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Don’t play games with office martyrs

by on
in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Teo looked around the table at the morning team meeting. "Where's Marie?" he asked.

"She called and said she was too tired to come in, because she was here all night," Sondra replied, rolling her eyes. "And she was. She sent me the report via e-mail at ... 4:42 a.m."

Other folks snickered. "I did ask," Teo noted, "that the report be ready first thing in the morning. I guess she took it literally." But really, nobody was surprised. Marie always seemed to put forth heroic efforts to accomplish not-so-heroic tasks. And if it were up to Teo, he'd rather she turned in the report late and showed up on time to contribute to the meeting.

We've all dealt with office martyrs who choose to do things the hard way. They put in long hours and much labor on simple tasks that could be handled quickly. And they're sure to let everyone know how hard they worked and, by extension, how indispensable they are. This sort of game can be a real drag on your team's productivity and morale. Try the following strategies for making your team a martyr-free zone:

Set firm deadlines. Make it clear that you're far more concerned with results than with the process. Tell your office martyr that the work needs to be done, without exception, by a set date and time. (And when that deadline comes, show up at his or her workstation, ready to collect the results.)

It's helpful to set this deadline at the end of a workday, so your office martyr isn't encouraged to pull an all-nighter like Marie did. And make it clear that you're expecting the martyr to meet the deadline and perform regular duties such as attending meetings.

Reward your non-martyrs. Many office martyrs are responding to a very real workplace culture—the "whatever it takes" approach that, when properly applied, can boost performance. Their problem is that they do it all the time, not just when faced with real challenges. A good strategy is to reward—openly, publicly, conspicuously—the non-martyrs on your team. Give them praise for using their heads and coming up with ways to accomplish tasks and goals more easily and efficiently. Your martyrs will soon get the message that their brand of dedication isn't what you're looking for in your team.

Make efficiency everybody's goal. If you just come down on an office martyr—especially one who, for all the labor and griping, does acceptable work—your counseling will either go over his head or play into his game.

Instead, promote smarter, easier ways of working among your entire team. Point them toward training in time management, or ways to sharpen their skills and knowledge of advanced processes. Set stretch goals that encourage them to not only meet but beat deadlines.

And, of course, set a proper example yourself by getting your work done efficiently and without complaint. You'll find that the resulting peer pressure on your office martyr can be an effective motivator, and will help make your team into a martyr-free zone.

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