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FITLOSOPHIES: The Burnout Epidemic and Why Hustle Culture Is Failing Us

Hello there! Welcome back to another installment of the CHT blog: FiITLOSOPHIESi. I’ve got quite the big topic to explore today–one that I think will resonate with many of you, but may also ruffle some of those feathers. Today we’ll be discussing Hustle Culture, why it sucks, and how to avoid the trap of “hustle hard and good things happen”.


It’s so easy to find examples of Millennials and Gen-Zers getting lambasted for “being lazy”, “not wanting to work”, or “scared to hustle”. If you haven’t seen these sentiments, then you’ve somehow avoided the toxic wasteland of social media--congratulations on being the best of us. To keep it simple, older generations think younger generations are soft, immature, unable to handle the stress of work, and lazy. This same sentiment has been echoed for every generation since the dawn of civilization (and probably before) and I’d be lying to you if I said I hadn’t had, or voiced, this thought, despite my best efforts. But, quite frankly, this thought can be characterized exactly by my previous statements: it’s soft, immature, unable to handle the realities and stress of the world, and just plain lazy. The truth is, hustle culture, or the belief that a singular, tenacious, effort focused solely around producing results and finding success in their work, doesn’t work (for everyone) and is a broken concept that will generally lead to burnout, disillusionment, and a lost workforce. 


If you’ve read this far, you’re probably curious as to why I’m making the argument that hard work is a bad thing. Simply put, I’m not. What I’m arguing today is that hard work is only worthwhile if the system that you are working in is built to reward you for that sweat equity. If we look at the American working world as a whole, I’d argue that for most of us young people, it isn’t built to reward hard work on a singular task; more pointedly, it isn’t built to reward hard work for a singular workplace. So many articles have been written regarding the effects of this on young people that I won’t waste our time covering them (check out Forbes and Business Insider). What this tells us is that you can only gain as much success as the system you are working in allows you to. Just like you can’t outwork a bad diet for fitness gains, you can’t out-hustle (well, MOST of the time) beyond a limit, and at some point you will find that the law of diminishing returns exists for a reason. 


We’ve established that if the system isn’t working, then neither can the worker. What we do with that information is important. As employers, we DO have some control over the system our employees work in. While they are unable to work hard enough to disrupt the system, we have the authority and power to create the necessary adaptation to allow hustle to succeed and be proactive for career growth and life growth. In training, there’s a principle called the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) and it’s one of the guiding tenets of exercise prescription. GAS describes how the body responds to a specific stimulus in three different phases: Alarm, Reaction, Exhaustion. I won’t go into the physiology here, but at face value:


  • Alarm - the body notices a new stimulus/stress

  • Reaction/Resistance - the body responds to this stimulus/stress in an effort to improve stress outcomes or avoid stress outcomes

  • Exhaustion - the body is overcome by the stimulus/stress and negative adaptation occurs.


As personal trainers, we want to make sure our exercise prescriptions oscillate between Alarm & Reaction, as those will consistently produce positive results and adaptation, and if our program happens to be too overstimulating, it’s important that we notice the signs of exhaustion and begin to make changes to induce better recovery so that the body can make progressive positive changes towards our desired outcome. In the business ownership world, we can apply just the same principles. We may start the year looking at a huge new stimulus: more clientele, more work, more training hours, more revenue--our alarm. The goal here would be to pick up new business and hustle. Just like when starting a new training program, we may find that this time of the year is particularly stressful and difficult. New schedules, new people to communicate with, more patrons in the studio at any given time, new goals to set and be accountable for, etc. When we look at our reaction, we want to see the objective measures increase in a positive direction - employee satisfaction and payroll increases, revenue increases, high client retention, high client satisfaction, and so on and so forth. As employers, it’s impossible for us to see these changes (well, maybe not impossible, but pretty difficult) if we don’t provide the marketing, employee training, administrative assistance, bonus opportunities, and other pieces to make sure that our staff are supported while they are hustling. Remember, we want to ENABLE the hustle, without letting our staff get to the exhaustion phase. Employers must create systems of success that not only align with their company values, but allow employees to absorb those values and thrive, or create intrinsic connection with those values.


Alright, now that I’ve talked the talk, let’s walk the walk. How do we do this over at CHT? I like to start with goal setting, which will act as our “alarm” phase:


My employee goals and business goals align: my aspirations as the business owner create the conditions for my staff to hit their target income, render services they are passionate about, and take some control over portions of their career. As an example, if we base our yearly revenue targets on volume of training, then I will take that goal, disperse it amongst our trainers, and set their individual goals based on what the business needs. As a second example, we may have a goal of improving our baseline knowledge of health and fitness. So as a business, we’ll set targets on continuing education requirements, or look to outsource some workshops to come teach us about topics that staff are passionate about, which oftentimes is based on what their clients need. In addition, I’m very fortunate to be able to employ a “Staff Development Manager” who hosts weekly seminars on training philosophy, exercise science, kinesiology, and many other topics in order to keep things fresh and top of mind. In short, our business goal is to grow our client base through an overwhelmingly knowledgeable and personal staff. For that goal, I make sure my staff align with that goal and set the precedent in their quarterly meetings that that will be the focus for the quarter. Once they understand the goal and their expectations for the quarter, it’s up to them to find a way to achieve those goals.



For our “Resistance Phase”--or adaptation--I’ve created an incentive based pay structure for our employees. The biggest reward (or adaptation created) through this is the Tiered Trainer System. In short, this allows my staff to understand the macro-level goals they need to hit on a yearly basis to improve their take-home pay, receive bonuses, receive a raise, and improve their training skills. I won’t go into much detail here, but the goal here was to ensure that hustle, goal setting, and goal achieving were WORTHWHILE for my staff. If they work hard, work well, improve their craft, and earn me/the business income, then they should be rewarded for that work. If they go above and beyond, then they should be rewarded above and beyond. This isn’t a novel concept by any stretch, and I’m not claiming it to be, but it is important as employers that we do 2 things when creating goals like this: 1) set proper expectations, and 2) make sure the rewards are actually worthwhile. At CHT we host quarterly reviews to discuss these items and make sure that these still align.


And finally for our “Exhaustion Phase”, I’ve given our staff recovery opportunities. They get no-questions-asked PTO; major administrative assistance with client communication, software for sales, and client acquisition; they receive weekly office hours in our business meetings that allow focus on their individual objectives and a reminder on business objectives, schedule autonomy, and so much more. This part of the system is often taken for granted, BUT it’s arguably the most important part of mitigating burnout and appropriate recovery when it’s necessary. Taking time off or having assistance when exhaustion and anxiety start to creep in is incredibly important, especially in a sales-based industry. Having management to refocus on small non-training based goals can help move attention towards becoming a great employee and not just a great trainer. There’s so much here that goes hand-in-hand with our “resistance phase”, but we use these tools as a way to keep staff feeling motivated and able to stay goal oriented without becoming disillusioned with their job. Just like with exercise, if you only ever work at 100% every day, you’ll find that your performance will eventually decrease and the gains you are chasing will diminish or regress. But with your career, burning out means the loss of an ability to maintain a lifestyle or to find pleasure in the work they are doing, and that must be avoided.


Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one final complication to everything I’ve just said - creating these systems, maintaining them, constantly adapting them, adding new people to them - it’s all incredibly HARD work. Writing this article was easy. There are so many examples of people feeling undervalued or feeling ambivalent about their work that finding those sentiments and hearing them are easy. But listening to them, understanding them, and obtaining the power to make the changes, and then actually implementing a long-lasting positive change is difficult. It’s taken me nearly a DECADE to get CHT to where it is today, and I’d argue that we’re still far from perfect. But, every day is another chance to move that needle forward, and I’d argue that it’s a battle worth fighting for.


I hope you enjoyed this article! It was a fun one to write and I hope that you would stick around and potentially think through how these concepts may impact your own career - whether you are a business owner, a manager, an employee, or searching for a job. At the highest level, it’s important that we begin to reimagine what it means to work and how employment structure can help to generate and maintain passion. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to like, subscribe, or share! If you want more discussion on these topics or would like to hear it in podcast form, let me know in the comments. As always, train better, live better. 

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