Are workplace martyrs poisoning your organization?

Every organization has a few—those who insist on making themselves ‘irreplaceable,’ while driving everyone else bonkers. Here’s how to recognize them and ratchet them back a bit.

Work martyrs are popping up in every industry.

Having work martyrs in your office—those willing to suffer unnecessarily for their work—is a major detriment to 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 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—and 48 percent of all millennials—think it’s a plus to be a work martyr.

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

1. I can’t take a day off.

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

To a job candidate, reluctance to take a day off can be seen as an employer demand, not a given employee’s desire. Potential candidates will look at this extreme commitment and think the job isn’t flexible. Job seekers regard current employees’ behavior as they try to understand workplace culture. Employees who don’t take time off overshadow the established employee benefits system.

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, encourage them in appropriate ways. Express your appreciation for all they do, but speak about how important it is for both their own well-being and that of the company for them to take breaks away from work.

2. Nobody else can do my job.

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

What to do: Having a buddy system in place will help employees understand one another’s jobs. Knowing a peer is there to back them up with the requisite skills and knowledge can take pressure off employees and strengthen the collective ability of the team. Have your people discuss how to make this work. In case of an emergency or earned time off, everyone will have a trusted person to tag in.

3. I need to be constantly available for work.

Immersing themselves in work is crucial to your workplace martyrs. They don’t want to miss a thing, and they want to ensure leaders know this. You’ll find them with their smartphones glued to their hand—constantly checking emails, returning messages and answering by the second ring. Prospective candidates 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 person gets time away from work duties while still ensuring availability for client needs.

4. I don’t want to seem expendable.

This fear provokes all their detrimental actions—not taking days off, refusing to let others help, working nonstop. Though you may have created a workplace that encourages teamwork and peer mentorship, candidates will notice these behaviors and recognize their development and advancement 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, others once a month. Being on the same page as management eases the mind from wandering into the fearful realm of being replaceable.

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

Robyn Melhuish is the communications manager at MedReps.com. A version of this article first appeared on TLNT.

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