Workzone: Office martyrdom can backfire

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There are martyrs to the faith, martyrs to a cause and martyrs to a principle. And then there are the martyrs to the water cooler.

We all know them. The colleague who is always working late to try to impress the boss. The one who sends those annoying late-night emails just to let the boss know he or she is working. The one who tries to butt into all of the big projects to, of course, win favor with the boss.

And the one who then has the nerve to complain about it all.

It doesn't have to be that way, Andrew Sassaman says.

Trying to be the office martyr -- whether because of fears of losing a job or to win favor with the boss -- is a recipe for stress, won't win you any popularity contests and can even backfire, said Mr. Sassaman, manager of the Pittsburgh branch of Robert Half International, a specialized staffing company.

"As a general rule, the office martyr is not incredibly disliked because they are hard workers, but they are not generally well-liked," he said.

If the goal is to increase your visibility on the job, there are better ways to do it than to take on more tasks than a hen-pecked husband or to constantly complain about how hard you are working.

In fact, one way to get favorable attention is not to take on the high-profile assignments, but the ones nobody else wants, Mr. Sassaman said.

"Typically, the office martyr wants to do the biggest and best. You can get recognition without becoming a martyr by taking on some of those nonhigh-profile projects," he said.

And rather than trying to curry favor by working alone and doing it all, you might want to become more of a team player. It might do more to save your job than going it alone, Mr. Sassaman said.

"We've found that someone who is an integral part of a team is much more likely to keep a job than someone who is that lone ranger, someone who thinks they're going to do everything on their own," he said.

It also helps to give thanks to those who work with you rather than taking all the credit yourself. By being a team player it shows that "you can work with anyone at any time," while those who try to go it alone may not be seen "as useful to the organization as a whole" in the long run, he said.

Another key to staying visible is to keep in touch with the boss when you're doing difficult or lengthy projects. Provide your supervisor with status reports and let him know when you've completed parts of the assignment or the entire project.

And rather than exhausting yourself on the job, it's important to balance your work and home life. You should take breaks to recharge and regroup, Mr. Sassaman said.

Those who don't "always feel overwhelmed, always feel behind. That adds to the stress level. The more stress you have, the more likely you are to make a mistake," he noted.

One way to add more balance, he added, is to ask for help on the job.

It might not be the office martyr's way of doing things, but it is the right thing to do.


Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262. First Published September 2, 2012 4:00 AM


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