Work Martyrs Are Poisoning Your Culture

Work martyrs are popping up in all industries. When you’re in an industry already known to be demanding, like medical sales, these martyrs could be ruining your reputation. This could scare high quality candidates away due to a higher rate of reported work-related stress.

Having work martyrs in your office — people who are willing to unnecessarily suffer for their work — is a major issue for both hiring and retention rates, not to mention productivity and employee health. What’s the biggest problem of all? A remarkable number of employees think it’s in their best interest to be the office martyr.

In fact, in February 2016, Project Time Off surveyed 5,641 American employees over age 18. The report, The Work Martyr’s Cautionary Tale, revealed that half of employees who are unhappy with their job think it’s a good thing to be seen as a work martyr — 48% of millennials also want to be seen as work martyrs.

The correlation between millennials wanting to be work martyrs and those who are unhappy in the workplace should be a wake up call for employers. Putting an end to their reign begins with you.

Here’s a look inside the work martyr’s mind and how to reduce their — and everyone else’s — stress:

Martyr thought #1: I can’t take a day off of work.

Taking a day off of work means leaving all of their incredibly important work behind, and a work martyr isn’t willing to do that. They want credit for not only never missing a day, but also being the first ones to arrive and last to leave.

To a job candidate, this unwillingness to take a day off can be seen as an employer demand, not an employee’s desire. Potential candidates will look at this extreme dedication and think the job isn’t flexible. Job seekers look to current employees to understand workplace culture. Employees who aren’t taking time off overshadow the employee benefit system you have in place.

What to do: Implement a detailed task system. This shows employees how much time tasks will take and when they’re due. Organizing your team’s day, weeks, or months will show how non-detrimental taking time off really is. Above all — always encourage them in appropriate ways. Express your appreciation for all they do, but speak on how important it is for both their well-being and the company’s for them to take breaks away from work.

Martyr thought #2: Nobody can do my job except me.

“If I want it done right, I have to do it myself” — this phrase was developed by a work martyr. Only they know their clients, tasks, responsibilities or deadlines well enough to successfully complete their jobs. This way of thinking attributes to the fear of missing any days at work. Employees walking around the office with this type of attitude could poison the entire culture.

What to do: Having a peer-to-peer buddy system in place will help employees understand each other’s job. Knowing someone is there to back them up with the appropriate skills may take pressure off  employees and strengthen the skills of the team overall. Have the team sit down and discuss how to make this work. In case of an emergency or earned time off, everyone will have a trusted person to tag in.

Martyr thought #3: I need to be constantly available for work.

Completely immersing themselves in work is extremely important to the work martyrs in your company. They don’t want to miss a thing and need to ensure leaders know this. You’ll find these people with their smartphones glued to their hand — constantly checking emails, returning messages, and answering by the second ring. Prospective candidates who see this happening may think this availability is a work requirement.

What to do: Every leader wants a team full of dedicated employees, but too much can be detrimental to everyone’s health and overall productivity. Try a rotating schedule similar to on-call doctors. Have your employees, both in the office and in the field, rotate after-hour responsibilities throughout the week so each gets time away from work duties while still ensuring availability for client needs.

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Martyr thought #4: I don’t want to seem replaceable.

The thought of being replaceable is terrifying for a work martyr. This fear provokes all of their detrimental actions — not taking days off, refusing to let others help, and working nonstop. While you may have created a workplace that encourages teamwork and peer mentorship, candidates will notice these behaviors and recognize their development and advance could be stunted by work martyrs.

What to do: Lack of communication causes imaginations to run wild. Hold regular one-on-one meetings to help employees see the importance of their work, and how well they’re doing with goals. Speak with each employee individually to gauge how often they’re comfortable with meeting. Some will want an update once a week and others, once a month. Being on the same page as management eases the mind from wandering into a fearful place of being replaceable.

What work martyr personality traits have you noticed? How are you addressing them?