From Frenzy to Focus: Leslie Richards Of Furia Rubel Communications, Inc On How We Can Cancel Hustle Culture And Create A New Sustainable Work Paradigm
An Interview with Authority Magazine
Authority Magazine: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Can you share your backstory?
I really didn’t have to travel from “there to here.” I have always looked for ways to integrate work and personal life more effectively. This has guided the choices I have made in terms throughout my caree. rIt has guided my choice of leadership teams I have been part of. I am grateful that there is now a more focused conversation on something that has been an issue for a long time.
Tell us about your typical day!
No such thing as a typical day, really. Generally speaking, my days are divided between time supporting my team, spending time with them, and hear what’s happening in their worlds. There is also significant time spent on client strategy, projects, meetings and correspondence. I also make time for my own projects. These projects are anything from infrastructure development for our agency to researching new trends and tools, including effective management approaches for high-performing teams.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?
Despite the many challenges that women and minorities continue to face in the workplace, the landscape has changed in many ways since I started my career. It’s crazy to recall that at the beginning of my career, a woman was not guaranteed her job would be held for her if she decided to take maternity leave after the arrival of a child. The Family Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993. I was working in educational publishing at the time. It was a game-changer for women in the workplace because it required employers to hold their job for employees if they needed to care for a newborn or a sick family member. Since most of the care taking continues to be shouldered by women today, this had a profound impact on women’s careers.
That said, it is still hard to make a case for stepping away from intrusive schedules or demands without being perceived as less committed to your company and your career than your male colleagues. To my younger self, I would say, you did well under the circumstances.
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s start with a basic definition to make sure that all of us are on the same page. How do you define Hustle Culture?
Hustle culture is a culture in which work comes before personal health, well-being, and family. It is a constantly connected work mentality that doesn’t admit to the need for downtime.
Now let’s discuss an alternative to Hustle Culture. To begin, can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority on the problems that come with Hustle Culture?
I have been managing teams that produce creative deliverables for more than 25 years. During that time, I have launched over 1200 websites and run hundreds of marketing campaigns. I have witnessed, firsthand, what feeds innovation and fresh ideas, and what kills them. Pressure and excitement can be a catalyst in short bursts, but over the long haul, they become recipes for burnout, stale solutions, and poor team cohesion.
The specific term “Hustle Culture” may have been popularized in the 2010s, but the concept behind it and the behaviors that come with it can be traced back hundreds or perhaps even thousands of years. From your vantage point, experience, or research, what were the main drivers of Hustle Culture?
Fear. Media. Gender.
I’ll take them one at a time.
Fear is at play because people are concerned about their livelihoods. They fear that if they reject the hustle culture, they will be seen as less committed and less serious about their careers. The tighter the labor market, the more opportunity for hustle culture to take hold.
Let’s circle back to media. I know you have a question about that coming up and I definitely think it plays a role.
Gender is a factor for a lot of reasons. The archetype of the hustle culture entrepreneur is primarily male. In study after study, women continue to shoulder significantly more household work than their male partners. Based on the current divisions of labor, women simply don’t have the same level of support in their personal lives as their male counterparts. Without this support, it’s not feasible to put career first. Further, the women who do put career ahead of family pay a higher social cost than men who make that same choice.
OK, great. Now for the media question. I work in the marketing industry, and so I’m very cognizant of this question. What role do you see that marketing and advertising has played in creating the frenzy caused by Hustle Culture that many of us feel?
The chiseled male figure, clothed in grey or black and wearing a big wristwatch while staring into the future with steel-eyed determination is a trope that is everywhere. He is the hustle culture archetype in countless ads about status indicators, from cars and clothing to athletic equipment. Our entertainment industry has also perpetuated this in movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and The Social Network, which glorify this culture.
On a broader level, we are surrounded by messages of the individual’s ability to overcome significant odds by simply applying themselves in a single-minded fashion. While there are certainly some individual stories that offer inspiring examples of an ability to overcome obstacles, these narratives distract from systemic issues.
Can you help articulate the downsides of Hustle Culture? Why is this an unsustainable work paradigm?
Employers may feel they have a lot to gain by instilling an “always on” mentality. In the short term, this may be true. But hustle culture leads to burnout. Let’s be clear, “burn-out” is simply another way of saying things that sound less palatable, like exhaustion and anxiety which lead to clouded decision-making, lower overall job satisfaction, and higher turnover. Turnover is expensive. Poorly performing teams are expensive. Particularly in industries that are reliant on knowledge workers and innovation, hustle culture has long-term costs.
There has been great research over the last decade on the neuroscience of attention and performance. The human brain simply can’t function optimally without periods of rest. It can’t be creative without a chance to wander, free associate and be “off-task.”
Let’s now discuss Focus, the opposite of Frenzy. Can you please share one area of your personal or business life where you simplified things and then felt less frenzied and more fulfilled? Can you please explain?
Again, there has been great research on the concept of flow and “deep work.” Achieving a state of flow requires a task that is meaningful to the person performing it and a large block of uninterrupted time to focus on it. To deliver substantive results in any field, whether you are drafting a strategic plan, designing new tech, programming, researching, or really anything, you need to be able to focus. Hustle Culture dictates that your first responsibility is to answer that email or text message within moments of it arriving in your inbox. That makes finding room in your day for deep work gets very difficult.
What life experiences have you adopted in your business or personal life that have left you more satisfied? Can you please explain?
- Morning yoga
- Unplugged weekends
- Prioritizing the most difficult tasks in my day when energy is the freshest.
Okay, fantastic. Here is the main part of our interview. In your opinion, how can we break the addiction to being busy or trying to find the next big thing? How can people truly focus on tasks that make THE difference to their business and lives giving them satisfaction or life purpose alignment? Based on your experience and your area of expertise, can you please share “Five Ways To Move From Frenzy to Focused”?
- First and foremost, get your sense of self-worth from who you are, not what you do. The rest will fall into place. If you can’t swing that, here are some other tactics.
- Lead by example. Take time to go to the doctor when you are sick, show up for kids when they need you, and attend to life outside of work. As you do, make sure your team knows.
- Block time for yourself and your team. This is a time when slack, email, and texting are not responded to, and you can work without getting pulled off task. Ideally make it a designated time every week (Tues and Thurs 3–5, for example)
- Quit the “Stress Olympics.” Don’t show up for your team talking about how busy you are, how many meetings you have scheduled, or how full your inbox is. If you do, you inadvertently communicate expectations around “overwhelm” as a measure of commitment.
- Exercise. Walk, breathe, and take breaks. Your work product will be better for it and so will your long-term well-being.
How would you describe a work paradigm that is a viable alternative to Hustle Culture? What would it look like, and what would you call it?
We know what the paradigm needs to look like. The research is there. Engaged employees need purpose, the ability to develop mastery, and true autonomy. Create an environment that supports these things and call it whatever you like.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you about working differently?
Sure. My favorite books around this topic right now are:
- The Attention Merchant — Tim Wu
- Stolen Focus — Johann Hari
- Flow — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
I am also really interested in the work of some ex-silcon valley innovators and the organization they have formed called the Center for Humane Technology (CHT) https://www.humanetech.com/solutions
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.