Spoorthi Giridhar

Before the pandemic began, we were not accustomed to terms such as ‘toxic productivity’ and ‘hustle culture’. When characteristics of overworking, perfectionism, and hyper-focus were presented to us, we attributed it to qualities of a type-A person. However, unknowingly, the pandemic transformed most of us into around-the-clock workers. The main reason for this shift in work habits is due to the lack of external structure and routine; for example, before the pandemic, office goers had a specific 9-5 time schedule, after which they had time to wind down practice self-care. However, in the current scenario comprising solely of online meetings and virtual procedures that take place 24/7, the boundary between what was once described as work hours and personal time has not only become seriously blurred but is also on the verge of absolutely disappearing for most individuals. 


For most of us, our sense of identity and self-worth is to some extent tied with our level of competence in certain areas of our life. The primal idea behind this correlation is that when we perform tasks adequately or correctly, we experience a deeply satisfying perception of competence at the moment. And as our level of competence increases, we look for tasks that challenge us more and stimulate us further. This is because our sense of self and self-worth has increased, making us more confident and determined. In theory, this is exactly what hustle culture promotes, but it is the exact opposite in practice. 


When we look at the implications of hustle culture on those with pre-existing mental health and neurodivergent disorders, such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, and ADD, we notice that these populations are more susceptible to adverse risks caused by the surmounting stress placed upon them. When overworking to meet multiple deadlines and ensuring project perfection is the norm, burnout is the inevitable end for most workers. Burnout leads to severe physical, mental, and emotional problems, ranging from a disturbed sleep schedule to anxiety and depression. Imagine a population already suffering from a mental health illness be subject to burnout; they’re undoubtedly placed at a double disadvantage. 


Those with ADHD often have weaker functioning of their prefrontal cortex circuits, especially in the right hemisphere. The prefrontal association cortex plays a crucial role in regulating attention, behaviour, and emotion, with the right hemisphere specialized for behavioural inhibition. Most individuals with ADHD develop numerous habits and coping skills to match the productivity of their peers. In environments where toxic productivity is encouraged, and neurodiversity is ignored, it is highly likely for neurodivergents to succumb to the collective pressure created. 


So, how do we address this problem? How do we make workplaces accessible for individuals of all populations? The answer is quite simple; we must strive to accommodate all populations and de-establish the functioning of a ‘typical’ workplace. Concepts such as ‘hustle culture’ and ‘toxic productivity’ are extremely harmful to those with the aforementioned disorders. When workplace managers ensure that there is ample time given for a deadline and tasks are given to employees that stimulate but don’t burden them, a massive weight is taken off the shoulders of most neurodivergent individuals. The same is applicable in school and university settings, where professors can make the syllabus more accessible to individuals by setting deadlines that accommodate the learning needs of all the students.  


A non-judgemental workspace that is respectful to neurodivergents goes beyond the manager-employee relationship. It also depends upon the interactions that take place amongst peers and co-workers. Hustle culture, when done right, will provide an energized atmosphere that provides incentives and motivation to work towards a common goal, rather than burdening individuals with stress and worry about meeting deadlines and out-performing their peers.  


And at last, and perhaps the most important relationship to consider when we speak about productivity and optimal performance is the relationship we have with ourselves. Jane Fonda once said, "The challenge is not to be perfect — it is to be whole." It is important to have a holistic outlook when viewing one's health. Self-care practices can no longer be considered a luxury, for, in reality, they have become necessary to ensure one's overall well-being. Whether it be picking up your favourite book at the end of a long day to unwind or simply putting away your laptop and textbooks at a specific time, every step towards ensuring your mental well-being is pivotal in the long run.