| Nov 29, 2022

In Defense of Hustle Culture

Quiet quitting may be redefining boundaries in a way that work culture needs. However, that doesn’t mean we should do away with going the extra mile.
By Jenn Elwood |

4 minutes

Quiet quitting is all the rage, but opinions on its benefits are mixed. About half of U.S. employees self-report quiet quitting while their managers attempt to raise employee engagement. It’s tough to be unsympathetic: Employees have cited insufficient pay, poor management, mental health, and other priorities for quiet quitting. This is also not a new phenomenon — employees (George Costanza comes to mind) have been quiet quitting since at least the last days of the Ottoman Empire, and it’s probably been much longer than that.

Although quiet quitting may benefit certain individuals, it can have negative impacts on other employees, company culture, productivity, and perhaps even the quiet quitters themselves. When addressing quiet quitting, it’s important to understand that while the trend represents a renegotiation of boundaries, it is also an opportunity to create a workplace culture that rewards hard work and ambition. 

Quitting Quietly

Doing the bare minimum at work is not uncommon, however, quiet quitting appears to have a number of possible definitions, including simply setting boundaries. Or as one anonymous employee put it: “I coast, and I ride the razor’s edge of ‘acceptable’ and ‘bad job’ to make sure I can do as little as possible without getting in trouble.” 

Various working populations also feel differently about quiet quitting. PBS News reports that people working blue-collar jobs and service industry positions are significantly less able to quiet quit. Similarly, some have claimed that minorities are either putting themselves at risk by doing less work, or they are unable to reap any of the advantages of the trend. Others have expressed concern that those who do still go above and beyond will be demoralized by quiet quitters coasting without penalty. The Gen Z population is supposed to be more likely to quit, citing disbelief that hard work will benefit them.  

Evidently, the idea is complicated. But what if a project comes up, the office is short-staffed, or some other extenuating circumstance makes it difficult to both honor boundaries and hit goals or KPIs? Assuming that employees who quiet-quit are communicating with management about their boundaries and submitting work on par with their job descriptions, what’s an effective manager to do in this situation?

A Tale of Two Managers

This is not a request for motivational posters in the break room. Instead, executives and managers can focus on giving employees a reason to go the extra mile. The authors of a Harvard Business Review survey found that three to four times as many people were quiet quitting under the least effective managers, compared to the most effective leaders. 

“These [least effective] managers had 14% of their direct reports quietly quitting, and only 20% were willing to give extra effort,” they write. “But those who were rated the highest at balancing results with relationships saw 62% of their direct reports willing to give extra effort, while only 3% were quietly quitting.” 

Employees respond well to personal investment, suggesting that an effective executive is one who is in the trenches with them. People want to be inspired — by the C-Suite, the company mission, or both. 


The Hustlers

When Sheryl Sandberg was COO of Facebook, she left work at 5:30pm but scarcely had a moment’s idleness in the office. Previous Facebook employees have indicated that, despite how busy Sandberg was, they felt seen and heard during conversations with her, which made them feel valued at the company. Many employees generally report feeling their work is impactful due to the high numbers of users they can affect. 

Again, it seems that participating in something larger than ourselves inspires a strong work ethic, even if Facebook’s corporate ethics are arguably a bit dubious.

Some evidence exists that Elon Musk works 100+ hours weekly, which for most is unsustainable. His commitment is admirable, if inimitable. While Tesla employees have been known to complain, two common positives they have expressed are the pride they have in their work and the sense that the boss is in it with them. Everything they do is part of a grander scheme. 

A similar sentiment exists at Musk’s other company, SpaceX. According to the New York Times, despite scandals aplenty, many employees stay because they believe in the mission of the company. The people who remain with Musk at either company will need the hustle mentality not just because it is demanded of them, but because participating in his vision of greatness requires going well beyond the bare requirements of their jobs.

Companies like Facebook and Tesla require extraordinarily high investment from their employees. Following the example of their bosses, they have fully bought in. Executive dedication begets employee investment.

Inspiring Ambition

If employees are rejecting hustle culture because they feel underappreciated and irrelevant, perhaps giving them something to hustle for can make all the difference. Business leaders can dive in, live the work ethic they want to inspire, and show employees the work they do. They can follow their own expectations, and be transparent about their plans for the company and the evaluations of staff performance. Where is it going? What do they need from staff to get there? They can define success and set clear goals. 

This is not to say that we must all aspire to the same type of success. There is great value for many people in cutting work hours to spend more time with family or to pursue new avenues. Even Sandberg is no longer COO of Facebook, citing personal projects and philanthropy as reasons for leaving after 14 years. However, let’s foster a work environment where employees feel compelled to do more than the minimum. Let us pursue and inspire excellence. Sandberg, after all, continues to pursue excellence. It just happens to not be the corporate kind.

Jenn Elwood
Jenn Elwood

Opinion Contributor, Strixus

Jenn Elwood is a contributor for Strixus, focusing on topics that bridge the gap between management and employees (with the occasional psychobabble thrown in). view profile


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