Where to draw the line with overtime...

Morgan McKinley 16.07.2019

Working overtime has always been a prominent trend in Irish employment.

It's certainly one which shows no sign of slowing down or stopping anytime soon. Obviously there is no major issue with this if employees are on board and want to work overtime, but when it starts to become detrimental to one’s mental/physical health or when an employee isn’t receiving compensation for working overtime is when the red flags appear. There are a variety of reasons which lead to employees working overtime, such as those identified in our recent Working Hours Survey Report; large workload, pressure from management, fellow colleagues working overtime and more. We aim to explore this and hopefully provide a better insight to readers into the current trends and attitudes in regards to working overtime in Ireland in 2019.

As mentioned above, while there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the practice of working overtime as such, there is however, a major issue when staff feel obliged to do so. Our Working Hours Report 2019 showed us that 62% of surveyed professionals feel a sense of obligation to work in excess of their contract. So, what can employers do to manage working overtime, eliminate or reduce this feeling of obligation and make it more of a choice or optional than an obligation? 

Certain practices can be undertaken by leadership or management in order to manage overtime within a business. These can include:

  • Scheduling overtime with employees in advance, allowing foresight on the side of the employer, making the situation simpler to manage.
  • If overtime is going to be an aspect of your business, then it is worth building it into your company schedule, so that your business can remain at optimum productivity without sacrificing employees wellbeing. Capping and limiting overtime can also help solve the issue. When these limits are put in place, employees are less likely to take on an amount of overtime which isn’t in their best interest to partake in. 
  • Emphasising the importance of undertaking overtime safely should also be kept in mind when dealing with employees. Reinforcing the dangers of working excessive amounts of overtime to your mental and physical health is important, particularly in regards to employees who are unaccustomed to working longer hours. By promoting working overtime as something which is not expected of employees in the business, but is something which they can engage in if they wish, you are helping to promote a healthier, friendlier attitude towards overtime among your workforce.

Considerations for those who work overtime..

In the competitive nature of today's working environment, where everyone is striving to work harder, longer hours and be at the top of their game, it is only natural to feel we have to do more to stay at the top of our game. Therefore, it is easy to see why Irish professionals seem to have that feeling of obligation to do extra hours. However, it is important to be aware of the negative implications which working excess hours can have on one’s mental and physical health. One such implication is sitting still for hours and staring at screens for prolonged periods of time. These sedentary behaviours may be essential in certain professions however there are growing concerns across the industry that these fundamental aspects of office life are causing undue harm in a physical sense to employees. As well as the obvious effects such as back problems and a strain on workers eyesight, a more sedentary lifestyle in general increases your risk of obesity and conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes. That’s why striking a healthy work/life balance is important and allows professionals to take regular exercise which can reduce these risks associated with sedentary occupations. 

As well as the physical effects, there are also the negative implications of working copious amounts of overtime on an individual’s mental health. Lack of sleep, fatigue and excessive work in general can trigger anxiety and other mental health issues, including depression. With the increased focus on mental health over the last few years, particularly in the workplace, it is vital that workers  are aware of the significant impact working excessive overtime could have on your mental state.. As mentioned above, striking a healthy work/life balance is imperative to an individual’s mental, physical and emotional state. Ensuring that you have enough free time to relax after a days work is something which shouldn’t be overlooked. 

As we can see from the above, overtime is a topical issue of which there are many coexisting factors linked to it which need to be considered. While in most roles, there are going to be times where you may have to work outside of your contractual hours in order to meet deadlines, make extra income and/or finish projects, it is also important as both an employer and an employee to be mindful of how much overtime is being worked and the importance of keeping it to a reasonable, manageable amount. 

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