Winning the Battle to Work the Hours You Were Hired For

by Tera Tuten on May 22, 2012

UK labour group workSMART recently celebrated the 10th annual “Work Your Proper Hours Day” which they encourage everyone on Earth to observe every 24th of February. That’s the date by which the average person would be done working for free if they put in all their unpaid overtime hours at once.

Whether you’re working long hours in a yearly-salary position at a clinic or hospital or doing shift work that pays more the more shifts you take on, odds are, you probably worked more than 8 hours yesterday, didn’t sit down for 2 or more meals, didn’t spend more than an hour with friends and/or family, and didn’t get anywhere near the sleep you need to function properly.

According to a 2004 study, 40% of shifts worked by U.S. nurses lasted longer than 12 hours. The same study found that overtime, shifts longer than 12 hours, and work weeks much longer than 40 hours led to dramatic decreases in productivity, and increases in errors.

How many is too many?
In many workplaces, a 60-hour-workweek is only half-jokingly considered “part-time”. Even if you’re getting paid for all that overtime, the eventual cost in quality of life means you’re probably no better off with the extra cash.

And while many people claim to work 60, 70, 80 hours a week “those people often aren’t heroes fixing problems by throwing hours at them,” say business authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. “They don’t save the day…they just use it up.”

In fact, a 2011 study out of Harvard Business School and the London School of Economics has started looking at the quantity and quality of CEO hours logged according to time logs kept by their assistants.

While they’ve only analysed the habits of CEOs in one country so far – Italy – the researchers have made headway in finding the elusive point of work-hour diminishing returns: about 48 hours per week.

Anything more and you may still be getting extra work done, but if you’re working 65 hours a week instead of, say, 40, “will you get 25 more hours of work done?” says Cara France of San Francisco’s Sage Consulting in a CNN article about time management. “No. Will you get 10 more hours? Maybe.”

An end in sight?
While working the occasional extra shift or hour or two of overtime here and there may be reasonable at your floor, ward, or facility, it need not (and should not) be the norm.

Looking for ways to stop the madness. Consider some of the following suggestions:

  • If you have a choice in taking extra work, decide on the maximum number of ours you’re willing to work and don’t work more than those hours (if need be, make a work-hour budget and stick to it)
  • If you’re frequently pressured to work overtime, ask to review your job requirements with your supervisor to find ways to work more effectively within the hours you’re supposed to be working
  • If you still feel pressured to work extra shifts, have a suite of reasons (actual reasons, not lies) that would prevent you from being available (check beforehand to research that they are realistic and really would let you get out of overtime)
  • If your job requires you to work overtime (paid or unpaid) check the laws governing how much (if any) overtime you are actually required to work
  • Finally, if – for whatever reason – you’re stuck in a job that forces you to work overtime that you’re not happy with, quit


What do you think? Is it fair to work more than 50 hours a week. Is it worth the pay raise to put in all those extra shifts? Do you have a story about how this has or hasn’t worked for you?


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