Forget ‘quiet quitting’, Elizabeth Lum’s animation proves hustle culture to be a sham

Tackling caffeine addiction, using Tiger Balm to stay awake and tears as hydration, Hustle Secrets uses humour to point out the absurdity of the cultural phenomenon.

10 October 2023


In 2022, the term ‘quiet quitting’ was all over social media. The phrase (in case you weren’t already aware) refers to doing the minimum requirements of your job without going ‘above and beyond’ trying to ‘prove’ yourself. Hopefully your channels were filled with people picking the term apart and highlighting its absurdity, though in some sections of the online world the term was being celebrated as encapsulating a ‘lazy Gen-Z mentality’. Quiet quitting is a consequence of what we now know as hustle culture, an invention of late capitalism that measures self-worth by how hard you work, how much money you earn, and the material things you have to show for it, and it’s this very phenomenon that the animator Elizabeth Lum is looking to dismantle with her humorous yet stinging short Hustle Secrets.

The inspiration for Hustle Secrets came from Elizabeth’s observation of two separate cultures: her home city of Hong Kong, and London, where she came to study for a degree in graphic communication design. In Hong Kong, Elizabeth identified hustle culture (verging on what she describes as “servitude”) to be rife in the workplace. Whereas in the UK, Elizabeth saw people “prioritising a healthier work-life balance”. When crafting the animation’s narrative, Elizabeth was intent on keeping “hustlers” in mind, and rather than condemning choices, she instead tries to “alleviate their overwork-induced tension” through humour.


Elizabeth Lum: Hustle Secrets (Copyright © Elizabeth Lum, 2023)

Hustle Secrets follows its central character, Tony Chan, running us through his secrets to a hard-working lifestyle and outlook. He has a celebratory gallery of the various physical ailments he’s got from working too hard, and prides himself on not having a caffeine addiction (unlike his other colleagues), yet he swallows his own tears for hydration, sees the toilet as a hindrance to efficiency, and puts Tiger Balm on his eyes to keep his eyes open for longer. Drenched in sarcasm, Elizabeth uses humour as a mechanism to show how absurd hustle culture is, while also drawing attention to how damaging it can be.

To further draw attention to hustle culture’s absurdity, Elizabeth opted for a surreal visual look, and one that has an “amateur”, childish feel to it. Characters are composed of simple shapes, and have jilted, robotic movements – figures who wouldn’t go amiss on a children’s TV programme, though, to counter this, the colour palette is intentionally dark and sombre. “This deliberate contrast between a simple, childlike visual aesthetic and mature, dark humour intensifies the comedic impact,” says Elizabeth. Throughout the animation, Elizabeth also emulates the office experience with computer static and sounds typical of an office, like chatter and printing. A particularly clever touch is Elizabeth’s inclusion of blurred edges, which replicate “the visual fuzziness of prolonged screen exposure”, and a subtle grid overlay reminiscent of computer screen pixels, which “mirrors the digital interface of a corporate environment”.

Taking a cultural phenomenon, flipping it on its head and creating a funny animated short in the process, Elizabeth Lum is certainly one to watch in the world of animation.

GalleryElizabeth Lum: Hustle Secrets (Copyright © Elizabeth Lum, 2023)

Further Info

Elizabeth Lum: Hustle Secrets (Copyright © Elizabeth Lum, 2023)

About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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