Working Overtime: The Pros and Cons of Staying Late

Female working late

Occasionally, working overtime is inevitable; when you’re approaching an important deadline / have a deal to close, when your colleague’s on holiday, and you’re responsible for covering their duties or if it’s just busy season and you need to offer a helping hand for your team to meet the quota.

But when it becomes something of a norm, you need to question whether the extra hours are actually worth it, or whether your overtime is just causing you to burn out and feel underappreciated.

If you’re stuck in an overtime saga, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of increasing your time at work. To help you decide if the extra hours are worth it, let's take a look at the possible effects on your career, finances, and family life.

The Pros

If you’re crammed with work and you're wondering, 'Should I work overtime?' There are several benefits to putting in the extra hours, here we uncovered everything you should consider if you want the best results for your efforts.

1. You Make More Money

Everyone likes making more money. Overtime income gives your budget a boost, helping you pay off bills, expenses, credit card or loan debt. You can also stash the extra cash into savings or a pension plan. Some workers like to set aside any additional salary for a future vacation.

Be careful how you manage your finances, however. Working overtime isn't guaranteed, so don't increase your spending to match the temporary bump in earnings. Your ultimate goal should be a promotion or seeking a higher salaried position elsewhere.

2. It Could Help Advance Your Career

At some jobs, just showing up on time and doing your work correctly is enough to set you apart from your coworkers. When the atmosphere is more competitive, though, putting in extra hours is a good way to impress upper management. Overtime allows you to put additional effort into a special project, leading to better results as well as showing dedication to your job and the company.

If your boss hasn't specifically asked for overtime, don't overdo it. A smaller company might not appreciate having to pay overtime every week. Besides, hanging around after hours every night to do work could also signal that you have poor time management skills.

3. You're More Productive

Added time to complete tasks means you'll naturally be more productive, but it's not always about quantity. If putting in overtime means working after hours, you'll find yourself in a quiet environment with no phones ringing, clients coming in, or your boss interrupting you every five minutes. Even retail or service jobs can offer you more peace to focus when you're not officially "on the clock," leaving you to work while someone else is scheduled to take care of customers.

If you find yourself staying later and later each night to take advantage of the calmer atmosphere, you may want to consider switching to a different shift entirely. While working the night shift has its own challenges, a shorter and steadier schedule without overtime will likely be better for your health.

4. It's Better Than Working a Second Job

One of the benefits of working overtime is that it allows you to make money at a job you're already familiar with. Taking on a second job is another way to make extra income, but requires learning a new environment and possibly different skills.

Overtime usually allows you to just extend your hours at the same location. With a second job, you'd have to carefully schedule your day around commuting between the two gigs and home, eating up more of your personal time. More commuting would also mean more fuel (and wear and tear on your car), adding to any expenses for uniforms, tech or tools for your second job.

5. You'll Improve Your Relationships with Coworkers

Whether you have mandatory overtime or just several employees taking advantage of extra hours, you'll spend a lot of time with your coworkers. Commiserating over long days and collaborating to get projects done can build better work relationships as well as earn you new friends.

For some jobs, staying late or coming in early means overlapping with another shift of workers. This can also endear you to your colleagues if, for example, you can answer insurance questions for employees that never get to see any of the 8-to-5 human resources staff. Your colleagues will also appreciate it if you can help handle customer issues that normally would have to wait until the next day. Just a few hours of overtime can really bridge the gap between shifts and improve morale, particularly if you're in a supervisory role.

The Cons

Whether you're eager to increase your work hours or are just following your boss's instructions, there are some risks to taking on overtime. Here are five disadvantages to take into consideration.

1. It Can Affect Your Physical Health

It may not seem like a big deal to put in a bit of overtime at the office each day, but Columbia University researchers discovered that just a couple more hours of sedentary work a day is hard on your heart and is as dangerous to your health as smoking.

If you must stay late, try to avoid sitting still the whole time, glued to your computer. Take a couple of breaks to go for a quick walk around the office and get your blood pumping.

On the other hand, lengthening hours at more physical jobs can be increasingly dangerous to your wellbeing, with fatigue and overworked muscles potentially leading to accidents and injury. It won't be worth that extra overtime pay if you ultimately end up with expensive hospital bills, extended leave from your job, and a long road back to full employment.

2. Your Mental Health Could Suffer

Many employees feel forced into overtime because of the volume of work and their bosses' demands. A 2000 survey published in the Independent, British workers revealed that over 40% of respondents felt more stressed because of these additional work commitments. Intense stress at work can lead to insomnia, overeating, drinking too much alcohol, depression and other mental health concerns.

If you're feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities at your job, talk with your supervisor about delegating some work to other departments or hiring on more help. Start looking for alternative employment if you can't get management or HR to adequately address your concerns.

3. It Cuts into Your Personal Time

We already spend a large portion of our life at our jobs, and working overtime takes even more time away from our personal life. This can mean less sleep, less time for hobbies, and less socialising. The more hours you stay late, the more it can upset the optimum work-life balance that keeps you happy and healthy.

Excessive overtime can cause real harm to your relationships. In a study by Cornell University, 30% of those polled said working more than 60 hours a week caused 'severe work-family conflicts' and the divorce rate increased accordingly. So, try to find some harmony between helping your family financially and being around enough to keep your emotional connections strong.

4. It Could Lead to Job Dissatisfaction

We all want to get the most out of our jobs, but you really can have too much of a good thing. Even if you enjoy your work, spending 90% of your life, there can make it tough to sustain the passion and enthusiasm for every task. You can end up drained of energy and creative ideas, lowering your productivity and stagnating in your career.

If everyone else is there on mandatory overtime as well, the combined exhaustion can lead to frustration, arguments, and lowered morale–all of which will make work a total bummer as well.

5. You Don't Always Get Paid Overtime Rates

Extra money motivates many employees to work overtime, but the sad fact is that 59% of UK workers don't get paid for putting in those additional hours. Salaried employees often stay late for no compensation, and no recognition if their boss has already gone home.

Some companies do convert overtime hours into additional days off. If you don't need the money, getting days back in lieu to relax and spend time with family and friends could be a good compromise.

Hourly workers may get paid the same rate as usual for extra hours, but miss out on time and a half or higher calculations. You make more money than usual, but you may also end up getting overworked for a job with no career advancement potential or benefits.

As you can see, there are pros and cons to working overtime, and you need to consider all angles before agreeing to expand your work week. In mandatory overtime cases, you may need to quit if the negatives outweigh the positives, but try negotiating for a better arrangement first with your current employer.

What was your experience working overtime? What would your advice be to other workers? Join the discussion below and let us know!