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Let’s stop normalizing worker exploitation and grind culture

It Started With Labor Day Reflections

September kicked off with the celebration of Labor Day, where the first week of the month focused on how much better the U.S. Workplace has gotten compared to the beginning of the 20th Century. By September 8th, the state of work and life for U.S-based workers had fallen out of the media. However, this entire month, work and life are themes I’ve been consistently reflecting on. For example, I've been thinking about how regularly we sacrifice ourselves for our jobs. It’s something I’ve witnessed as a coach a lot recently. And employers seem to be more than willing to take what we give them and a little more. Worker burnout is so commonplace that it's becoming ingrained in an organization's culture.

But...what if your job didn't extract everything you had? Well, maybe that doesn’t describe your job. And if so, you're lucky. Because even when people I coach tell me they love their jobs, eventually, at some point in the session, they will share how they are drained, overworked, and need a break but feel they can't take one. This is an element of grind culture. It grinds us up and drains our life-force. Our dominant culture has created expectations that we are regularly accessible. How we demonstrate this, for example, responding to emails as soon as we’ll wake up. Or putting in a couple of extra hours at the end of a workday "to get ahead". I think a lot about what the opposite of this extractive culture would be. And, because of the work that I'm doing right now, I spend a great deal of work actually looking at data and talking to advocates who are trying to stop the exploitation of workers. Grind culture is just scratching the surface. Grind Culture subversively exploits workers; Openly, workers are being exploited via wage theft & stolen tips.

My colleague Liz and I are working with state government, nonprofit, university and philanthropic partners on two projects centered around the need to end the exploitation of California’s workers. It's no coincidence that California has the most diverse workforce in the nation and the highest instances of worker inequality and exploitation. I recently learned that California is number one in wage theft, meaning that California's employers are stealing wages and tips from their employees at rates higher than those in other states. Not something to celebrate. This grift is especially high in six low-wage industries—car wash, construction, residential home care, janitorial, agriculture, and restaurants—where we find a concentration of BIPOC, women, and foreign-born workers who are systematically targeted and exploited. Find 5 minutes and watch this video (below) to learn more about wage theft. Being underpaid for a hard day's work is the reality for California's most marginalized workers because of racism, sexism and extractive business practices that are all too common and openly accepted.

As a Black woman whose ancestors were exploited for their labor, I'm constantly thinking about the relationship between people and their employers, and specifically, how to create reciprocal relationships where workers and businesses can both thrive.


Imagine you've picked meat from 2,160 crabs today. Imagine the toll on your fingers and wrists with all of that repetitive motion.

If you're a person of color, woman, and/or foreign-born worker (immigrant), chances are you will not be paid for all of the time that you worked.

Learn more about wage theft from this video created by the Public Welfare Foundation


Tip of the Month!

Create a Work Culture That Promotes Balance This is how we get to a non-extractive work environment that rebukes grind culture

  • Organizational Leaders Must Model "Non-Extraction": If you are a decision-maker at your organization, encourage staff to take their personal time off. Our words and actions send social cues that reinforce a culture that it is (or is not) acceptable to take your personal time.

    • Model that it is acceptable to take time off by doing it yourself.

    • Don't send emails after company hours. You can use the "schedule" email function if you work outside of company hours. By doing this, you avoid setting the expectation for staff to read your emails and work during their personal time.

    • Avoid jokes or passive-aggressive comments about how work builds up when people take their time off.

  • Schedule Rest To Build The Habit: Schedule appointments in your calendar for rest. This can include lunch breaks, 5-minute stretch breaks, 15-minutes of creative thinking "daydream" time.

  • Protect your Personal Time: This includes not working on the weekends or during your vacation time. This looks like not checking work emails as well as not completing projects during your personal time unless it cannot be avoided.

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