The five reasons employees work overtime

Very few people enjoy working overtime, and even fewer companies want their employees stretching their hours. Besides the costs of paying overtime (and a few extra costs), research has shown the negative effect of working overtime on employee health and productivity. Despite this, nearly half of U.S. workers continue to clock more than 50 hours each week.

The U.S. Department of Labor recently approved new overtime rules that will make approximately 4.2 million currently exempt employees eligible for overtime pay by more than doubling the eligible salary threshold (to $47,476 from $23,600). With the rules taking effect on December 1, now would be as good a time as any to start investigating how many of your employees are working overtime, but far more importantly – why?

Below are the five main reasons people wind up working overtime – and tips on what you can do to curtail it.

1. The most obvious: Too much work

The vast majority of people who work overtime are doing so because the regular work hours are not enough to complete what they need to do. But this begs the question: why do they have too much work? Certainly, during some weeks, such as when there’s a major product launches or event, overtime hours are unavoidable. But if it’s happening year-round on a regular or semi-regular basis, clearly something is not right with the workload. It could be that an employee’s job description needs a reevaluation of duties, that the person needs more resources to support his or her role, or the person is getting distracted at work.

How to fix it: An employee’s supervisor or manager should sit down with the person working overtime to review what projects are on his or her plate (by reviewing his or her timesheets or projects), and what tasks are causing him or her to work extra hours. After this analysis, the supervisor and employee can collaborate on how to reassess activities – whether it’s through re-prioritizing tasks, delegating tasks to other teammates, or finding additional resources.

2. Meeting overload

Nearly one in every two employees puts meetings as the top time waster in the office. Almost anyone who has worked in today’s corporate world can relate to too many meetings. Meeting after meeting after meeting, with not all discussions necessarily useful. These meetings suck up regular work hours like a turbo-vacuum, leaving only the evening and late-night hours to getting the job done.

How to fix it: Scrutinize all meetings on their necessity and only invite people who are vital to each meeting (and also confirm your role in the meeting if you are included). Set a clear agenda beforehand, start on time and as much as possible, finish early – nobody is going to complain about getting a few extra minutes back in their day. Cascade notes after the meeting so that people are accountable to next steps/actions and the project continues to progress smoothly.

3. In-office distractions

Over the last decade it’s become the norm to have open-plan offices sprinkled with casual meeting areas. There are bean-bags and ping-pong tables, café-inspired “reception” areas and shared desks without so much as a half-divider to separate workstations.

This can be good and bad. The good: the office environment supports free and open collaboration and communication. The bad: there’s more noise and distractions in the office. This can be a drain on employee concentration and productivity during regular work hours and easily lead to overtime hours. According to research from UC Irvine, office workers are interrupted once every 11 minutes, and it can take up to 23 minutes to get back to what you were doing before you were interrupted.

How to fix it: Take a good stock of your office’s working environment and see where the problem areas are. It may just be that certain employees need to have more quiet spaces available to them. There is, of course, a happy medium. Many companies are starting to understand that they need to provide both open and closed work environments.

4. Email overload

France recently made it illegal to check work email over the weekend. This illuminates how much email has taken control of our lives and our communication. A recent report said there 112.5 billion emails are sent every day. Our devices allow us to communicate from anywhere at any time, which is exactly the problem: they encourage us to be switched on24/7. It’s an issue on both sides of the employment equation: bosses and managers email their reports at all hours, asking for information or updates, and employees stay glued to their work email accounts for fear of missing a query from their supervisor.

How to fix it: Employees should be encouraged to become less dependent on email and have more face-to-face interaction, especially when a chain goes too long, and the office culture should support an environment where people don’t send emails after hours or on the weekends, so that people don’t feel tethered to their mobile devices.

5. Striver syndrome

Sometimes, working overtime is a way to show off. The employee may be vying for a raise or a promotion and clocking in hours significantly higher than their co-workers. This is a sticky situation. It’s great that the person is so gung-ho, but bad that they are working overtime as a way to try and climb the corporate ladder.

How to fix it: The supervisor should recognize and applaud the employee’s hard work but remind them that quality is what counts, and that, in the end, a productive employee is a happy, non-stressed employee. Focus also on developing a solid team culture, where co-workers are recognized and valued based on a results-oriented environment, rather than hours spent at the office. Above all you want your employees to be happy and not get burned out, and know that great work will be rewarded.

Long hours spent in the office can be a drain on employee productivity and morale – however, it can also be an opportunity to improve your processes and work environment. With the new rules coming into effect in December, now is the time to be prepared for the changes by assessing why your employees are working overtime and figuring out what you can do to help them.

We’ve put together a handy guide so all the federal and state laws relevant to you and your employees are right at your fingertips. Download a copy of our labor law compliance guide today! If you need any clarification or have any questions, we’re always here to help. Just give us a shout.

Jon Burns
Jon Burns
Jon is a Product Manager at Replicon who leads the Global Compliance Team. Replicon is an industry leader in global compliance and has a dedicated team which pro-actively monitors international labor regulations for ensuring proper adherence with specific country rule requirements.
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