By guest author Heather Archer

How many times have you sacrificed the needs of your body, mind, and spirit just so you could produce?

I have a confession: I am a recovering perfectionist. I am still unlearning the harmful belief systems imposed by western society which assert that in order to succeed, you must put work above all else. I spent many years pouring more into my professional life at the expense of my health, family and well-being. This unhealthy dynamic left me feeling drained, depleted and resentful and running on a hamster wheel of grind culture.

And breathe written in lights in plants

Defining Grind Culture

You might be wondering: What the heck is grind culture? Grind culture is the societal belief that in order to be considered valuable, you must be producing. This is a belief system that leads to the dehumanization of small business owners and in the workplace from the way we treat our bodies, and also by the way we treat ourselves.

Although I am very proud of my body of work as well as the impact I've been able to make with people all over the world, a few years ago I realized that I was depleting myself in the name of my work. I skipped meal times, I neglected family and friends, I had frequent anxiety attacks. One day I decided that another way had to be possible. I couldn't just throw myself into my work anymore without caring for myself. I decided to choose life over productivity.

In order for me to reclaim myself from grind culture, I had to step back, reflect, rest, and realign with my values in order to promote my well-being in my work and personal life. These learnings helped me to cultivate practices and rituals to transform my relationship with productivity and moved me from surviving to thriving in my work and personal life. My story is similar to many working professionals and entrepreneurs who are committed to their professions but who are also seeking a new way to engage with work. This shared struggle of finding purpose outside of productivity has led me to the latest iteration of my career as a workplace wellness coach and consultant. Many people are sick of having an unhealthy relationship with their work and are seeking new tools and strategies to thrive personally and professionally.

Naming Workplace Trauma

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on the professional sector. According to a recent article in Forbes, “In the US, the reported risk for post-traumatic stress (PTS) – one of the major mental health issues related to trauma – is 83 percent higher than pre-pandemic levels.” One of the major causes of this trauma has been a deeper blurring of work-life boundaries.  Workplace trauma is a state of continuous psychological, physical, and/or emotional overwhelm caused by your work environment. A traumatic work environment can be identified when the toxic aspects of your company's culture outweigh the healthy ones.

In June 2021, 61 ex-employees of beer brand BrewDog created an open statement critiquing  the “culture of fear” the company had created, describing it as a “cult of personality” and insisted they take steps to address a toxic work culture that had left some staff suffering from mental health concerns. “Being treated like a human being was sadly not always a given,” the statement read. Although the company has since apologized and has stated their willingness to address working concerns, the question needs to be asked: What were the conditions that created such a toxic work environment. What got them to this place? And will this collective effort of employee complaints be enough to truly get Brewdog to transform their company culture?

Entrepreneurs also need to consider, do we treat ourselves any better than our employees in these difficult situations, or are we self-imposing grind culture, too.

One of the greatest issues with grind culture is that it robs us of our humanity. Many of us understand the misery and dehumanization that grind culture inflicts, yet we find ourselves consistently perpetuating the same cycles of harm that capitalism and grind culture produces because we simply don’t believe that another way is possible.  Most of us know we’re overworked. Many of us understand the harmful impact of capitalism and the way this economic system has created large scale dehumanization, waste, and exploitation, but many folks are resigned to the fact that this is “just the way things are.” If you try to push people too hard on the issue, they start rolling their eyes and write you off as a crunchy hippie who has their head in the clouds. Luckily the tide is turning.

The Workplace Wellness Movement is Growing

One way to reduce incidences of workplace trauma is to invest in creating a culture of wellness at work. Workplace wellness is becoming  a hot button issue that business owners and entrepreneurs need to solve as we work to create the architecture of our organizations. The global corporate wellness market size is expected to reach USD 93.4 billion by 2028. Meanwhile, an investment in workplace wellness programs promotes enhanced productivity in the workplace.  According to Sprout,  “Organizations with highly effective health and productivity programs report: 11% higher revenue per employee and 28% greater shareholder returns.”

Given projected trends, workplace wellness should be more than an afterthought. Corporate wellness initiatives are no longer just “nice to have,” but an essential and strategic element of overall workplace culture. Moreover,  countries around the world are working to push through legislation to enforce work-life boundaries. Ontario, Canada recently passed a law which mandates employers with 25 or more employees to have a written policy about “disconnecting from work.” Meanwhile Portugal has made it illegal for employers to contact staff after work hours. Even Amazon just signed a labor deal making it easier for workers to organize against unfair working conditions. Wellness and workers rights are intimately connected and the change is coming. An increasing number of professionals are seeking solutions that exist outside of the framework of grind culture.

Another Way Is Possible

In order to reclaim ourselves from workplace trauma caused by grind culture, we need to be able to identify the symptoms of grind culture which include the following:

  • A fear of stillness
  • Guilt about resting
  • Viewing exhaustion as productive
  • Sacrificing the needs of your body to produce
  • Rarely feeling satisfied with what you have
  • Being in competition with others over who works the hardest

Grind culture is the root of an unrealistic expectation of maximum productivity, even at the expense of a person’s overall health. Grind culture has conditioned us to view our work as our most significant accomplishment. The more productive we are, the more worthy we are in society. In my book. The Grind Culture Detox, I share practical tips for working professionals incorporate well-being into their daily lives-even while they’re working.  The Grind Culture Detox is a multi-pronged approach of well being practices, somatic rituals, and boundary setting techniques, to reclaim your life so you can thrive personally and professionally.  

Instituting Humane Calendaring Practices

An important element to creating a professional life in a world outside of grind culture is humanizing your calendar. Your calendar should reflect not just what you need to do, but what you need to thrive. Your calendar is not just a place to keep track of appointments, but it should keep track of your overall workload and places of decompression within your day. Be sure to account for administrative time as well as time to stretch and take care of your wellness needs. Some tips for integrating humane calendaring practices into your workday include the following:

  • Be realistic about your capacity

This means owning your yeses and your nos. Many times in our professional lives we’re expected to be team players to our detriment. Instead of automatically making commitments, become comfortable with taking time to decide if you are actually able to fulfill the request that’s being asked of you.

  • Less is more

Instead of the natural inclination to add to your to do list, get used to finding ways to take things off of your to do list. Is it really urgent for the task to be done today or can you extend the timeline in order to prioritize your wellness and overall sustainability.

  • Make space for processing and contemplation (Not just back to back meetings)

Become accustomed to creating 30 min breaks in between meetings. This provides you with time to take notes, send out emails, and take a bio break before taking on your next meeting. The ultimate objective is less hustle and more flow.

  • Calendar time to be in your body

Make space at least once per day to take a walk, do yoga at your desk, schedule daily time for mindfulness and meditation.

  • Create Opportunities for Deep Work within your workweek

Productivity expert Cal Newport, unpacks a term called ‘deep work’ which refers to  activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that optimize your cognitive abilities. Make space for deep work at least 1-2 times during your workweek in order to have creative space to map out and research big picture ideas and projects.

  • Download apps to block social media to increase concentration

To facilitate deep work, as well as sensory rest, consider downloading a time saving app to reduce your social media time for portions of the day. The app that I like to use is called Freedom.

  • Transform your “To Do” lists into “To Thrive” Lists

In order to divest from grind culture, we need to stop only prioritizing our to do lists. It’s also about understanding what we need to thrive as well. This helps to facilitate work-life liberation as well. A sample “To Thrive List” might look like the following:

  • Catch Up on Email
  • Write 5 pages
  • Take a Salt Bath
  • Create Social Media Content
  • Update Student Rosters
  • Take a Walk

Consider your day tomorrow. What are the things you need to produce and what are the things you need to thrive tomorrow? Write them down and then try combining the lists.

For more workplace wellness tips, and a supportive community to create a more liberated work life, consider joining my workplace wellness subscription community on Subkit. And if no one told you today, you are worth more than what you can produce.