scorecardThe American slide into work martyrdom has led to the rise of an amazing employee benefit
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The American slide into work martyrdom has led to the rise of an amazing employee benefit

The American slide into work martyrdom has led to the rise of an amazing employee benefit
Tech4 min read

Working Hard

Neil Hall/Reuters

Work martyrdom has led companies to pay employees thousands of dollars to go on vacation.

  • Americans are increasingly becoming "work martyrs," people who stay late at the office and don't take any vacation.
  • Companies have responded to the trend by paying for employees to go on vacation.
  • They can range from $1,000 bonuses to larger vacation funds of $7,500 or more.

Americans may be obsessed with work, but that obsession has led some companies to offer a perk most employees can only dream of.

Over the last several years, nearly a dozen companies around the US have started enacting policies of "paid paid vacation," or the practice of paying employees extra money on top of their normal salary to be used solely for vacations.

"Our culture is really simple," said Mark Douglas, CEO of the marketing and advertising company SteelHouse, which in 2011 started giving people a yearly $2,000 to take trips. "It's based on trust and ambition."

Paid paid vacation is one way the corporate world has responded to the rise of so-called "work martyrs," people who stay late at the office and take little vacation all in the name of excelling in the office. Data reveal work martyrdom has become commonplace in the US.

The land of the work martyrs

A 2014 Gallup poll showed that 50% of full-time US workers reported working more than 40 hours each week, and more than 20% said they worked 50 to 59 hours, or about 10 to 12 hours per day. They're taking hardly any vacation to make up for it, either. In 2015, Project: Time Off found that 55% of Americans combined to leave 658 million vacation days unused.

Not that people necessarily regret all that time they spend at work. Nearly half of all working millennials, the largest generation in the US, say they treat the title as a badge of honor, even if work martyrdom can lead to extreme stress and poor mental health.



Roughly 48% of millennials said they were proud to be a work martyr, according to Project: Time Off.

In addition to SteelHouse, companies like Airbnb, Basecamp, Evernote, and a handful of smaller marketing, public relations, and tech companies have jumped onboard. Marketing analytics company Moz supplements its 21 days of paid vacation with $3,000 in expense reimbursements. It borrowed the practice from contact management company FullContact, which offers $7,500 a year on top of the 15 vacation days.

"If you don't take a vacation, the opportunity disappears," a 2012 Moz blog post read. "Hence, it's in all of our employees' great interest to take time to do what they love with friends, family, whomever (we'll pay their vacation expenses too so long as you go with them) and disconnect for a few days, or a few weeks."

SteelHouse employees have been known to try to game the system, Douglas said. On several occasions, people have asked if the $2,000 can simply be lumped into their paychecks. But he doesn't budge.

"I actually want you to go somewhere and enjoy yourself," he said.

Evernote takes the policy a step further, requiring that employees stop working for five consecutive days in order to claim their $1,000 bonus. Even if they take double that amount of time but spread it out over several weeks, in other words, they don't get the bonus.

dave partnoy erika nardini

Barstool Sports

Barstool Sports CEO Erika Nardini.

3 hours or less

Being a work martyr is still desirable at some companies. Earlier this July, Erika Nardini, CEO of the sports and men's lifestyle site Barstool Sports, said in an interview with the New York Times that one of her go-to interviewing strategies is texting candidates at odd hours on the weekends to see how responsive they are.

"If you're in the process of interviewing with us, I'll text you about something at 9 p.m. or 11 a.m. on a Sunday just to see how fast you'll respond," she said. The maximum response time she'll allow is three hours.

"It's not that I'm going to bug you all weekend if you work for me," she continued, "but I want you to be responsive. I think about work all the time. Other people don't have to be working all the time, but I want people who are also always thinking."

Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, has said he tries to distance himself from that kind of mentality. In addition to offering people an annual $5,000 vacation stipend, Basecamp gives its staff $100 a month for home massages; $100 for fresh produce; 16 weeks paid parental leave; and tenured sabbaticals every three years.

Work martyrdom is the last thing Fried wants to see in his employees.

"Go enjoy the weather, go enjoy the weekend, go on vacation," he said. "It's really about distancing yourself from this trend of being always on, always working."