Are you a work martyr?

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Do you put in more hours than required? Do you work even when you’re sick? Are you one of those people who avoid going on a vacation, or look down on employees who do?

If you’ve answered yes to more than one of these questions, you may be a work martyr.

A work martyr is someone who believes that it is a badge of honour to sacrifice health, well-being and relationships for work. Martyrs get validation when they feel that they have more work than others. They also feel more secure when they seem indispensable.

Other signs:

  • You think (and say) that nobody else can do your job.
  • You make yourself available to the boss 24/7, answering emails even at 1 am.
  • Your favorite dialogue: “I’m so swamped with work!”
  • Your main motivations are a promotion or raise.
  • You never ask for help from your colleagues or your boss.
  • You check in with work while on vacation or you never take vacations.
  • You are always stressed, or harried.
  • You are usually the first one to arrive at the office and the last one out.

Some may think that being a work martyr is a good thing, especially if they came from a country where overworking is the rule rather than the exception. Newcomers may also think that they have to work doubly hard to prove themselves.

While being a dedicated employee is great, being a martyr is bad in the long run. Here’s why:

The dangers of being a work martyr

Work martyrs sacrifice their own physical, emotional, and psychological needs for their job which leads to stress. Initially, this could manifest as headaches, insomnia, or frequent infections. Later on, this could lead to occupational burnout. Burnout, or severe chronic stress, is similar to a mental illness. It leads to depression, anxiety, and anger issues. Eventually, productivity drops since an overworked brain can only do so much. They may also start forgetting tasks, or find it hard to focus.

A work martyr’s personal relationships usually suffer and break down. This is the result of prioritizing work over their own or their family’s needs.

How not be a work martyr but still come out on top

  1. Make your work hours count
    Staying late and putting in more hours does not always translate to being hardworking. It can also mean inefficiency. They may be catching up on tasks because of an inability to plan and prioritize. Starting the day right can be as simple as making a to-do list. Prioritize and allot more time for essential tasks. It’s also important to be realistic. Don’t take on more than you can each day. Unfinished tasks can be part of next day’s to-list.

  3. Think quality over quantity
    Bosses respect employees who turn in high quality work. If you need more time to finish a particularly difficult task, inform your boss. If you are bogged down with several tasks that need to be finished within a specific time, ask for help. You don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders! Your boss and colleagues might even appreciate getting involved because you are recognizing their worth and expertise.

  5. Aim to be seen as a well-rounded human being
    You will be better off being a well-rounded individual who has interests beyond work.

    Take vacations. Studies show that employees who take regular vacation days perform better than those who forfeit their vacations. It’s probably because de-stressing and re-charging allows us to have more focus, energy and creativity when we get back to work. Also, don’t check in with work while on vacation (unless it is a life and death situation and you can’t avoid it). This shows self-importance and can be annoying to your colleagues.

Remember, the key is working smarter, not harder. You don’t have to sacrifice your well-being to come out on top. Set reasonable limits to your workload and say no when it’s too much. What’s the point of working hard if you’re miserable or sick?
Article updated November 16, 2022.

How can I compete with a work martyr, Kim Scott, The Muse; 5 Signs that you’re a work martyr, Renée Bacher, Monster; Don’t be a hero: Breaking the work martyr mentality, Jennifer Post, Business News Daily; Being a work martyr doesn’t help you advance your career, study finds, Rose Leadem, Entrepreneur; Burnout is a thing, doctors say. Here are the symptoms, Erica Alini, Global News. All accessed October 31, 2017.

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