Is Overtime Really a Problem?

February 19, 2013

I recently participated in an online forum about the "Evils of Overtime."  I was surprised at how uniformly overtime is seen as something to be avoided.  Its as if overtime was a measurement of how poorly you were managing your workforce.  Here was one of my comments:

Overtime is only a problem if you see it as such. It's not unusual for a company to contact me with an "overtime" problem. They look at their costs and see, for example, a million dollars spent on overtime last quarter. They think they will save this amount if they eliminate overtime. The fact is that, unless they are improperly staffed, they will only reduce overtime by increasing straight time (hiring). After all, the work supposedly needs to be done and eliminating overtime means its either not getting done or you found another way to do it.

The cost of an hour of overtime is typically competitive with the cost of straight time. I'm working at a company right now and the precise cost of paying someone $15.47 an hour is $25.25. At the same time, the cost of paying someone that same hourly rate at time-and-one-half is...$25.35 an hour. 10 cents more!

Overtime allows you to compete for labor even though you cannot afford a high hourly rate. People can make more money and supplement their income in spite of low wages. I can work at company A for $20 an hour but no overtime or I can work at company B for $17 an hour but can work all the overtime I want.

Overtime is flexible. You don't have to buy it in 40-hour/week increments. The person is already trained and hired.

On the downside, there are fatigue/safety issues, although these can be managed if you are paying attention. There is also to potential of too much overtime - translated into "not everyone likes a lot of overtime but everyone is getting a lot of overtime."

This last issue can be fixed if you remember that overtime is a function of how much work there is and how many people you have to share in that work. Variations in workload aside; you should staff to the point that there is typically reasonable amounts of overtime for those that want it and very little mandatory overtime for those that don't.

Two rules of thumb: (1) 20% of your workforce wants a lot of overtime; 20% wants no overtime and 60% will take it from time to time and (2) If you workload is flat, you should be in the 5% to 15% overtime rate. Note: Companies often boast that they are perfectly staffed because they have no overtime. They couldn't be more wrong. Zero overtime almost certainly means you are overstaffed.