Martyrdom is Back in Style – In the Workplace, that is

Posted On January 10, 2018

Want to get away? If you’ve seen its commercials, Southwest Airlines believes the universal answer to that question is “Yes.”

But a large segment of Americans aren’t ready for a vacation. The thought of taking paid time off from work makes them feel guilty. They tell themselves they can’t afford to get away from the office, because no one else can fill their role. They feel the need to prove their dedication to the job, to appear indispensable.

They’re called work martyrs. Chances are you work with a few. And according to 2016 research from Project Time Off, more than four in 10 of them are millennials.

Nearly half of those American millennials surveyed believed it is a good thing to be seen as a work martyr by their bosses, and 35 percent want to be seen as such by their colleagues – percentages that far outpace other generations and the average.

A study by Alamo Rent A Car similarly found in a 2016 survey that far more millennials (59 percent) were guilty of “vacation shaming” – feeling shame for planning or taking a vacation – than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers (41 percent combined).

Wait, haven’t we been told that one of the millennial ideals is valuing a work-life balance? And that they’re quick to leave jobs they don’t feel meet their expectations in a workplace?

Project Time Off noted that millennials’ general lack of tenure in their jobs may be a symptom of their work martyrdom, which would make it a recurring theme for those who change jobs often.

But the main cause, I suspect, is an acute knowledge of how hard it is to get those jobs – and to keep them. Millennials have grown up in an economy where jobs are often scarce and layoffs increasingly frequent. So who can blame them for wanting to seem indispensable at the office?

They’ve also grown up in an era where technology has made communication easier and more constant – meaning fewer people (44 percent, according to the 2016 Alamo study) unplug from work completely when they do take vacation.

And if getting away means taking the office with you, why take the time off at all?

But work martyrdom carries negative consequences, according to Project Time Off, and not just to airline, car rental, hotel and beach chair rental industries. As millennials move into more management roles, their attitudes will define the workplace. While a strong number of them recognize that time off is important to relieve stress and avoid burnout – and ultimately improves productivity – too many them aren’t practicing what they preach.

Go ahead and book those tickets. Bury the guilt. You’ll be glad you did – and it may just help you become a better employee in the long run.

Categories: Generation Y / Millennials, Work