The price of forced overtime


The picture is an old office cube of mine taken with an iPhone, and has nothing to do with the post, other than it is about the office. But not “The Office”. I am a part of a large group that has been told that working Saturdays for the next 2 months is mandatory. Many have been working overtime for several months already.

So, why do people ever need to work overtime? Pretty simple really: it is perceived that there is more work to get done before the delivery date than managers think can get done within normal working hours. What I started to wonder, is if this will really get more done. If you do simple math, adding 8 hours to everyone’s day sounds like it gives you more time to get more done. Sounds like it, but you take human emotion out of the equation.

We can all do more for short periods of time, especially if we see the value in it. We see value sometimes when we feel like it is our responsibility to contribute to the company, or when we feel a sense of loyalty to a product, or group that will use the product. Or, we can see value to us in particular when we are given something in trade. This can be extra income, time off, or something else that is seen as a reward, and that our time was valued.

When this sense of value is missing, it becomes a very different equation. It is also why contractors (like myself) are not as annoyed by mandatory work. We get paid by the hour usually. We get paid more for coming in. On the other hand, when a salaried employee is forced to come in, they need to feel a sense of value. When the employee only sees the employment as a job, or starts to feel like they are being asked too much, management no longer get the extra they are looking for.

People want to feel valued, and feel like the effort they are putting in is compensated accordingly. When someone feels like one side of the equation has been altered, they change the other side. Sometimes this is even done subconsciously. People may not rush into work. Take longer lunches. Go for a longer coffee break. When someone would normally work an extra 15-30 min at the end of work to finish something, now they no longer start something new 30 min to an hour before end of work. Maybe they decide to use the sick days when they have a cold that before they would have worked through. That extra day, it isn’t an 8 hour day. In late, out early, going off site for lunch…

Don’t forget the lasting issues. Contractors come and go. Some might go early… Employees can look for other work. It is expensive to lose business knowledge. The feeling of loss of trust and being undervalued are very difficult to get back. You can loose it in a single email. It can take months to get back, if it ever does…

So what do you do as a project manager and your project is behind. You need the employees to feel invested in the extra effort. And you need to ask. You may be surprised at the effort you get when you ask. Trust me, whether it is telling kids or adults they have to do something, or giving them a choice, choice wins out every time. The other issue, is that people have lives outside of work. Saturdays may not work for some people. What if they would work 48 hours a week spread out over the week? What if they could squeeze more into the day than they do right now? What if you and the employee could agree on the extra work that needed to be done, and then let the employee get it done on their own schedule? What if they are offered something out front whether that is some time off, or even movie tickets. What do you think the response will be?

Which takes more work out of management? A mass email, or an individual meeting with each employee to discuss the situation that you are in? Pretty obvious, but the bigger problems will come if you take the easy way out.

3 thoughts on “The price of forced overtime

  1. Damn Homepage – that’s a lot of pent-up shit. I read it with interest as I support and lead a group of (unionized) folks at the U who have “mandatory OT” as part of their contract. So I’ve got a few things to say…ahem…

    You start by wondering why people need to work OT. You’re answer is one-sided: you fail to mention the employee’s potential reasons for working OT or any hours at all. Each of us works for a variety of reasons: a higher purpose, satisfaction, maintaining a lifestyle (imagine the diversity in this reason alone!), debt, etc. Many people actually WANT to work OT as part of their jobs so it suits them just fine.

    (Please hold pissed-off responses until you’ve heard me out…)

    Then you enter the value debate which is too often the “value debacle”. I think you’re spot-on calling value the core of the issue, but…while I think the passive “feeling valued” is important, I want to reframe this as a values (noun) issue.

    I believe management is obliged to work with their people to define a few workplace standards, among them values important to their work unit’s particular roles and responsibilities. Managers need to ask what: What are we doing? They need to work with people to chart a course – mission, vision – but they also need to work with their people to answer the question, “How?” How will we go about our work? How will we know we’re successful? How will we measure our progress? Talking about the what (the widgets produced) absolutely MUST be balanced by HOW the widgets are being produced, otherwise, how do people know whether or not they’re on the right bus?

    So yeah – people need to feel valued. But feeling valued requires a fair amount of self-awareness and integrity by everyone on the bus. Without those things, people don’t really know what they stand for and values become a moving target. If individuals aren’t going to take responsibility to consider their own part in workplace values (and in considering what makes them feel valued), then they have no business being pissy when a manager or anyone else comes to them and says, “This project is so important that we’re all gonna need to do some extra work.”

    And let’s talk about integrity – longer lunch breaks and cavalier attitudes about when you’re showing up to work or leaving for the day? Puhlease. No doubt that “management” plays a huge role in setting the tone of the workplace, but like work rules (including mandatory OT), expectations, mission, vision, values, direction, personnel, etc. management’s part isn’t the ONLY part. Every individual in the workgroup plays a role in these things – whether they want to or not. Unions negotiate the terms of their contracts and good management engages all staff in decision-making processes that will affect the workgroup so responsibility is shared everywhere.

    Taken further, individuals are responsible to speak up when they see things going awry and to share the responsibility for creating and maintaining a civil, respectful, honest workplace. This cannot be management’s responsibility alone.

    Sounds like the foundation on which your project is built is sandy at best. In my work at the U, mandatory OT comes up infrequently but when it does, the terms are immutable: a student has a class tonight that needs an interpreter. Class is form 4-8pm and is in Suchandsuch Hall. That’s your OT.

    Sounds to me like the project here has some options and for what it’s worth I think you’re on to something with the idea to hold an all-hands meeting to discuss options for getting the work done. In the end it is management’s responsibility to see that the work gets done and they are called to use the tools at their disposal to do it.

    I hope things go well for the project and for the people working on it. As someone who has required OT of my staff I will say that I feel it deep in my gut when I have to assign work that way. It sucks to tell someone their lives need to substantially change because of work. But it would be (and has been for me) much worse to tell someone they were being laid-off because the organization wasn’t keeping its commitments and there was too much capacity in the workgroup.

    Peace. –scott

  2. Wow, lots here. First, this location is not a union shop, and I have all sorts of different things to say about how working at a union shop goes that I am not going to get into now.

    Be carefull that you don’t read this as pend up frustration. As I said, I am getting paid for all the hours that I work. I am merely commenting on what I see, and have seen, especially with employees. Remember also, I am talking about salaried employees that are not earning more from what they see as extra effort.

    I still don’t see that the value equation I described is one sided. When an employee wants to work extra, and can, then usually both the employee and management is happy. I have been in that situation, and have many times gladly worked extra. It is just that the value equation is still balanced for both sides. Of course we work to earn money, and some people would like to work more to earn more. Usually when an employee offers to work extra they see the value in it.

    Workplace values and integrety: I think you missed where I came from with this. I was talking about people that have often come in early, left late, checked for work email from home, and generally gone to great lengths to help out the company. It is when management has decided to make something mandatory that the game changes. I was talking about what I had heard from people who are saying, fine damit, I will alter my side of the equation if you are changeing the rules.

    This project is by no means on sandy ground. For a project this size, it has been pretty well managed. There is a perception by some that deadlines cannot be met. That is very common in software development. What I was trying to address, is how a company goes about finishing off a project. Mandatory anything pisses people off. There are lots of ways that I see how things could have gone different. From the suggestions I had earlier, to searching out volunteers that would accept a bonus for extra effort. That goes to what you brought up in the beginning: there are those that would gladly trade more of their time for exrta renumeration. The value equation remains balanced.

  3. Yep – lots of bad assumptions on my part. My bad for that. Probably casting lots of my own stuff onto your experience without really understanding the situation. That’ll teach me.

    Good observations about stuff that often goes unnoticed in our workplaces. To some extent it’s gotta be tough looking in from a consultant’s perspective – no dog in the long-term fight but you see things that would make things better. (How) Do you voice those thoughts?

    Thanks for the post HP. See you soon –

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