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The Dangers of Being the Office Martyr

Each workplace has its “types”:

…the tuna-fish-for-lunch-every-day guy
…the slacker who slides by doing the least possible amount of work
…the overachiever who inflates and publicizes her every success

Each office likely also has its martyr—the person who’s the first one in each morning, the last one to leave at night, and constantly complaining about the amount of work they have while saying “Oh, I’ll manage…somehow…” or otherwise bragging about how swamped they are.

The office martyr lives in a constant state of being totally overwhelmed, wearing their all-work-no-play status like a badge of honor.

While they’ve mastered the act of playing the victim, martyrs can be a total drag, bringing down the morale of the entire team. Their act is usually transparent and can be beyond irritating to others, who quickly grow resentful.

What makes an office martyr?

Often, it stems from self-esteem issues and a need to constantly receive praise for their stellar work ethic and sympathy for all the sacrifices they make as a result. On the outside, martyrs can seem heroic. They outwardly deny their own needs for the sake of others: the late hours, sacrificed coffee breaks, and extra work is supposedly all in the name of team work and commitment to the company.

What ends up happening, though, is martyrs become addicted to the feeling of being indispensable, which creates a vicious cycle of seeking validation from the boss, clients, or colleagues. The martyr inflates and boasts about their sacrifices, and is frustrated by their colleagues’ lack of appreciation and laziness. Meanwhile, the fact that the martyr views their life as such a struggle (when others are dealing with similar pressures) breeds resentment among coworkers who eventually tune these complaints out.

The cycle repeats over and over again.

It’s a difficult pattern to break, and more often than not, martyrdom signifies a mask for a deep-seated insecurity, fear, or unhappiness.

Any of this sounding familiar?

Why Martyrdom?

Think back to when you started your first “real” job after college. Chances are, you went in with the same going-the-extra-mile mentality that you learned growing up—you believed if you put in 110%, not only would you be rewarded, but you’d also stand out as a model employee – the grown up equivalent of being a straight-A student.

You skipped in on your first day, ready to give it your all and confident that you could meet any challenge thrown your way. But as time passed and you began to take on more and more, you found yourself canceling plans with friends at the last minute and sending out emails late at night, making sure your boss was copied so she could see how late you were working (and therefore how essential to the company you are).

Next thing you know, your late hours are being noticed — but instead of being praised, they’re causing managers to raise questions about your time management. Or, have you noticed your friends rolling their eyes every time you talk about work when you’re with them, and now you’re starting to worry that you’re pushing them away? It never occurred to you that giving everything for your work could have a less-than-positive impact.

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Master your psychology with therapeutic insights for your life, relationships, & career