who worked a comparatively manageable seven to eight hours. This doesn’t even take into account the strain of maintaining friendships and relationships while undertaking such a seismic commitment to an employee married to their job.

Condoning such damaging levels of strife and toil run the risk of causing resentment among your workforce. Employees will become bitter at being pushed to their limits, and a widespread loss of morale could be perilous for your business.

Hitting the ceiling

Alternatively, perhaps you’re in possession of a team that’s perfectly happy and capable of hustling while shrugging off the prospect of depression, burnout and loneliness. If you’re a growing and online business that provides a service, what happens then? Orders continue to flow in and both yourself and your employees are already at full capacity.

Hitting the ceiling is a phenomenon that’s becoming more and more common thanks to the fallacy of hustle mode. Calculating just how hard a human can work is akin to the regular recurring debate that usually rears its head in the weeks prior to an Olympic Games where experts ponder just how fast a human can physically run a 100m sprint. In both cases, there are boundaries that simply cannot be broken. In coming years there will no doubt be both workers and runners aiming to break the ceiling, and both will no doubt do so with severe ramifications to their wellbeing.

Remember that while ‘hustle’ remains the popular buzzword of the day, your goal is to get the most out of your employees and make sure they’re happy as well as productive. If an entrepreneurial influencer is actively promoting their struggles and hustle online, the chances are that their business isn’t in a good place. Make sure you run a pleasant workplace built on trust instead of toil, and you’ll begin to reap the rewards in no time.