Getting through law school and landing a rewarding job takes years of late nights and self-sacrifice. It is only natural that those who succeed would be conditioned to push their limits and overwork. While having dedicated employees who are willing to go the extra mile is critical, “work martyrs” are a dangerous exaggeration of this tendency.
Law school conditions you to celebrate hard work, and while this may be essential for getting through student years, it is important to leave self-congratulatory masochism on the graduation stage. Not only does talking up one’s after-hours labor make for a toxic office environment, it may also result in lagging engagement. The natural assumption might be that those who constantly talk up their long hours are the most productive, but, in reality, their rhetoric reveals a deep insecurity. More often than not, overwhelming pressure—either internal or external—leads to unmet productivity goals which are compensated for by big talk. This dynamic can pollute the workplace and needs to be addressed.
Here’s how to address martyrdom at your law firm:
1. Acknowledge it. Arrange time to meet one on one with your work martyr employee and mention having noticed their behavior. Ask about why they felt the need to announce their work ethic to their colleagues, and offer willingness to support them in finding better work-life balance. What comes of this conversation may not only tell you what is driving their behavior, but also provide insight into the broader office culture, as well.
2. Explain why it needs to stop. Let them know that, while you admire their effort, you are concerned about their stress levels and the way their behavior may detrimentally impact your firm’s culture. Emphasize that while you appreciate such dedication, you worry that they might negatively impact their colleagues by parading it about.
3. Provide stress management and work-life balance training. If approaching a work-martyr one-on-one doesn’t seem like a productive response, or if you notice a general decrease in morale among your workforce, take the proactive step of offering a work-life balance training. Here, problematic behavior can be addressed without singling an individual out and other, related dynamics can also be spoken to.
As a leader, it is easy to mistake work martyr behavior as harmless overenthusiasm when, in fact, it points to a deeper issue. Lagging engagement is an important dynamic to nip in the bud, and over-representing one’s working hours is often the first sign. The quicker you pick up on and take steps to address it, the less likely the dynamic will detrimentally affect the environment of your firm.
Need some support for your law firm’s culture?
Hiring and Empowering Solutions has worked with thousands of firms across the country, helping to create experiential law firm cultures that foster engagement and loyalty. Through legal staffing and employee empowerment programs, we can help you turn your firm around…in 10-weeks or less. Schedule your FREE discovery session with our founder, Molly McGrath, today!