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Don't Be a Hero: Breaking the Work Martyr Mentality

Jennifer Post

Getting recognized for working late or never taking a day off may make you feel valued and appreciated, but new research finds that playing the hero could be detrimental to your long-term career success.

This phenomenon of measuring success by the number of hours worked is sometimes known as being a "work martyr." Ty Tucker, CEO of performance management platform REV, defines work martyrdom as "an intrinsic view of someone that likes to present themselves externally as a work hero when, in reality, they are inefficient and put hours in for the sake of hours.

"This person is typically concerned with the number of hours they've worked, not the outcomes they have created," Tucker said.

In a study by GfK and Project Time Off, nearly 40 percent of the workers surveyed said they think it is good for their boss to see them as work martyrs. This is especially true among millennials, and this generation also wants to be seen this way by their colleagues.

However, the study findings suggest that millennials may exhibit some of these work-martyr behaviors because they are early in their careers and are trying to work their way up the ranks. Many members of this generation entered the workforce late or in part-time positions, so they feel significant pressure to "catch up," Tucker said. [See Related Story: 10 Ways Your Job May Be Bad for Your Health]

Defining the 'work martyr' mentality and its consequences

There are a few reasons work martyrs believe it is difficult to take their earned vacation time:

  • They want to show complete dedication.
  • They don't want to be seen as replaceable.
  • They feel guilty.
  • They don't want to lose consideration for a raise or promotion.

However, there are consequences for this type of thinking. Some ramifications of work martyrdom include the following:

Increased stress both at work and at home. While 71 percent of all respondents experience stress in the workplace, 84 percent of self-described work martyrs feel the same. Similarly, just 43 percent of all respondents feel stress at home, whereas 63 percent of work martyrs feel it.

Lack of support for time off. Work martyrs receive less support at work for taking time off (70 percent), as they do not believe their company's culture encourages taking time off and do not feel supported by their colleagues (63 percent).

Too much pressure. A majority of work martyrs feel obligated, or pressure themselves, to check in with work while they're on vacation (55 percent). They do this because nearly half of them feel that their company expects them to, or are unsure of their company's expectations, so they do it anyway.

This burden and sense of obligation don't come out of thin air, Tucker pointed out.

"Millennials are told they are the laziest of all generations for a variety of reasons — they love to travel, they enjoy flexibility in the workplace to work whenever and wherever, they are irresponsible with their finances and time, etc.," he said. "All of these negative influences have created a standard that time worked is the best indicator of success."

Lower earnings. Despite sacrificing time off with family and friends to put in more time at the office, work martyrs are slightly less likely to have received a bonus in the past three years.

"While going above and beyond at the office doesn't go unrecognized by management, rewarding those who constantly put in hours outside of their regular scope sets a dangerous precedent," Tucker said.

Misplaced pride. Fifty-nine percent of work martyrs actually want their boss to refer to them as such, compared with 39 percent of all respondents. And they want their martyrdom to be recognized not only by their boss but also their colleagues, friends and families.

Despite the high prevalence of work-martyr behavior, employers may be helping to reverse this inefficiency.

"Organizations are now approaching talent management in a new way — hiring when they need to on a contractual basis," Tucker said. "Employees may find that this new model allows them to become CEOs of their [own] careers."

The Project Time Off and GfK report was based on a survey of 5,641 U.S. full-time workers, ages 18 and older, who receive paid time off from their employers.

Image Credit: Stokkete/Shutterstock
Jennifer Post
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Jennifer Post is a professional writer with published works focusing on small business topics including marketing, financing, and how-to guides. She has also published articles on business formation, business software, public relations and human resources. Her work has also appeared in Fundera and The Motley Fool.