[Mythbuster] Overtime Makes Employees More Productive

By Kathryn Adderley
02 Mar 2020

This time I thought I’d tackle a classic—overtime leads to increased productivity.

Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day. But that’s not an indicator that you need to add a couple more hours to the end of your shift. It means you can work more effectively.

Think about it—can you can delegate more? Are you making use of the resources at your disposal?

But before we look at how you can boost productivity, let’s see if there’s any truth behind the myth.

Overtime makes employees more productive

Opposite day

Each workplace is different. But overall, it’s the opposite of what you might think…

When employees work more overtime hours, their productivity plummets.

There are a number of studies that point to this conclusion—most agree on the big picture. But there’s some debate on the specifics.

For example, some say that productivity drops after six hours. Others say five is the magic number. But for the purposes of this article, let’s be generous. Let’s say working more than 50 hours per week is the tipping point.

Legally, employees can’t work more than 48 hours a week. However, many employees choose to opt out of the 48-hour working week. And, there are other exceptions, including:

  • A role where 24-hour staffing is required
  • In the armed forces, emergency services, or police
  • In security or surveillance
  • A domestic servant in a private household
  • A seafarer, fisherman or worker on vessels on inland waterways
  • Where working time isn’t measured and you’re in control

This isn’t a full list. Some roles are partially exempt, for example. And this only takes into account working hours. What I mean by this is a person may only work 9-5, but then take their work home with them. Meaning, in reality, they “work” well over 50 hours.

If you aren’t sure whether a role should be exempt from the 48 hour working week, speak to a Croner adviser today on 01455 858 132.

Ultimately, there are plenty of workers working over the recommended overtime limit. Both officially and unofficially. But why is this so bad?

The reality of overtime

I’ve mentioned one consequence already: a drop in productivity. But that’s the tip of the iceberg.

Productivity continues on a downward trajectory as hours increase. And, the more consecutive weeks people work overtime, the less productive they are.

Excessive overtime also contributes to health issues. High blood pressure, mental health problems, and back injuries are just a few problems overworking can cause.

There’s also the possibility of safety risks. Long hours can cause fatigue. This impairs performance and lower perceptiveness. Being in this state can cause workers to make errors resulting in workplace accidents. Drivers are among the most vulnerable to this problem.

Then there’s the issue of poor morale and high turnover. If your expectations are unreasonable, morale will drop. If you demand employees stay beyond their contracted hours, morale will drop. Speaking from personal experience, I once had a manager who stood at the door at 5pm and watched everyone leave, clocking who stayed behind and who was first out of the door. Needless to say, morale was terrible and turnover was high.

Employees who are fatigued and frustrated are going look for employment elsewhere. Particularly if they’re not being paid enough.

Here’s the thing: Sometimes resources are stretched, you have a deadline, and you have no other choice than to ask employees to work overtime. That’s understandable. But does it have to be done with the horrors mentioned above?

No. Not if you rethink the way you approach productivity, motivation, and overtime as a whole.

How to actually boost productivity

Employees who aren’t motivated have low productivity rates. That’s just a fact. It doesn’t matter whether they work long hours, short hours, or flexible hours.

So the first thing you need to do is focus on motivating your employees, not giving them more office hours.

You need to create a culture that makes people want to be at work. Once you’ve accomplished that, make sure employees work extra hours by choice. This is important. If they do it out of habit or because you expect it of them, they’ll grow resentful.

The second step is to change your outlook. Answer this question:

“What’s more important, having bums in seats all day, or producing results?”

If you answered with the former, you need to reconsider your approach. Valuing time over ouput punishes your most productive employees. Why?

Those who produce results are rewarded with more work, while those who don’t slip under the radar. This results in your more talented employees becoming overworked and disheartened.

The way to combat this is to plan effectively and define what ‘productivity’ means for your business.

If you don’t already, start utilising data to outline your work goals. Data-backed objectives are easier to achieve and will outline what you expect from your teams. To ensure reasonable deadlines, include people in the planning stage who can provide reliable time estimates.

Then, if an employee finishes all their allocated tasks, don’t give them a new project to fill the gaps in their schedule. Let them allocate the time they have left.

Think of it like fuel in a car. An employee has a limited tank of fuel to last them throughout the day. If they use up their whole reserve at work, they’ll have none left for their life outside of work. They’ll have no energy to spend time with family or friends. They’ll have no time to do the things they enjoy. This will leave them feeling drained and de-motivated.

Or, employees can be left with a little fuel in the tank at the end of each work day. Then, they’ll be able to have a life outside of work, leaving them refreshed and motivated for work.


About the Author

Kathryn Adderley

Kathryn Adderley is Croner's Senior Content Executive, responsible for producing, sourcing, and organising content across the website. She has a background of working agency side as a copywriter in the marketing industry and is also responsible for Croner's social media channels, so keep your eyes peeled for fresh content!