Why Hustle Culture Is Failing with Mary Ellen Slayter

Do you love having five jobs? Do you love chasing down invoices and getting four hours of sleep a night because you’re worried about the future and need extra cash? Yeah, I didn’t think so. In fact, it’s unlikely anyone really loves any part of hustle culture. 

My guest, Mary Ellen Slayter, is the founder and CEO of Rep Cap, a B2B marketing agency specializing in HR tech, insurance and financial services. She’s also the publisher of Managing Editor Magazine. Of course, Mary Ellen is so much more than that. She’s a scientist. She’s a journalist. She’s a former writer at The Washington Post. And she’s also a mother, a partner and an absolute dear friend. 

Mary Ellen is also someone who has a strong opinion on entrepreneurship and the gig economy. Now, I don’t know when the word hustle emerged in our lexicon as a good thing, but Mary Ellen and I are here to tell you it is not a good thing. It is not a proper way to live your life. It’s not a proper way to be connected to the people you love. And it certainly isn’t a good way to run a business. So if you’re interested in hearing about the hustle economy (and why it’s actually no good) and thinking about solutions for the future of work, listen to this episode.

The Side Hustle as a Necessity

Mary Ellen and I both hate how the messaging of the side hustle permeates every aspect of modern work life. We hate the whole mentality of it and the negative effects it has on our mental health, causing great employees to experience burnout. In this episode, we discuss two distinct reasons that this idea of the hustle exists in the first place. One is born out of necessity, and the other is self-driven.

A side hustle is now a thing that lots of people have to have in order to fill in the gaps and pay their bills,” Mary Ellen says. “We’ve got an economy in this country that has no safety net. You can be comfortably middle-class affluent and one bad illness, one badly-timed natural disaster can knock you off of your whole life savings. It can ruin your life.” 

Desperation and anxiety makes people feel as if they have no other choice than to take on another part-time job. How did we let it come to this? Why couldn’t we simply take better care of our workers?

The Side Hustle as a Badge of Honor

Then, there are instances where entrepreneurs brag about the hustle simply because the fast-paced work culture we’ve accepted as normal tells them that they have to sign their lives away to the hustle to have any shot at success. They measure their worth in the number of hours they work. “There’s this other type of hustle that’s like … ‘Yeah, I don’t even eat food anymore. I work in my startup 12 hours a day. Now I get up at 4:35 because all those other jokers are sleeping until 5,’” Mary Ellen says. “The people who brag about the hustle, they’re usually not actually hustlers. Not in a positive sense. I hate it. I think it’s a terrible way to run your business.”

“​​I think it’s detrimental to our families, our communities, and I wish — as a narrative in our culture — I wish it would just go away,” she adds. I completely agree. There are other responsibilities that we have in addition to our work: quality time with our children and partners, and the overall pursuit of happiness. The message that it’s noble to dedicate our whole selves to work and that becoming a martyr for an organization is encouraged is just toxic. It’s not a ticket to wealth; it’s a path to anxiety and depression.

How to Break Free From Hustle Culture

This isn’t to say that all hustle is bad, and we’re certainly not championing just giving up and taking the easiest route. Sometimes you have to work harder or work more than 40 hours a week to grow your business or make extra money. Mary Ellen shared some ideas for setting boundaries while you’re stuck in the grind:

  • Get an adequate amount of sleep. Like, the recommended full eight hours. “It’ll improve your mood. You’ll be more productive at work. You’ll be so creative,“ she says.
  • Fill your bucket with the things that matter, not just work. “I have real meals with people that I love, who I don’t pay and that don’t pay me, at least twice a week.” 
  • Have hobbies that further your curiosity about life outside of your paid work. Don’t feel guilty about them. “I read books that are not business books.” 

That last one is really important to me because, at one point in my life, I realized that I had to do more than just be an HR blogger, a podcaster and an author. I started to read a little more fiction in my spare time, and that has been one of the things that has saved me. 

Until our culture completely changes, we may not be able to fully remove ourselves from our side hustle, but we can take the necessary steps to bettering our quality of life.



It’s desperation and anxiety. We’ve got an economy in this country that has no safety net. One badly timed crisis can knock you off of your whole life. So pursuing a side hustle helps ease those feelings of necessity, to a point.


We can slow down and we can reclaim our sleep. We can also talk to ourselves, talk to our family about how sleep is important. Pay attention to your surroundings, to yourself, and to your loved ones. Listen and look closely at yourself, what else are you doing to make sure that you’re not falling into the hustle trap? Mary Ellen sums it up like this, “I started thinking about the hustle in terms of things that fill my bucket and things that empty my bucket. If I’m doing something that empties my bucket, there better be a lot of money involved. I’m not just going to let you drain my bucket for nothing.”


We tell people who identify as female to hustle in a different way. Women generally have other responsibilities that would make it very difficult to live a hustler’s life. Yet we force women into the hustle economy in order to survive and thrive. As we start to expand the definition of work and start to expand the gig economy, we’re forcing women into the hustle economy in a way that they may or may not be able to thrive, but they don’t have a choice. I will say there are cases where women actually really like having those jobs because there are women who had been pushed out of the workforce completely and they’re able to come back in by being gig workers while their kids are in school. While we are not sure what the net balance of that is, the hustle economy as it stands isn’t in favor of women. 


Get more sleep, drink more water, and don’t eat lunch at your desk. It’s gross.

People in This Episode


  1. I actually love your dislike of the hustle! Whether it’s true entrepreneurship or a side hustle, this way of life has a glamorous appeal, probably thanks to social media. Perhaps if more of us had the courage to share our real journeys it would paint a more realistic picture.

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