Breaking the Work Martyr Mentality

In the 2019 workplace, many employers are reevaluating the way they run their businesses. One of the biggest changes over the last few years has to do with how employees are treated and valued.

In the past, employees valued workplace martyrs, painting them as hardworking and valuable employees. At the time, these workers were normally referred to as workaholics to trivialize how hard they were truly working. The name started to change as more value was placed on employees, reflecting the downsides of working too hard.

Today, employees who push themselves too hard in the workplace are referred to as work martyrs. These employees have many noticeable traits, such as showing up to work early, constantly working overtime and never utilizing their time off. While these may seem like positive traits, the majority of work martyrs feel forced to work these intense conditions. Some even say they are encouraged by their managers to push themselves too hard. There are many reasons why having work martyrs is toxic for the workplace. Fortunately, there are several ways managers can break these harmful habits.

Motivation

For the majority of work martyrs, motivation for pushing themselves too hard is fear based. This fear can manifest in several potential ways depending on the job, including:

  • Fear of job security.
  • Fear of other employees becoming more productive, making the martyr obsolete.
  • Fear of work building up if the martyr takes time off.

Some managers may argue that using fear as a motivator is not bad if it means employees work harder. However, quality does not matter as much to work martyrs who are scared. In actuality, panicked employees often produce poor work. This is because their main focus is getting the job completed as quickly as possible. In some cases, work martyrs are too afraid to ask for additional resources, even if it is required to successfully complete the job.

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Instead, martyrs do everything they can to complete a project, which can lead to many mistakes. In the end, this adds more to the total workload of the company. There are several ways in which managers can reduce fear in the workplace. A good manager needs to work alongside employees to make sure they have everything they need to complete a project, including enough time, resources and help from other employees.

Instead of waiting for employees to submit a final project, managers should set multiple milestones for their employees. This way, they can show what stages they are at in a project. If there are any concerns about completing the project, then the employee has a chance to request help. This only works if the manager remains calm and collected. While it is acceptable to point out when an employee does something wrong, managers should help their employees learn from their mistakes.

Encourage Cross-Training

Work martyrs who have specialized roles are more likely to experience stress and fear in the workplace. Many of these employees feel that if they make a mistake on the job or start to fall behind, there are no other employees equipped to help pick up the slack. This fear is especially common in work martyrs who never take time off, even when they are sick. In some work environments, work martyrs are not wrong for being afraid.

This is one of the many reasons it is so important for managers to cross-train employees. Placing too much importance on a singular employee is setting the employee up for failure. No matter how skilled an employee may be, he or she eventually needs time off to rest and recover. Even if a manager has the utmost of confidence in an employee’s abilities, what will happen if he or she decides to leave for a less stressful job? Cross-training is not only important for reducing the weight off of specialized roles, but also for making the workplace more efficient.

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Many employees value cross-training because it is an excellent way to develop new skills. Not to mention, a great opportunity to expand their resumes. Employees who receive cross-training are more likely to feel that their management trusts them enough to take on additional responsibilities. This inspires employees and makes them feel like they are doing a good job.

Time Off is Important

While there are some work martyrs who are so dedicated to work that they never take sick days, there are other martyrs who use a majority of their time-off, including vacation, for sick days. Management used to view this as workplace dedication, but in 2019 it is viewed as problematic behavior. However, it depends on the circumstances. Some employees sparingly use time off if vacation time transfers over. These employees prefer to build up a long block of vacation time and then use it all in one go for an extra-long vacation.

The difference between these employees and work martyrs is motivation. Work martyrs do not want to take time off because they are convinced time off is a trap, and that they will be punished if they do not show up for work. Other work martyrs feel guilty taking time off because they are convinced using time off means their workload unfairly transfers to another employee and they will be resented when they return.

Not taking vacation time is bad for employees because it builds up stress. The more stressed an employee becomes, the more likely he or she is to make mistakes at work. Additionally, employees who experience more stress are more likely to become sick. Managers cannot force employees to take time off, but they can encourage it.

In these instances, it is important that managers do not make work martyrs feel like they are guilty for missing work. In extreme cases, management may need to consider changing their vacation policies. Management can incorporate a mix of transferable vacation days and a set number of nontransferable vacation days. If work martyrs are still hesitant about taking time off, managers can also build in work days with reduced assignment loads or let employees leave early.

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