Many Millennials are Work Martyrs 18:40, October 9, 2016

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Many Millennials are Work Martyrs

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A new report by travel-industry group Project: Time Off (PTO) cautions that millennial work martyrs could redefine vacation culture for the US workplace of the future. That’s because, despite the stereotype of the “entitled” millennial, 48% of workers born between 1981 and 1997 reportedly want their bosses to consider them to be work martyrs who eschew using their earned vacation time. According to the survey PTO commissioned GfK to conduct, more millennials strive to be work martyrs than do workers on average (39%), Gen Xers (39%), or baby boomers (32%).

Work martyrs do not take vacations for various reasons, chiefly involving concerns, even fears, surrounding their perceived irreplaceability or work dedication. They may also feel guilty for taking paid time off and shame others for doing so. Those who do go on vacation often find it hard to disconnect and will often answer work emails and other electronic communications. Work for many employees manifests itself as a constantly-connected state of mind rather than a physical location.

The findings of the PTO report are consistent with a recent CareerBuilder survey which found that many of today’s workers:

   (*)   Think that the traditional 9 to 5 work day is “a thing of the past” (59%)

   (*)   Complete work outside office hours (45%)

   (*)   Check or answer emails when they’re not at work (49%)

As The New York Post summarized a key point of its interview with PTO’s senior director Katie Denis, “graduating into a rough economy combined with an always-connected work environment has created the perfect storm for work martyrdom.” The Post also interviewed workplace consultant and author Lynn Taylor, who said that many millennials consider shunning hard-earned vacation time a “badge of honor” that helps them stand out from their co-workers and impress the boss. She also warned that “many companies in corporate America reward work martyrs, whether it’s blatant or subconscious . . . There’s definitely a built-in reward system” to encourage work martyrdom among employees who already feel undervalued.

Work martyrdom also fits into a larger historical context. The Washington Post notes that whereas in the early 19th century only the rich could afford respite from the sweltering US cities in cooler resorts, today approximately 90 percent of US workers receive paid time off. However, only about half of those workers use all their earned vacation time.

Millennials are also 59% more likely than older workers to feel ashamed of taking a vacation and 42% more likely to shame their vacationing co-workers, according to a survey that Alamo Rent A Car conducted earlier this year.

The PTO report concludes by noting that while 28% of millennials currently have management roles, this percentage will only increase with time. Unfortunately for their subordinates, 47% of these managers reported feeling under pressure to disapprove time off requests. By contrast, only 34% of Gen Xers and 37% of baby boomers share this feeling. But millennials who manage seem conflicted on this matter. These managers are slightly more likely than the average manager to say that taking time off decreases employee stress and burnout, and recharges employee productivity.

Still, the overall tendency toward work martyrdom bodes ill for the future because workers who feel greater stress tend to be less happy and engaged; unhappy and disengaged workers lead to less productive and profitable organizations. Gallup reported in late August of 2016 that only 29% of millennials feel engaged at work. The same report observed that millennials could make up as much as 75% of the workforce by 2025. (The current number is 38%).

As with most issues involving organizational culture, change starts with leadership. Millennials and older managers alike profess to see the value of time off for employers and employees alike. Smart managers not only approve and genuinely encourage employees to use their hard-earned vacation, but model the behavior they want to see by taking earned vacations themselves — and unplugging while they’re away.

Time and again, a strong organizational culture inspires employees and empowers them to aspire to a greater work-life balance. In short, leadership needs to focus on creating a happy, healthy, motivating, and appreciative workplace culture that engages workers by valuing their work as it contributes to a culture of purpose.

Employers and employees can work together to create a workplace that supports an organization’s goals, protects its employees, and creates a culture of compliance. This case study on Namely shows how one company combined growth and culture with training. To learn more, visit us at Law


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Steve Treagus
Stephen Treagus, JD's, previous practice as an attorney specializing in employment litigation exposed him to the rough-and-tumble world of employment relationships gone awry. Today, this experience informs his articles and courses, helping employers avoid costly litigation and get employment law right. Stephen earned his JD from John F. Kennedy University School of Law and his BA from Sonoma State University.

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