Workplace Martyrs

by Katie Valentino

Young bearded Caucasian manager sitting in office in stress and having trouble while working at laptop

We lived through the Medieval Age, the Roman Age, even the Age of Aquarius to lead us to the Workplace Martyr Age. Despite the popular idea that Millennials are a lazy workforce, it seems they have a goal of workplace Martyrdom and need to learn to say no. This is an important skill for all generations which can lead to improved long-term mental, physical and emotional health. It also leads to long-term financial health for companies.

The Work Martyr complex begins at the same level as the healthy ability to say no – the top. Leadership can sway the culture of their company to one of health or one of a sustained crisis mode. The former leads to increased productivity, revenue and retention of staff. The latter leads to increased absenteeism, presenteeism, accidents and health issues. As an EAP professional I sometimes train employees and leadership what a crisis truly is and how to prevent a crisis culture.

In a recent New York Times article, CEO Erika Nardini says she measures a job candidates’ responsiveness by texting them at odd hours on the weekends. Ms. Nardini also states, “I will push and push until I exhaust people.”

So, when your CEO makes such statements and demands, what will your workforce reflect? Perhaps this strategy works for Barstool Sports, but before you engage in such tactics, look at your organization and ask yourself some important questions about the culture that you wish to nurture.

As an employer, ask yourself:

If you demand people to be available at all hours and connected to work are you really investing in the best manner for your business?

Are you being honest with your candidates regarding your expectations?

Are you compensating your employees in line with your demands?

Are you being honest with yourself and your employees regarding your own connection?

Does your business truly demand this level of engagement?

As an employee (or candidate) ask yourself:

Can I be successful in an environment that demands constant attention?

Can I set boundaries to prevent my own burnout?

What can I gain from this environment/position that will balance the possible sacrifices?

As an EAP professional who has been counseling both employers and employees on the benefits of work/life balance, it makes me cringe to hear anyone in a leadership role express such sentiments. Setting boundaries is very difficult, but necessary. Employees may be told if they do not follow suit, they will lose their job. I have been fortunate that even when I have had to leave jobs, I was never in a survival mode. Not everyone is that fortunate.

I consulted with one company and discovered that 70% of one manager’s employees had been off on short-term disability due to stress induced illnesses. Through consultation, we were able to assist in creating an environment that was beneficial to the employees and the company without forcing the manager to change his core values. What needed to change was what he demanded of his employees so that all could be successful.

Good fences make good neighbors and good boundaries = health. Work/life balance is important for physical, emotional and mental health.

Your EAP can assist in consulting with management and helping employees set healthy and realistic boundaries for your work environment.

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  • Gina Higgin

    Very pertinent to all workplaces and most organization who try to more with less. Work/Life Balance is important for each individual as well as the organizations that employ them. There are many benefits. Thanks Katie!