Commentary: LinkedIn’s toxic positivity and hustle culture create unrealistic work expectations
The social media platform has been seen as a beacon of positivity but its dynamics can encourage unhealthy behaviours, says career consultant Adrian Tan.
SINGAPORE: Having read one too many posts on LinkedIn about the enviable lives of digital nomads working at the beach, sitting under the sun while sipping away their pina colada, I decided to try that myself.
And so last week, I packed my stuff and went to Pasir Ris beach. The view was awesome, save for the occasional oil tanker gliding past.
But the entire experience was horrible.
I constantly swatted at flies, the sun was so glaring I could barely see my computer screen and there wasn’t any Wi-Fi so I had to tether from my phone but the signal at the beach was poor. Plus, there was no place to charge my laptop battery.
After an hour of squinting my eyes to decipher the words on my screen, I gave up and marched home to continue the rest of my workday.
A BEACON OF POSITIVITY?
I’m certainly not the only person to have tried applying advice on LinkedIn to real life and failed spectacularly. Since the pandemic hit, the site has seen a 55 per cent increase in conversations.
Over the years, LinkedIn has become the go-to network for all professionals globally. Founded by Reid Hoffman in 2003, it has since been acquired by Microsoft and reached a whopping 756 million users.
Now, LinkedIn tends to be seen as a beacon of positivity at a time when social media has come under fire for spreading misinformation, fueling hate and creating divisions.
Facebook and Twitter grew out of a culture of online anonymity, but LinkedIn incentivises users to put their real name, career track records and more, the logic goes. That ensured an unspoken code of conduct on LinkedIn.
No doubt LinkedIn is a great space to connect with like-minded professionals in the industry and top performers who might offer mentorship, advice and contacts that aid your climb up the career ladder.
There are scores of contacts on LinkedIn whose posts gave me food for thought and helped me understand things that impact my career.
But human instincts and mob dynamics are hard to scrub out. Similar to other platforms, LinkedIn encourages social comparisons and one-upmanship – they’re just dressed up as positive posts of career victories and “authentic” confessions of personal struggles.
LinkedIn’s feed pretty much gives users this license to broadcast and humble brag. It’s not so different from Instagram, which encourages you to show off your stay at W Hotel or your new haircut.
LinkedIn similarly prods people to promote and even exaggerate their professional highlights to suggest so and so is a rockstar in their field.
That includes acquiring a new certificate, getting promoted, joining a really cool company or some amazing news that makes others envious.
A CAREER ARMS RACE
It’s an arms race that never stops pushing you to be the better version of your work self. The ultimate version comes in the form of hustle porn - the fetishisation of long work hours, workaholism and accomplishments outside of work, just so you look like a standout candidate for any job.
The worst part? You’re expected to look like you’re enjoying it all because all this is only “work” if it’s gruelling and difficult.
There’s also a fair amount of virtue-signalling on LinkedIn when motivational quotes shared constantly ingrain in you that you need to “have a maker’s mindset” or “find nourishment in all you do”.
Long before the advent of LinkedIn type A personalities have preached waking up at 4 am, exercising, then taking an ice-cold bath, or an hour-long meditation before writing their 12th book that is already a likely candidate for the New York Times bestseller’s list.
Former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi has long touted her four-hours of sleep and working until 12 midnight. But studies after studies have shown that doing so could put you at risk for many problems like lowered immunity, poor memory, and heart disease. It may work for some, but that’s not a healthy or sustainable lifestyle choice for everyone.
Yet LinkedIn makes it seem like everyone should embrace this hypercompetitive life. Take CEO of VaynerMedia and LinkedIn influencer Gary Vaynerchuk (more popularly known as Gary Vee) for example.
In one viral video titled One of The Greatest Speech Ever, Vaynerchuk tries to rouse millennials out of their laziness and entitlement with exhortations to up their game and work harder.
“When I watch what people complain about, it breaks my heart because they completely lack perspective ... There’s so many people who talk about how much they’re going to achieve and they don’t work on weekends,” he says.
But ask yourself if at what price this is coming at. Remember that you only hear the success stories and not the casualties of this mentality.
USE LINKEDIN IN MODERATION
Research has shown how social media can be a reinforcing platform fueling negativity and depression.
In 2014, two studies revealed an association between time spent on Facebook and depressive symptoms for both genders and a relationship between the amount of time spent on Facebook and depressive symptoms because of Facebook social comparisons.
Even compared to Facebook, LinkedIn may be the worst social media platform that makes you feel inferior.
If you find yourself stalking LinkedIn for a few hours, doomscrolling your way and wondering why you feel oddly inadequate, keep in mind what you might for Instagram: The reality you’re presented with is not the full picture.
It may not even be authentic. Famed Twitter account StateofLinkedIn highlighted how many LinkedIn users had used the same story of a cab driver going without customers for 48 hours as a cautionary tale of the unequal impacts of COVID-19 – all just to earn likes.
When victors write history, keep in mind that what people claim they do also might not reflect their actions.
There are many bosses who preach greater empathy for employees on LinkedIn while privately demanding that team members return to the office despite their overwhelming preference to work-from-home.
It’s easy for your LinkedIn feed to seed doubt about your competence, whether you’re keeping up with the pack and working hard enough to do well at work. Don’t let that happen.
Remember that even when recruiters hire using LinkedIn, rather than judge based on how stellar your LinkedIn feed looks, they’ll still put you through an assessment and rounds of interviews.
Personal public relations is no substitute for substance and you can bet corporate leaders and hiring managers who can’t tell the difference will pay the price.
In a post-pandemic world that is reviewing work-life balance, perhaps the next thing we need to look at is whether LinkedIn contributes to that positively.
Adrian Tan is a marketing strategist and keynote speaker who teaches at ITE's School of Business & Services.