3 Reasons Why Overtime Hurts Productivity

June 1, 2012 at 11:27 pm 2 comments

The Fallacy of the Going over 40 hours a week

The 40 hour work week is about a common a phrase as the 9-to-5 day. They both go hand in hand in the American work system. Yet those of us who have already been in the workforce for some time now know that it usually doesn’t end there. Some of us reach 50 hours; some 60. Some, like lawyers and doctors, can even go up to 70! This is common place and we all, especially you managers reading this, know it. I recently read an amazing article by Sara Robinson on the Salon showing how the typical employee nowadays puts in an average of 55 hours a week CONSISTANTLY, and its downsides. It’s a lengthy article but I would highly recommend taking a look. If you just don’t have the time, keep reading here and you’ll get the gist.
We all know how the 40 hour work week began; in the early 1900s, Unions pushed employers to bring the work to 40 hours a week and in the end, the industries accepted this, since their own research and data proved the Unions right. The first industrialist being our very own Henry Ford, who doubled worker pay and cut hours from 9 a day to 8. Since then, year after year, studies continually proved how 40 hours a week was the best, causing more and more businesses to hop on board. But then came the “passion crisis”. People who were seen to work more than 40 hours were praised as being more passionate and productive towards the company. This caused employers to slowly begin to demand more and more time from their employees, from staying after hours to coming in on weekends.
WorkMeter has a hard stance that it’s not how long you work, but how you work. Merely putting in more hours isn’t indicative of being productive, and here’s why:

1) Low Recharge Time

                Your body is like a battery. Scratch that. Your body IS a battery. I’m sure we’ve all seen The Matrix and they aren’t far off in that idea. Your body needs to recharge after a long days work. Putting in 8 hours allows you to get home, relax, go to bed, and wake up full charged for a new day. Going over 40 hours throws off that cycle. You get home really late, exhausted from the office; the time is already 10 pm so there is no chance to relax. You go to bed immediately so you can get up in time for another day and there you go; the following day you enter work no longer at 100% capacity, but at 90% or 80%.

2) Short Gains, Long Losses

                Now studies do show there are slight short-term gains in demanding 60- or 70-hour work weeks, but only on demanding and sparse occasions. If an upcoming deadline needs to be met and the whole team is asked to put in more time, then it is conducive to ask for more. Yet employers have forgotten that these short gains cannot be maintained and, if continuously demanded, will end up as long-term losses. After the first overtime workweek, productivity begins to decline, and every consecutive overtime week that is demanded after, productivity falls even more rapidly.
                What’s worse is that, taking the previously mentioned deadline example, after the crisis is averted and the deadline is met, it takes the team several weeks for the burnout to be lifted and to resume a fully productive 40-hour work week, as a Business Roundtable study found. In other words, that small amount of 30% boost was productivity taken in advance and is now being paid back with interest.

Not Necessarily Productive Time

3) Overtime Isn’t Necessarily Productive Time

                Now the most obvious, yet equally the most ignored, point. Many managers believe a direct 1-to-1 correlation exists between pulling overtime out of workers, yet the case is far from it. Here is an example from Robinson:

By the eighth hour of the day, people’s best work is usually already behind them (typically turned in between hours 2 and 6). In Hour 9, as fatigue sets in, they’re only going to deliver a fraction of their usual capacity. And with every extra hour beyond that, the workers’ productivity level continues to drop, until at around 10 or 12 hours they hit full exhaustion.

                Pushing people past their capacity doesn’t mean they will bring in more. Lack of rests leads to things such as careless errors that could take days to fix or unproductive uses of time such as checking emails and web surfing.

So What of It?

There will be managers that argue that they will get used to it or it is a demand of the market and world they work in, but to this I reply that you only hurt yourself and your company. Studies have shown over and over again that, overall, you get no more from a 10-hour day than you would have from an 8-hour day. So keep this in mind. The best and wisest supervisors and managers out there keep this in check and never have to go to overtime because 1) they’re aware of the long-term productivity decline that follows, 2) keep the hard pushes as short as possible, only when they are a must, and 3) give the employees a couple of days off to recharge and rejuvenate. As we at WorkMeter have always said, “It isn’t how long you work, but how you work.”

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