Laura Johnson describes the characteristics of an office martyr

This week I’ve been ill. Nothing terrible. A simple dose of the Spring sniffles with the added hindrance of a gravelly throat and a barking cough. Cue a lot of moping and moaning from me. I know it’s not the worst illness I’ve ever had but I’ve been acting like I’m one step away from pneumonia. However, like many office workers, I’ve struggled on at work, with levels of self-pity that I’m moderately ashamed of. This week I was an office martyr.

We spend so much time in the office nowadays that it’s inevitable we come across colleagues who annoy us senseless. Tea round dodgers, stinky egg sandwich munchers, those who shun deodorant in favour of natural body odour and the gossips who make it their daily mission to dig up dirt and stir up trouble. But few colleagues have the ability to grate on our patience with such vigour as the office martyr. In this post, I highlight the many forms this character can take.

1. The soldiering on sniffler

Rather than admit defeat and spend a day on the sofa reminding themselves that daytime television is still utter rubbish, this martyr comes into work to share the misery (and contagious qualities) of their ailments. Driven by the arrogant belief that the organisation will collapse without their almighty presence, they insist on struggling on at work when they should be sipping a Lemsip at home. But don’t we all know about it – cue loud and dramatic nose blows, regular wafts of Vick’s Vapour Rub, pained smiles and weak assertions that they’re OK as they insist on taking on yet more tasks. So common and damaging to morale and productivity is this form of behaviour that it has a professional label - ‘presenteeism’. But, on a more positive note, at least this type of office martyr is a temporary annoyance, with normal character typically resuming as the illness subsides.

2. The 11pm emailer

We all pull the odd late night in the name of a work project. While some of us do this gracefully, others will be sure to send a middle of the night email where they copy in everyone from their boss to the summer intern. The email will be completely non-essential and despite the actual words used, the message is always this: “Just wanted to let you know that while you were catching up on Netflix and enjoying a nice cuppa on the sofa this evening, I was grafting in the office and I expect appropriate levels of pity and gratitude tomorrow as a result.”

3. The first in last out survivor

They’re at their desk before you’ve even stepped out of your front door and make a point of being the last man standing. Every day. Driven by the belief that they are singlehandedly keeping the company afloat, delegation is something they dismiss with disgust as they persist to overwork in the most visible way possible. They are unlikely to have taken more than a day’s holiday in the last six months – and don’t we all know about it.

But, whatever the flavour of your office martyr, their prevalence is more than a niggling annoyance to the conscientious leader. They’re a warning sign of inefficiency and a drain on company finances. Martyrs present managers with a tricky conundrum. How can you discourage someone willing to make so many personal sacrifices to deliver more of your products or services? On the one hand you have an employee who is willing to work tirelessly for you. They never say no, refuse to take a day off and work long hours regularly through choice. On paper they are the perfect employee, but their hyper commitment comes at a cost. Presenteeism (people coming into work whilst ill) costs businesses millions annually due to inefficiency, office martyrs infectiously pass their heightened stress levels to co-workers and clients and their competitive behaviour frequently provokes inter-colleague rivalry that has a counterproductive impact on the quality of a whole office’s output.

So how do you stamp out the office martyr? Most people who exhibit tendencies for this form of attention seeking behaviour crave recognition and validation. It’s often low self-esteem rather than ego that drives them to make such conspicuous displays of their propensity to over-work. They live in constant fear of their work being overlooked. At the heart of every office martyr is a desire to be famous for something. Your role as their manager is to make sure their notoriety is for something worthwhile.