This advert paints stress and exhaustion as aspirational and people are furious

Posted by
Moya Crockett
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At its best, freelancing can be brilliant. It allows you flexibility. It means you can work in a coffee shop rather than a cubicle if you choose. You don’t have to handle awkward office politics, or get up at 7am if you don’t want to, and you get to pick and choose the projects you work on.

But at its worst, freelance work can feel a bit like that game we all played as children: the one where you have to leap from chair to sofa to chair without touching the floor, lest you be submerged in imaginary burning hot lava. Except as a freelancer, the lava is replaced by urgent bills to be paid, and the furniture is whatever work you can cling onto. And there’s no safety net, either: no sick pay, no annual leave. You’re on your own.

All of which makes the response to a new advert from Fiverr – an online service that that connects “lean entrepreneurs” with freelance workers for as little as $5 per job – pretty understandable.

The advert, which has been on display in the US, depicts a pale woman with tangled hair, hollow cheekbones and dark circles around her eyes.

“You eat a coffee for lunch,” reads the accompanying slogan. “You follow through on your follow through. Sleep deprivation is your drug of choice. You might be a doer.”

You might be a doer. But if this sounds like your regular lifestyle, you’ll likely also be on your way to seriously burning out – not to mention damaging your health. Drinking too much caffeine (more than 400 milligrams, or roughly four cups of coffee a day) can lead to negative side effects such as migraines, upset stomachs and nervousness, and skipping meals has been associated with lower energy and increased heart attack risks.  

Not getting enough sleep, meanwhile, can make you prone to all kinds of problems – from a short temper to heart disease to obesity.

But hey, who cares? You might be caffeinated to the gills, hungry and exhausted, but at least you’re working really, really hard. That, at least, seems to be the message of Fiverr’s ad – and people aren’t happy about it.

Writing on Twitter, journalist Roberto Torres said: “Working hard is awesome. But so is self-care. This is the wrong message.”

Others highlighted the fact that the advert seemed to be attempting to glamourize exhaustion.

Another user compared the attitude promoted in Fiverr’s ad to karōshi – a Japanese term referring to the phenomenon of overwork-related death.

Fiverr’s phrase “lean entrepreneur” was also seized upon. Some noted that the term could almost suggest that the company was trying to appeal to business owners who want to get away with paying their employees as little as possible. (Synonyms for lean: gaunt, barren, poor, scanty.)

At the time of writing, Fiverr had not responded publicly to their advertising campaign.

But whether you’re a freelancer or a staff member, working so hard that you don’t have time to eat or sleep properly is no way to live. Let’s hope Fiverr adjusts their future advertising campaigns accordingly.