There are only so many hours in a day, but does putting in extra office hours really make us more productive?
Working overtime has long been hailed as an excellent way for employees to prove their commitment to the company, pave the way toward a raise or a promotion, and earn more money. Employer-wise, overtime allows the opportunity to deal with bottlenecks, busy periods, staff absences, and employee shortages.
And, of course, there is the improved productivity—the Holy Grail employees and employers alike seek.
Does overtime work actually improve productivity, lead to higher quality work, and increase earnings? Read on to find out.
Overtime work: Stats not in favor
We hate to break it to you—stats suggest that a longer working week does not necessarily result in increased productivity.
According to the American Psychological Association's 2022 report, long working hours result in a high burnout rate, leading to a 4.1% drop in productivity across America in 2022. This is the lowest productivity drop recorded since the US Bureau of Labor Statistics began measuring employee productivity in 1948.
Unfortunately, this negative trend continued in 2023, with workers in the US experiencing a 2.7% drop in productivity in the first quarter alone.
In addition, Clockify's 2023 data demonstrate that as productivity increases, working hours decrease. The report exemplifies that Mexican workers, who work among the longest annual shifts, have one of the lowest GDPs per hour, whereas employees in Ireland have the world's highest GDP per hour, though working around 8 hours less per week.
Various studies, carried out for medical, psychological, and social purposes, have found adverse effects of working overtime for prolonged periods.
For instance, in manufacturing, a 10% increase in overtime yields a 2.4% decrease in productivity. As for white-collar jobs, productivity declines by 25% when employees work 60 hours per week or more.
In the end, research concludes that spending long hours in the office does not always translate to business success.
Moreover, the US work culture of presenteeism and the inclination to make employees stick to their desks does not benefit anyone. Despite the allure of overtime pay, working excessively can result in workplace stress and employee burnout, which can be devastating.
Adversities of overtime beyond unproductiveness
So, productivity undeniably takes a downward trajectory as the number of hours increases. The more extra hours workers put in for a longer period of time, the more efficiency and quality of work fall.
But there are also numerous health concerns associated with overtime, such as increased risks of:
alcohol and tobacco consumption
immune system dysfunction
frequent mood swings
Long working hours impair perceptiveness and focus—thus, instead of doing more thanks to overtime, workers are more prone to errors and workplace accidents.
All in all, making overtime work a habit can create a vicious circle. With more time put into work, there is less time for getting quality sleep, spending time with family, and friends, doing hobbies, exercising, and eating healthy—all of which can reduce concentration, focus, and judgment skills—and therefore lower productivity.
Is there more money in working overtime?
Wrapping up unfinished work or taking up more time to improve the quality of work are not always the reasons behind working overtime. Sometimes, it is about the money.
Putting in a few extra hours to earn more for better holiday presents, a vacation splurge, or to save for a rainy day, is not at all uncommon—but does it really pay off?
The Fair Labor Standards Act governs the right of covered nonexempt employees to receive overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours in a week. According to the Act, the overtime rate must be at least 1.5 times the regular hourly pay rate, and the employer must pay for all additional hours worked.
Nevertheless, some employers still try to deceive their employees into working unpaid overtime.
For instance, salaried employees are often entitled to overtime compensation, even though their employers claim otherwise. It is also important to note that even if an employee signs an agreement to waive their overtime pay, the employer is still obligated to pay them.
Additionally, an employer cannot avoid paying overtime by providing a worker with time off that is equivalent to the overtime hours they worked.
Some employees tend to work special overtime—like nights, weekends, or holidays—with the expectation of receiving extra pay. However, the law dictates that overtime pay is only applicable if the hours worked exceed 40 hours per week. Therefore, no overtime compensation is due for working nights, weekends, or holidays within that 40-hour limit.
Is occasional overtime for you?
If you are considering working overtime, there are several things you should keep in mind.
Firstly, review your company's overtime policy to ensure that you are aware of any restrictions or guidelines on overtime pay and how many hours you can work. Some companies limit the number of overtime hours you can work per week.
Additionally, it's important to understand how your manager, HR department, or employer views employees who work extra hours. If you observe that coworkers who put in overtime regularly receive promotions, it could be an excellent way to receive recognition for your hard work.
However, if the narrative around overtime is that those who work it are unproductive during regular hours, you should reconsider your decision.
If you decide to work overtime, strategize your hours wisely. More time to work can lead to more procrastination, so build your work schedule and plan daily tasks.
Remember that while more overtime hours bring in more money, excessive hours may lead to stress and burnout, which could harm your productivity and reputation with your employer.
Finally, determine the time of day when you are most productive and try to schedule your overtime hours during that time. This can help you stay focused and productive during both your regular and overtime work schedule.
How to actually boost productivity
Employee satisfaction is crucial to having motivated workers with high productivity rates. To achieve that, employers need to create a work culture that employees enjoy being a part of.
Once such a culture is established at a workplace, employees may put in extra work hours out of choice, not because they feel pressured to do so.
It's also important to consider whether a company values time over output. Punishing the most productive employees for producing results by giving them more work can lead to overworked and demotivated employees.
To avoid this, plan processes and tasks effectively and define what productivity means for your business.
On the other hand, employees can increase their productivity—and thus minimize the need to work extra hours—by taking some of the following advice:
minimize distractions while working (e.g., turn off notifications, put the phone in another room)
take regular and meaningful breaks (rest, eat, go on fresh air—the point is to unwind and clear thoughts, so avoid scrolling on social media)
get enough sleep
declutter and clean your workspace
exercise and eat healthily
plan your day and create a work routine
reward yourself after a job well done
In general, overtime harms productivity.
Studies indicate that working overtime can actually decrease productivity in the long term. Additionally, prolonged exposure to overtime can lead to health and safety issues, resulting in increased absenteeism and higher turnover rates.
Working overtime is not an entirely flawed concept, but to truly make the most of it, ensure you still maintain a healthy work-life balance.