Work-life balance has been a hot topic in recent years. But flexible workplace setups, fluid timetables, and constant access to work messages make people wonder whether the delicate equilibrium has been taken for granted and whether it is still achievable.
For the first session of Oasis’ new talk show, Holding Space, three speakers shared their takes on hustle culture, from varying definitions to the ways hustling shapes job opportunities for people in Southeast Asia. They specifically addressed whether they think it is overrated or necessary in today’s work environment.
Here are some of the highlights from the first iteration of Holding Space.
Do not link hustling to productivity
To Dr. Carys Chan, an assistant professor of organizational psychology at Griffith University, hustling involves hard work, but with the right dose of rest and recovery. It’s also values-driven and meaningful, but not all tasks necessarily “spark joy.”
As a co-founder of the minority community project Lepak Conversations in Singapore, Nur Shukrina offered a different definition of hustle culture.
“I agree that work-life balance isn’t a zero-sum game. But unfortunately, to a lot of people outside of academics, the term ‘hustle culture’ still means a kind of unhealthy work environment. It’s about pushing yourself to the maximum limit,” Shukrina said.
Hustling is often a consuming experience and may affect one’s physical and mental wellbeing. More importantly, it can lead to exploitation in professional environments.
Hustling often results in financial rewards and recognition as a hard-working employee, Shukrina explained, even if the process isn’t enjoyable or there is little value associated with it.
She also pointed out that inequalities suffered by women and minority groups are exacerbated by hustle culture. Employers tend to associate hustling with productivity. A consequence is that women have fewer opportunities because there are concerns that they need to devote time and effort to family care. Meanwhile, minorities often need to contend with prejudicial characterizations that paint them as less productive.
Shukrina also observed that people hold double standards toward hustle culture: in major corporations, law firms, banks, and the tech industry, hustle culture seems to have become a form of social capital or even a badge of honor. Meanwhile, for people who earn lower wages, hustling doesn’t carry the same connotation; it’s a matter of survival, one that involves lengthy work hours without any glory or recognition.
Hustling doesn’t mean losing one’s work-life balance
From her own experience as a law graduate, Shukrina said juniors in many industries are expected to hustle and live with the absence of work-life balance.
Kaijie Ng, who is the strategy director at Carousell, reflected that employers should think more about the values and work that should be rewarded, rather than the number of hours put toward that work.
As an employer, Ng admitted that hustling does differentiate one employee from the next in the beginning, but what matters is whether a person has the capability and potential for the job.
Ng describes the contemporary workplace as “outcome-oriented.” Since many solutions and goals can be statistically measured and tracked, labor hours no longer matter as much, he said.
According to Dr. Chan, the reason why hustle culture is an issue in the workplace is because people view it as a threat to work-life balance. She and her team define work-life balance as a devotion of one’s resources to their own preferences—health, family, or even their career.
“It’s always the sense of balance you feel within you that leads to positive outcomes,” Dr. Chan said. In that sense, hustling doesn’t mean losing one’s work-life balance: “[Your] hustle should also ideally be aligned with your life goals, but it may take some time to figure out the right amount to devote into it, and the direction of what you are hustling towards,” she said.
The most important question is “why”
Based on his experience of working in a tech startup, Ng feels that some professional networking platforms like LinkedIn have accelerated hustle culture among younger recruits. The networks create unhealthy expectations, like the obligation to work 18 hours a day or to get things done no matter what.
“Society always values hard work, but when someone is hard-working for no reason, or creates no value along the way, it becomes hustling,” said Ng.
For him, hustling can be sustainable only when it’s built on “why,” instead of “how” or “what.”
“Ask yourself why you want to do such things. Is it because you are passionate, or is it because you want to be successful?” Ng said.
But is passion overrated too?
Ng said not everyone can find their passion in life. Even if they do find it, passion doesn’t necessarily have to be intertwined with a career, as long as one delivers at their job on time, passion and profession can be separate too.
The world is a noisy place. In Oasis’ talk show, Holding Space, we will invite experts from a wide range of industries and different sectors of society to share their ideas in a safe space. The catch? Each speaker cannot take a neutral stance.
If you wish to sign up for our future events and get recommendations from our thought leaders, please subscribe to our newsletter. If you have any suggestions for our next featured guest, or just want to say hi, please feel free to contact us at [email protected].