A work martyr - someone who habitually sacrifices their own needs for the needs of their organization, is a negative result of an unhealthy workplace and work culture. People who fit into this category usually meet the following criteria:
- Routinely work late into the night or early into the morning to finish an assignment that is not part of their regular workload
- Always jumps in when something is needed despite the work piling up on their own desk
- Work takes priority over vacations, weekends, and family time for them
- And more
SHRM research has found that since the pandemic, remote employees are working longer, spending time in more meetings, and having more communication channels to keep up with. During the year 2021, people who mainly or occasionally worked from home clocked in about six hours of unpaid overtime a week - almost double the 3.6 hours of those who never worked remotely, according to an April 2021 Business Insider news report.
Coming to the year 2023, the problem is still severe. Work martyrdom is a road leading to burnout and should raise much more awareness in the workplace because it can hurt both the employee and the organization tremendously. Companies and employees should be wary of these signs of burnout and take action to avoid falling into the trap of work martyrdom.
Cause of Burnout at Work
Work martyrdom can be the most strong in economically unstable periods, such as the pandemic and recently, when the job market is gloomy. Employees tend to work harder and put in long hours because of weak job security and concerns about losing their job. Employees can feel unappreciated due to the imbalance between how much time and effort they put into work and how much they are compensated. In the long term, this often leads to chronic burnout, and resentment, and will shorten the longevity of the employee.
Tips to Prevent Burnout
Be More Realistic When Assigning Work
Have a transparent process that reflects time spent on tasks and helps employees ascertain when a workload is more than one person should handle. The idea is to be realistic and create a record of what can be accomplished in a typical workday.
Promote Healthy and Reasonable Standards & Expectations
Do not frame work martyrdom as expected behavior. Orbe-Austin pointed to performance evaluations as an example. “In order to get a promotion or more money, employees have to get the highest ranking - ie doing way more than your job. That leads to the idea that work martyrdom is the only way you can advance, instead of just doing your job very well.”
Encourage Use of PTO
Encourage use of paid time off (PTO) and honor those requests. Employees can be discouraged from taking time off if their manager asks them to postpone it or expects them to respond to work communications when they are off. Supervisors should also be aware of the behavior they model. A manager who is a work martyr presents an image that isn’t healthy for employees to emulate, she warned.
Check In On Employees Regularly
Understand what work martyrdom looks like. Be aware of who’s working late, saying “yes” to everything they are asked to do and struggling to meet unrealistic deadlines.
Create A Healthy & Positive Company Culture
Create a culture that encourages employees to take time for themselves. A manager who responds to a PTO request by asking the worker to postpone it - or expects the worker to respond to work communications when he or she is off - discourages workers from using their vacation time. Finding ways to encourage - and maybe force - your employees to take some time off in the long run will be beneficial for them, and the company as well.
While these solutions can certainly help prevent burnout in the workplace, there’s no reason to stop there.
Employee engagement software can be of great help in monitoring employee engagement while providing all the support to ensure a healthy and positive workplace, so you can truly pinpoint where the issues are and address them efficiently.