Is Working Overtime Worth It?

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In this economic climate, any time you’re given the opportunity to work overtime and get some extra money you’re likely to accept it. As you should, as long as it’s temporary and the extra money is actually worth it, or it’ll make you look good to your boss. If you’re flexible, willing and able to adjust to the new working hours - and are getting paid sufficiently - then why shouldn’t you?

However, as with everything, even working a few extra hours and getting in a bit of extra money comes with downsides. Working too much overtime can have disadvantages ranging from creating family problems to giving you health problems, and the worst part is that it doesn’t automatically mean more or better work will be done.

The next time you’re considering working overtime, think about it carefully. To help you, we’ve come up with arguments to both sides. Read through them and maybe you’ll feel more comfortable with making the decision.


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Why you Should Work Overtime

If you’ve been told for how long you’ll need to work overtime then you are lucky. Getting a fixed idea on how long it’s going to be for means that if you find the extra time more taxing than you expected, you at least know when it’s going to end and when you’ll be able to take the time to recover and get back to your normal schedule.

If you’re young and flexible, you might see working overtime as a good use of your time. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to save up and more importantly you’ll be able to dazzle your boss with your commitment.  Even if you’re married and not so flexible, working overtime for some time can be beneficial, as a study from CBS MoneyWatch found when they studied the workload and marital satisfaction of 169 newlywed couples over the first four years of their marriage:

  • The high energy created by engagement in work can translate to energy put into invigorating the relationship.
  • Mothers with long hours have happy marriages; when wives work hard, fathers help more at home and with the kids, which improves their wife’s affection for them.
  • High job satisfaction for either spouse generally leads to higher marital satisfaction 

Working overtime can actually help with your stress levels as you won’t need to stress yourself out to finish work by five o’clock, and this is especially true if you are working on a difficult project, or a deadline is nearing. Provided that you can’t take work home, staying at the office to finish your work can actually have better results for your work, as well as for your emotional well-being.


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Why you Shouldn’t Work Overtime

However, be warned that if working overtime becomes an ongoing situation then it can have harmful effects. Working overtime isn’t worth it if you will suffer for it. Many areas of your life will be affected by your long hours and you need to carefully consider whether you can sacrifice your personal life.

If you have kids, overtime means missing out on quality time with them. They grow up faster than you might think; are you really getting enough overtime pay to make it worth missing out on the milestones of their lives? If you don’t have kids, or a significant other, choosing work over socializing might stop you from ever meeting that special person. Alternatively, if do you have a partner you might find that they don’t like always coming second to your job and you might end up losing them.

Do the math before agreeing to anything. Work out how much extra money you would actually get after taxes; you may find that it’s only slightly more than you would have made by sticking to your old schedule.

New laws regulating overtime might sound good, but it depends how companies implement them; they may abide by the new laws and pay workers overtime, but if they lower the base pay, then there’s not much use in getting paid overtime.

Be wary of becoming dependent on the extra money. In the same way that the work you have to do will always fill the amount of time you have, your expenses will always find a way to completely empty your pockets; if you get used to the new way of life your overtime pay affords you, what will happen when you stop working overtime?

It’s also important to note that while some people have no problem with working overtime, some people can’t. If you’re not the type of person who can easily adjust their sleep schedule, or handle the effects of more hours, then reconsider whether such a drastic change to your lifestyle is a good idea. Just because you physically can sit in the office longer doesn’t mean that you should, or that you will actually get more done.

Working overtime can in fact be damaging to your health. The longer the hours you put in, the more time you’re giving up that you could have spent taking care of yourself; you could be eating healthily, exercising, or even just giving your brain a healthy rest, rather than logging in more hours. Studies show that people who work overtime are more prone to depression and heart attacks - not directly because of working too hard, but because they sacrifice the chance to eat properly and to socialize and actually enjoy life.

Should you Do it Long-Term?

Although studies do agree that working overtime can be beneficial in the right circumstances; if you take it out of the workplace environment, working overtime is like cramming for a test at the last minute, and we all know that no matter what everyone says, there’s a good chance you’ll pass your test, working overtime is not effective if you do it long term.

The concept of the forty hour work week was gained in the twentieth century. Basically, the concept was that that as there are twenty-four hours in a day, these hours should be divided into three equal parts: eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work and eight hours of play. Not much has changed since then - there aren’t any more hours in the day, scientists still advise us to sleep eight hours a night, and we have to work eight hours a day. What has changed is that we are now expected to work "at least" 8 hours. The problem is, without a clear goal to work towards, extended overtime doesn’t automatically mean more productivity. It might in some way make us feel good, first by actually having a job and then by being able to competitively compare our exhaustion to others’ exhaustion, but eventually the law of diminishing returns kicks in.

The law of diminishing returns suggests that at a certain point, any benefit gained from something decreases over time. Evan Robinson explains that short-term overtime can be great for meeting a critical deadline, but 50% more hours only works out to 25% more productivity. Looking very busy might help us feel very important, but it’s debatable how much we can actually benefit aside from proving our dedication. To put it blatantly, working overtime for long periods of time only shows our dedication to wanting to look dedicated and hard working.

It would seem that while temporary overtime can be worth it as it reduces our stress levels, too much overtime stops being good when our overall health starts to suffer. Do you have experience of working overtime? Did you find that it helped you, or did the extra hours take their toll? Let us know in the comments section below.