Should I Agree to Work Overtime? A Shift Workers Conundrum

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While turning on your afterburner and agreeing to work overtime might jumpstart your earnings, there are costs to keep in mind.

The prospect of earning 150% of the usual earnings can prove a strong incentive to work extra hours. While this is a tempting offer, it is important to weigh the risks versus the rewards. Exhaustion, health problems, workplace stress, and accidents are all related to overworking.

So, keep reading to see if the cost is worth it in your case. As the saying goes: “Everything in the store of life is for sale but be prepared to pay the price.” (Sounds ominous and creepy, doesn’t it? Let’s find out why.)

What is Overtime?

Simply put, overtime is any work performed over the normal 40 hours per week.

When this occurs, monetary compensation is usually increased to “time and a half.” This means a person making $20.00 per hour normally, will make $30.00 for every hour of overtime (and everyone likes more money, except Karl Marx, but you aren’t him.) This usually increases during holidays and weekends. It is not unusual for these amounts to stack up to staggering amounts. 

Who Qualifies for Overtime?

Generally speaking, a person who derives all income from a time/payment arrangement qualifies.

So salaried employees (those paid a yearly sum negotiated ahead of time,) freelancers and those reliant upon tips (waitstaff, bartenders, panhandlers, yak smugglers,) generally do not reap the benefits of overtime. This is a generalization, however, as labor laws make exemptions, depending on the circumstances.

What are the Potential Risks of Working Overtime?

According to the Department of Labor, “Worker Fatigue” is one such risk. Worker fatigue occurs when a person works to the point of exhaustion (hence why they named it worker fatigue.)

Studies cited by the Labor Department show that when a worker crosses the threshold of Permissible Exposure Limits (amount of time a worker can be active,) the rates of accidents increase. This can lead to disastrous consequences of catastrophic injury or even death.

While this is an extreme example, it is far more common than one might think. In nearly every occupation, no matter how seemingly mundane, the risk of injury is present. This risk increases as the worker’s attention and awareness are blunted by fatigue. Whether it is the reaction time of a firefighter and police officer, or the situational awareness required by an electrical worker or welder, a moment’s hesitation or muscle twitch can be horrific. 

This can be true for factory workers and those who work in a warehouse. Click on each hyperlink to read more about these jobs.

In fact, certain careers cap the amount of time a person can be “on the clock.” Freight drivers are governed by regulations very closely. The reason is quite simple: We aren’t exactly comfortable with 18-wheeler trucks barreling down the expressway with a half-sleeping maniac guzzling coffee and potentially other things… These rules and regulations are as intricate as they are detailed.

For the general night shift worker, you can probably relate to this when driving home after a shift. We talk more about this in the video below titled, Driving Tired After Night Shift: Tips to Get Home Safely.

Other Risks Associated with Overtime

As if the prospect of a fiery death and sudden meetings with Biblical figures isn’t enough, there are far less dramatic consequences.

Bouts of overwork and exhaustion take their toll on the human body. Overworking can lead to medical issues such as heart disease, bone and muscular issues, and digestive issues. While not visible on the surface, rest assured that unless you make some rest there will be problems down the road. This is because these problems compound and complement each other.

A person’s stress levels are certain to increase if they are working a 12-hour day, now with a stiff neck and herniated disc. Throw in heart palpations and blurry vision, and that fella probably shouldn’t be working in the dynamite factory too long. This realization must be weighed when considering if time and a half is worth the bargain. 

A lesser-known, but nevertheless important thing to consider is one’s mental health. Constant stressors such as work take their emotional toll. Normally, a person feels burnt out by the end of the standard 40-hour week. One can only imagine how this is multiplied when that standard week is extended. Not sure if you’re burnt out? We have a post all about it here with strategies on how to manage your feelings.

Rates of mental illness from depression to anxiety have been shown to increase as a person works past the normal work week. As if these weren’t bad enough, these illnesses bring their own problems as people try to deal with them. This leads to increased rates of substance abuse and alcoholism to emotional and relationship problems. As with the physical consequences, these mental struggles multiply and further deteriorate an already unsteady foundation. 

We have written a few posts which dive into the complex topics just mentioned. If they have struck a chord with you, take your time going through these posts;

Reasons to Work Overtime

Why would anybody do this!? Well hold on there, Panicky Pete, it’s not all doom and gloom. The Harvard Business Review did an exhaustive examination of just this question. The results were what one would expect. While those working over 60 hours a week did in fact suffer more workplace incidents than normal, there was a happy middle ground.

Their study did also conclude that people working between 41-59 hours in a week suffered no more observable consequences than those working 40. 

This means that for those people who rely on overtime rates to make ends meet, it is entirely possible. As with all other things in life, moderation is the key (not with Bourbon, though, in that case, moderation is the sign of a quitter, and nobody likes a quitter.)

As long as the person stays within the “safe” levels of overwork, the only real downside will be an increased coffee budget and probably being a bit snippy with the loved ones. It’s up to you to decide whether it is worth being showered with dollar bills on payday (you can demand this is how you are paid. It’s unlikely it will happen, but awesome if it does.)

Is Overtime Worth It?

Unfortunately, only the individual can make that decision for themselves. If the worker is young, in shape, has no real family obligations, and is in a relatively safe career? Sure, earn as much money as you can, while you can, so you aren’t reliant on it when those previously mentioned aspects change.

Throw in having no social life and having a masochistic streak, and you’ll be swimming in money in no time (don’t actually do that, currency is far filthier than you might think.)

Now, if you are up there in age, have a new baby who discovered they have vocal cords, and maybe are a bit shaky to begin with, use overtime sparingly. If this is the case, you might be safer, happier, and better off entirely by revisiting your household budget, rather than burning the candle at both ends trying to earn more. 

Again, the risks and rewards are to be weighed by the individual. The reality is very simple: More money is greater than less, and nobody survives a gasoline refinery explosion. So, keep yourself safe and work reasonable hours and you can take advantage of the prospect of overtime without getting a starring role in “Funeral of the Crispy.”

You will have a really spiffy coffin though. I can’t argue that.

Next up, How Do You Work Both Day and Night Shifts? (An Honest Guide)


Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

Healthcare working sitting on the floor wearing mask

Daniel Smith

Managing a global sales team I've experienced the challenges of working at all hours of the day and night. Being a shift worker I know how tough it can be balancing everyday life when you feel like you haven't slept in weeks! Providing advice and tips on how to manage your schedule, whilst still staying healthy is where I can help.

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