Unpaid Overtime: Anything you can do about it?

Published on 10 July 2014 at 5:15 pm #coursesinlondon #overtime #stressmanagement #timemanagement #workload

Do you find yourself working through your lunch break? Staying a couple of hours extra? Answering work emails in the middle of the night?

In a recent BBC article Managers 'work extra day per week in unpaid overtime', the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) contend that most managers work up to as much as two extra days a week in unpaid work through skipped lunches and breaks, working at home in the evenings and pretty much being available 'round the clock via smartphone technology.

I don't know a single person who doesn't sneak a peek at their emails in the evening, even when they're supposedly relaxing with friends and family. My husband and I went away for a couple of days over the weekend and I was very disciplined about not looking at my phone, or even taking it with me when we went for walks or antiquing.

However, we both had a really good giggle when we went for dinner at a pub and an entire family was seated near us; no one was talking to each other and every single person was on his or her smartphone. Perhaps for the adults it was work-related - hard to tell.

The reason I mention this is that whether work-related or not, people now make themselves available 24/7 and can even become addicted to their phones, tablets, etc., looking at emails if they wake in the middle of the night and feeling compelled to answer them.

If you then couple this with an actual or perceived demand for managers to give more and be more available, then that formula creates unhealthy working practices.

There are loads of unhealthy working practices that have crept in over the years that now seem to be common practice rather than outside the norm. For instance, when I started my working-in-an-office career five decades ago breaks and lunch hours were scheduled and taken. That still applies for many jobs today, but back then managers also took scheduled breaks and lunches. And increasingly today, they don't.

The occasional lunch at a desk is understandable, but when that happens there isn't an invisible force field that prevents others from interrupting; they treat you as though you weren't putting forkfuls of food in your mouth but fully available for questions or answering the phone.

And what about clocking off? The stampede to the lifts at five o'clock was common when I began office life and offices were ghost towns by 5.30pm.

So when did the 'I can't be seen to be the first one to leave' culture begin and when did that become the norm? On many of our courses we hear about this attitude and belief that if you leave 'on time' you are seen to be shirking. Not only that, people often sneak work home so they can look super-efficient the next day, having magically juggled four or five projects with seeming ease, and never letting others know they simply couldn't finish things in the time allotted.

'In the time allotted'. Now that's an interesting phrase. It seems these days that far more is expected of people with far fewer resources offered to them.

Would our economy fall apart and companies go bankrupt if they either insisted managers only work their contracted hours or that they paid for all the overtime? Perhaps.

But perhaps the whole issue needs to be looked at from a well-being point of view: in whose interest is it to have managers work to the point of burnout; in whose interest is it for managers to work without alerting their 'powers that be' that all is not well?

We often see on our Time Management courses people so stressed out because they have extended their working hours to the point where they have a minimal life - they are indeed living to work instead of working to live. And one of the phrases we hear a lot is, 'I have no choice.'

Wrong! There is always a choice. In the case of those creeping work hours eating away at real life time, we know that setting clear boundaries is in everyone's interest, manager and manager's boss alike.

In many workplaces people don't have the skill to manage other people's expectations (or even their own, in some cases), so expectations are way out of line with reality.

Rather than 'coping', taking work home, reading emails at midnight and cramming in a sandwich between calls, letting others know exactly what you can do, the realistic time it will take and the constraints of it all will help create a workplace where expectations are managed and managers have a better chance of leaving on time than burning the midnight oil (either at the office or at home).

If people began to set better boundaries then this whole problem of unpaid overtime by any other name would change and workplaces could become far healthier places to be.

Check out Impact Factory's Time Management open course and Stress Management Training.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb