Why Celebrating Toxic Productivity In A Post-Pandemic World Is Dangerous For Companies

Jeff Harry
5 min readMay 17, 2021

In the pre-pandemic work world, the business world celebrated hustle culture. Whether Gary Vaynerchuk told you to work 12 hours a day to prove yourself or the corporate executives celebrating the toxic work environment that Steve Jobs and Elon Musk made normal, many heroes in the business world were telling you to give up your physical and mental health for the grind.

Well, what the pandemic provided us was an opportunity to reflect and reassess if that is even a healthy, sustainable way of doing business.

How does someone benefit in the long run from sacrificing their physical and mental health for the grind?

Many workers, especially Gen Zers and Millenials, won’t tolerate that toxic hustle and grind culture that other generations celebrated with such glee just a few years ago in the post-pandemic world.

The Pre-Pandemic Comparison Olympics has got to go.

The Pre-Pandemic Comparison Olympics seems so outdated in the post-pandemic world. Many people in the working world have now realized that work isn’t everything. The propaganda that what you do for a living represents your self-worth is not being bought by as many workers anymore because they know how expendable they are to their employer.

What Is Toxic Productivity?


Toxic productivity is the celebration of capitalistic production at an unsustainable, unhealthy rate that lacks compassion, empathy, and care for employees. It is touted by managers who don’t do the majority of work as something to celebrate. It, in turn, becomes the vicious cycle of employees trying to achieve almost impossible expectations and thus questioning their own self-worth when they aren’t accomplished. If a certain worker can achieve these extremely high metrics, they are rewarded with even higher expectations without any additional compensation provided.

One example is Amazon warehouse workers. When they achieved certain quotas, their reward was to receive even higher, more unrealistic quotas to achieve. The company’s assumption is that staff didn’t have enough work to do and were punished for doing their job well. If they complained about this additional workload, they lost hours and eventually their entire job.

Office Space captured it best where there is little motivation for workers to go above and beyond when they see a minimal reward for their efforts.

There is a veiled assumption that staff might get some mysterious bonus at the end of the year representing their hard work. Rarely does that future bonus compensate for the countless sacrifices that employees made to produce at such a high rate.

Sacrifices such as:

  • All the kid’s soccer games or school recitals that parent missed because they had to work
  • All the late-night work sessions as well as sleepless nights right before a major deadline that created long-term sleep problems
  • All the hours of therapy or money spent on happy hours to debrief many horribly challenging weeks

How can you even quantify those sacrifices into a bonus compensation that seems adequate?

What Is The Risk For Companies That Celebrate Toxic Productivity?

Companies risk having a mass exodus of workers if they don’t show up in the post-pandemic world with a more emotionally intelligent (EQ), compassionate, and empathetic approach to their staff.

Turnover. Massive amounts of turnover. Many corporate leaders fail to realize a labor revolution beginning to form since the pandemic, occurring amongst Gen Z’ers, Millenials, and even some Gen Xers. There is a Great Reassessment happening, highlighted recently by The Washington Post, where workers are asking themselves if they even want to return to pre-pandemic ways of working or do they want to demand more: More flexibility, more pay, more benefits, more sustainable work schedules, more paternity leave, more humanity and compassion as a whole.

If Boomers and Gen Xers are still stuck in a pre-pandemic approach to managing, which includes a “My Way or The Highway” attitude, they are going to be seeing a lot more staff heading for the highway.

Companies have been shortchanging employees for many years, and now these employees see how ridiculous it is. The fact that $600.00/week of unemployment benefits creates this “labor shortage” shows how fragile many American corporations really are.

Companies can solve this issue by paying their workers more, but they don’t want to. So they are choosing to play a game of chicken with workers and hoping by getting states to cut off unemployment, it’ll force people back to work. A sad strategy that will backfire for companies in the long run as bitter employees make for the least amount of productivity and substandard work.

You also have a system that has rewarded the executive over average workers for the last 35 years. Blue-collar and even some white-collar workers have grown tired of this rigged system.

The wealth inequality gap is so massive now that workers can’t tolerate it anymore.

This video was made in 2012, and the wealth gap has only worsened since then.

Companies must realize that they are just a few bad, tone-deaf decisions away from becoming the next Blockbuster if they don’t approach their workers with a more conscientious, humane approach to work.

What can we do to address Toxic Productivity?

Play Experiment #1: Call out toxic productivity and the absurdity of celebrating it

Ask yourself and your colleagues, did we enjoy the antiquated hustle and grind culture of the past, and do we want to take with us into the post-pandemic working world?

Play Experiment #2: Explore What Healthy Productivity Looks Like

What does a healthy, fun way to approach productivity look like?

Can we celebrate taking care of our mental health as much as we do with accomplishments?

The more we can show the insanity of the toxic productivity culture and how it doesn’t benefit workers as a whole, the more this will lead to employees standing up for their rights and saying that they do not want to tolerate this pre-pandemic toxic work environment anymore.



Jeff Harry

Workplace Positive Psychology Play Whisperer / Helping Fortune 500 Companies Build Psychologically Safe Workspaces Through Positive Psychology & Play