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Ryerson ad deemed “anti-mental health” by students, expert

The ad, depicting “weeks of sleepless nights,” has students voicing concerns about burnout and toxic productivity culture

By Tyler Griffin

After a Ryerson ad appearing to encourage “weeks of sleepless nights” and “doing several all-nighters” was seen in various spots around campus, students are voicing their concerns about the university promoting toxic productivity culture.

The advert promotes the Ted Rogers Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at Ryerson. It also features illustrations such as a person drinking a jug of coffee and an eye with a laptop in the centre and bags underneath. 

“Honestly, it feels like a shitpost,” said Racy Rafique, a first-year journalism student. “If anything, it makes me want to turn around and run far away from the idea of pursuing an MBA, and from Ryerson itself. I don’t want to be part of a community that romanticizes insomnia.”

Rafique said she is in disbelief that, “the actual staff of Ryerson—those who are meant to be aiding us in our development of healthy study skills—genuinely believe this poster was a good idea.”

The ad, which was spotted on the fourth floor of Jorgenson Hall and the second floor of the Rogers Communications Centre (RCC), among other places, appears to be part of a larger campaign to promote the Ted Rogers MBA program. Another ad following a similar format was spotted in the women’s washroom on the second floor of the RCC with text that reads: “Earning a BSC thanks to a student loan” and “Earning a science salary that’ll make a dent in the loan.”

Corinne Hart, an associate professor at the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing and expert in student mental health, said these kinds of ads normalize working too hard and detracts from any idea of work/life balance. “[The ad] is completely anti-mental health.”

“If you normalize it, you say that that’s the way to do it. [Students] are going to continue that behaviour because if you don’t, you’re stigmatized, you’re not working hard enough, you’re not good enough,” said Hart. “The message there is that if you don’t do those things you won’t be successful.”

When asked for comment on the message of the ad and student backlash, Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM) said in an email statement that, “the advertisement in question promotes the Ted Rogers MBA program internally to students at Ryerson. It reflects the realities of student life…references hard work and long days, which is part of many students’ experience.”

In the email, TRSM also linked to student resources, like Ryerson Student Learning Support and the Centre for Student Development and Counselling.

“Good study habits and work-life balance are also part of the student experience and the MBA program provides resources and support to help students succeed at both school and in their careers,” the statement said.

“They can’t do this while simultaneously advocating for student health and wellness” 

However, students told The Eyeopener on social media that TRSM missed the mark with this advertisement.

David Jardine, a first-year professional communications student, said that while all-nighters and other unhealthy habits are a reality for students, they found the fact that “Ryerson is glorifying or encouraging it” to be “really disappointing.” 

“They can’t do this while simultaneously advocating for student health and wellness.” 

Fourth-year business management student Mihai Lungu said he believes the main goal of the ad may have been to shake the “Rye High” reputation—a name given to the school, in part, because of public perception that Ryerson isn’t as prestigious a school as the University of Toronto or Queen’s University.

“This ad definitely reinforces the ‘grind’ mentality that is pushed by industry gurus and professionals,” Lungu said. “Anyone that has spent many nights without sleep building a business will quickly realize it’s unsustainable.”

“If you don’t have your health, you can’t ever create your wealth,” he added.

According to Hart, students who endure sleepless nights and constantly pull all-nighters will see a decrease in their ability to focus, make decisions and deal with stress. She also said that students who are pulling repeat all-nighters are probably drinking too many energy drinks and coffees, which can be detrimental to their physical and physiological health.

“It’s setting up the idea that if you don’t work like this, if you’re not doing these kinds of all-nighter things, then you’re probably not working well or working to capacity,” said Hart. “This sets the bar at that kind of behaviour which is fundamentally unhealthy.”

Eduardo Rodríguez, another business management student in his fourth-year, said that while it’s “not the best ad for an MBA,” he understands the target market. 

“Anyone who lives this lifestyle would…but I can also see why it would rile up some feathers.”

Rodríguez said that many young professionals put in long hours in the business world, as firms tend to exploit young professionals by overworking and underpaying them. Many will put up with it until they can move onto the next step of their career, he added. “Ted Rogers MBA students tend to take night classes while working full time, so on top of their work, they need to also study.”

“Workaholism is as dangerous as any other addiction”

First-year RTA student Ellen Reade has put massive amounts of pressure on herself in the past few years, experiencing severe burnout multiple times. She is currently taking seven classes on top of two career-related jobs. For a week in November 2018, Reade took on a full five-class course load, worked 30 hours, volunteered 30 hours, wrote two album reviews for a local paper, actively promoted concerts and still showed up for her band practice.

Each time Reade experiences burnout, she says it negatively impacts all aspects of her work, relationships, social life and overall health. Still, she can’t stop.

“Workaholism is as dangerous as any other addiction,” said Reade. “It has the capacity to take everything out of your life.”

According to Reade, one of the worst parts of productivity culture is the validation received when working past your limits and treating your body terribly. “It’s really easy to be driven by the praise from friends, family, peers, coworkers and the entire world around you,” she said. “I’ve never received more support and pats on the back than when I’ve strained myself past my breaking point.”

Reade wants to question why “selfish, career-focused individualism” is valued so highly in our culture, media and worldviews.

“If we didn’t frame the ultra-individualist ‘hard worker’ as the person we should all aspire to be, I think we’d solve a lot of the world’s problems—and be less tired doing so,” she said. “The world would be a much better place if we validated kindness, empathy and selflessness over work ethic.”

In lieu of posters on campus appearing to encourage productivity and burnout culture, Reade wants to see messages promoting healthier approaches to work.

“It’s been proven time and time again that overworking yourself leads to lower quality work. Why don’t we remind people to get a good sleep, nourish themselves properly and talk regularly with their friends?”

With files from Funké Joseph.

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