Tuesday, 01 May 2018 06:31

Is Overtime an Issue for You?

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Working overtime hours can be a testy issue. Let’s look more closely at the subject of overtime.

Question

From a business perspective, how should overtime work be viewed?

Answer

Overtime work is often thought of as a safety net to ensure that work—especially committed work—gets done with the sense of urgency required so that the business thrives. Rather than temporarily hiring employees during peak work periods and laying them off when the workload subsides, businesses usually prefer that core employees meet the business need by working overtime.

Question

Do most organizations or companies view overtime similarly?

Answer

Every organization has its own culture. Some organizations don’t want their employees to work any overtime except in rare cases—and some of those cases would require approval from the employee’s boss. Some organizations pay their employees for overtime work. Some organizations are subject to union rules. In my experience, most organizations rely on and expect some overtime from their employees in order to meet their business objectives.

Question

How much overtime is a project member expected to work?

Answer

The short answer is: However much it takes, within reason, to get the job done. Understand, however, that the point is not to work more hours, it’s to get results. These results can be related to fulfilling your commitments or to meeting business needs that might surpass your commitments.

Question

What do you mean by “however much it takes—within reason”?

Answer

The answer will vary from company to company and depending on the situation. But in general, an employee may work as much as 10 hours a week of overtime—sometimes for many weeks or months at a time. However, if you are working more than 10 hours per week of sustained overtime, something may be amiss. You might be overloaded, you might require additional training, you might have unproductive work habits, you might be in the wrong job, or you might want to work the extra time because you love your job. Talk with your boss and PM if you feel you are working too much overtime.

Question

Are you saying that I should never have to work more than 10 hours of overtime in any given week?

Answer

No, I am not saying that. In fact, sometimes your overtime may exceed 10 hours in a given week, depending on the importance and urgency of the issue at hand. However, long-term, it is strongly preferable that a project member not be required to work more than 10 extra hours on average per week. Doing so could contribute to “burnout,” personal hardship, and other negative outcomes.


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Question

What if someone wants to work more than 10 hours of overtime each week? Would you allow it?

Answer

Probably, as long as no government or company rules are being broken and there are no safety, health, or security concerns. An employee who’s eager to make progress may get passionately caught up in a project. I respect that and can relate. If there were insufficient funding available to pay for the additional work, then I would work with the employee to find some other means of showing my appreciation. Examples might include giving her time off, funding to attend a relevant trade show or conference, an award, special training, a highly visible position, or a quicker promotion.

Question

I have heard that working overtime causes a person’s productivity and quality to suffer. Has this been your experience?

Answer

It depends. Some people might be less productive and might make more mistakes while working overtime if they are distracted by non-work-related thoughts. On the flip side, I believe many people who are highly motivated and focused are capable of excellent productivity and quality while working overtime. For one thing, they might get “on a roll” because they are able to concentrate on their work with fewer distractions than they would experience during normal work hours. Of course, working excessive overtime for a sustained period can negatively affect almost anyone’s performance.

Question

I am quite productive and can almost always get my job done within the standard work week. Do you believe that not working overtime is hurting my career?

Answer

Perhaps. You may be achieving the expected results based on your job level, but working overtime can help move the business further than it would go if no one worked overtime. And project members who are willing to go the extra mile are more likely to open doors to greater opportunities and promotions.

Question

Then are you saying that I am wrong to avoid overtime—even though I am able to get my job done within the standard work week?

Answer

It is not a matter of being right or wrong; it is a matter of choice. I cannot overstate the importance of an employee achieving what he believes is a healthy balance between his personal and professional lives. Naturally, the more we dedicate ourselves to something, the likelier we are to receive the recognition and rewards that go along with those achievements. It is a matter of personal choice.

Question

Then are you saying that working overtime is good for my career?

Answer

It depends on why you are working overtime. If you are working overtime because you made a mistake or are unproductive, then doing so might help you save your job. If you are working overtime to achieve more than is expected of you or because you volunteered to “save the day,” then, clearly, it will help your career.

Question

Should overtime be planned into projects?

Answer

On longer-term projects, no. On very short projects with a sense of urgency for the deliverable, yes, if overtime is appropriate to meet the business needs. Overtime is one form of buffer contingency. If overtime is planned into long-term projects, then those projects are at greater risk of failure to meet commitments. But for an urgent project that might be only days or weeks long, all project stakeholders might be asked to rise to the business need.

Question

When there is overtime on a project, is it a sign that one or more people have “messed up”?

Answer

Not necessarily. Projects can be quite complex and every project is unique in terms of technology, interpersonal relationships, budgets, business needs, client expectations, and so many other factors. Even on a “typical” project, overtime may be required as project members approach a major milestone and scurry to achieve the date on time. Of course, overtime can also be the consequence of having overzealous sales and marketing folks, inadequate or misunderstood requirements, poor estimates, weak planning and tracking, weak leadership, and a host of other ills.

The best-run projects, by the way, are not necessarily those that finished without overtime being required. Businesses should strive to constructively and consistently get employees to achieve a healthy level of productivity. Some overtime may be inevitable.

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Neal Whitten,PMP

PMTopContributorNeal is a popular speaker, trainer, consultant, mentor, and best-selling author in the areas of leadership, project management, and personal development. He has written over 150 articles for professional magazines—over 80 for PM Network magazine—and is the author of seven books. With over 40 years of front-line project management experience, Neal has developed and instructed hundreds of workshops, webinars and mobile learning courses; and presented to hundreds of thousands of people from across hundreds of companies, institutions, public organizations and professional conferences.

Email: neal@nealwhittengroup.com
Website: http://www.nealwhittengroup.com

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