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The Ugly Side of Overtime

It is a well-known fact that any business operating in any industry, in any country, has had employees working overtime, to the point where overtime is already considered a workplace norm. The question is, why is overtime seen as the norm and has overtime become a ‘necessary evil’?

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It is a well-known fact that any business operating in any industry, in any country, has had employees working overtime, to the point where overtime is already considered a workplace norm. The question is, why is overtime seen as the norm and has overtime become a ‘necessary evil’?

Simply defined, overtime is work rendered by an employee beyond their normal working hours. For many businesses, overtime is an expedient way of dealing with fluctuations in ‘operational requirements’ which could be a multitude of situations like tight deadlines, staff shortages, busy periods, staff absences, or perhaps work that is best carried out after normal working hours (e.g. computer repairs when office staff have left the building).

While overtime essentially addresses the business’s requirements, the ugly side of this is that business owners not only have to tussle with the expense of premium overtime rates but where used excessively, it could be an expensive and inefficient way of organising jobs and could adversely affect their employees’ health and social well being; and it may potentially lead to unsafe working practices or an increase in the incidence of absences.

For the employee, it could work both ways. Let’s face it – human nature dictates that people don’t generally wish for more work and less time for their personal lives, yet much can be said about why people agree to work the extra hours. Apart from the obvious increase in take home pay that usually means time and a half or, in some cases, double pay (albeit a big chunk that also goes to the tax collector), we just cannot discount the fact that there are workaholics in the workplace (and be honest, how many of us out there, on occasion, have waited to leave the office only when we know ‘witching hour’ is over and the kids are settled for the night?). What drives employees could range from having that feeling of job insecurity, to being motivated by the concept of reward, to just being committed to the job. There is also the ugly truth that some employees slacken their pace of work during working hours in order to qualify for overtime.

For others, it takes more than money to offset the loss of personal time for sporting activities, catching up with friends or spending quality time with family. Given a choice between more money in your pocket and time off, those who would choose the free time do so not because they either don’t need the extra cash, know what they need to/want to do during the working day, or they have a different kind of satisfaction and arguably a different set of priorities – and I am not saying here that anyone’s perspective is better. It may leave them poorer by some standards, but from a different perspective they feel they are better off.

With the advent of high speed technology, connectivity, and portability we might think that we are on our way to working fewer hours but the reality is – often we can’t switch off… literally. How many of us are checking emails in the evening whilst supposedly relaxing with the family, ‘just checking’ to help us stay ahead and on top of things for the day ahead. Arguably, we are making ourselves even more accessible and setting even higher expectations in terms of how soon we get back to our clients.

Sometimes, employees work overtime because in the age of open offices, they feel that they never quite achieve what they need to in the ‘normal working day’ – again, I feel that I get more done in the office between 7.00am – 8.30am and between 6.00pm – 7.00pm… when most people have vacated the workplace and at last I have peace!

Whilst overtime can sometimes be a bitter pill to swallow – especially if you are an employer who feels your team are taking advantage of paid overtime; but equally so if you are an employee and you are not being sufficiently rewarded or recognised for the extensive hours you work to achieve results.

As business owners, managers and employees, ultimately, the ideal scenario would be to work the hours needed to get the ‘right’ results – whilst allowing plenty of time to do other external activities. How can this be achieved? Why not ask your team for ideas on how to cope during busy periods, consider flexi hours which allow team members to start early/late and or finish early/late to fit around personal circumstances or personal preferences, or offer alternatives like time off in lieu when you know team members have put in the hard yards….remember ‘all work and no play makes Jill a dull girl.’ There are many ways to skin a cat and with proper communication, at the end of the day work is eventually accomplished. Aim for give and take within your team – a committed and engaged team who are being appropriately rewarded will aim to achieve the common business goals.

New Zealand employees are covered by the Department of Labour’s hours of work and overtime provisions. When an employee works more than their normal hours, they need to be compensated for the extra hours that they do (though do note that salaried employees are supposedly fully compensated by their salary for ‘any extra hours’ they may need to work). Whilst there are ‘no legal requirements to pay overtime above the normal rate of pay (waged employees) after working a certain number of hours in a day or a week’, this is usually a subject of negotiation between employer and employee and as good practice, it is recommended that these provisions are clearly stipulated in the employee agreement. At the end of the day, work in good faith – are the hours you are being asked to work and/or the hours you expect your team to work realistic?