Working Overtime Could Be Hurting Your Career

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overtime hurting career

Sometimes, a day is not enough to clear the backlog in your to-do list and you need to put in a few more hours to get things done. This means that overtime becomes a reality in your career.

Short-term overtime, therefore, becomes a necessity in order to ensure your tasks are done and targets are met. This means staying at work a few more hours a few times in a month is fine and, in fact, a natural part of your career. When, however, you become  night owl at work and you cannot remember the last time you got home in time to catch your favorite evening T.V Show, there is a problem. At this point, overtime has become an expectation and you actually leaving on time feels odd for you and the fellow night owls.

Evaluate the Current Situation

evaluate the current situation

Take a step back and evaluate your situation. How many times in a week are you asked to work overtime? How many times do you decide to work overtime because you need to finish something? What stage on your career are you in right now? Is this a new role or you have worked in the same role for some time?

Constantly working overtime makes it a norm and it becomes your operations style. Allowing yourself to fall into the habit of always staying late or your boss always requesting that you stay a little longer and finish the pending tasks makes overtime your office lifestyle.

Your career stage determines whether you need to go the extra mile at work. If you are in entry-level and you want to grow, you might consider staying behind to shadow a department you are interested in. If you are comfortable, there is no need of working overtime at this stage.

Mid-management might come with the challenges of managing a team as well as taking care of your own tasks. You might want to come in earlier or stay behind a few hours on certain days of the week to catch up on the team’s progress. This gives you an easier time to provide support to your team and give progress as well as work on projects.

The senior management level comes with a bigger bone to chew and working a little late becomes a necessity, especially when the company is looking to improve on certain areas. This, however, doesn’t mean that overtime should become the way of life.

If you are new in a role, a little overtime is expected for you to make headway and familiarize yourself with what is expected of you.

Evaluate Your Priorities

Time management, or the lack of it, is a vital determinant of whether you stay behind at work. The greatest thief of time is unexpected, urgent but not important things that take you away from what is actually important at the moment. So you spend your time solving urgent issues that don’t contribute much to your KPIs and postpone the important tasks that actually matter.

When you get to the office, how much time is actually spent working on your reason for being there? A lot of time gets lost in utterly unnecessary but seemingly important things. This is usually as a result of poor planning. Are you always chasing deadlines? Is your role always a stress zone because you suddenly have so much to do and so little time to cover it?

Take a step back and gauge how you spend a typical day at work. Then ask yourself the following questions;

  • Do I plan my week ahead?
  • Do I plan my day ahead?
  • Do I know what I should do in a day even before I get to the office?
  • Do I have in my daily plan time for emergencies and adhoc tasks?
  • Do I leave the office every day feeling good about ticking off my to-do-list?
  • Do I have a not-to-do list
  • Do I say no to or postpone requests that pull me away from my main focus
  • Is my duty plan synced with my boss?

If you answer to most of these questions is a ‘Yes’, you have your priorities right and your time management is okay. If most of your answers are in the negative, you need to work on your time management skills. Otherwise you will have to work overtime everyday of your career or be on the receiving end of negative feedback on your progress most of your time.

The key is to use overtime strategically, and not make it the norm that you'll always work late. Click To Tweet

If, however, you’re consistently taking on extra work and working extra hours just to stay on top of things, it might be time to make some changes.

Pitfalls That Come with Excessive Overtime

overtime hurting career

Working overtime once in a while, under reasonable circumstances is allowed and even recommended. It demonstrates to your boss your willingness to go the extra mile to achieve goals and targets. The key here should be using overtime in a strategic angle that gets projects done and puts you in a good light. If you are constantly staying late to stay on top of things, you may experience the following pitfalls.

Non-Existent Work-Life Balance

You spend 8 hours every day in the workplace. If you are not careful, that is the only life you will experience. When you leave the office late every day, you see less of your friends and loved ones. This might lead to increased stress, feelings of resentment and even make you hate your job.

Personal Goals Neglect

Working for your company pays the bills and maintains your lifestyle. Working on your own personal goals gives you a purpose and makes your life more meaningful. If your personal goals align with your current job, you are part of the very few lucky people in the world. Otherwise, you need time to discover, work on and attain your personal goals. When are you going to get time for that if you leave the office already with your bed in mind?

Fatigue and Eventual Burn-Out

overtime hurting career

Your body can only take a certain amount of pressure and stress. Leaving work on time allows sufficient time for rest and relaxation, unwinding and leisure and even exercise to stay fit. Constant overtime schedules leave you drained and eventually you might burn-out and even experience health issues associated with stress and fatigue. This will then affect your productivity in the workplace and managing stress in the workplace impossible.

Your Boss Might Question your Capabilities

If you have to stay late everyday to finish off daily tasks (not projects), are your really cut out for the job? Your boss might begin questioning your capabilities and time-management skills. While different jobs require different levels of input, you need to find a way of automating repetitive tasks that take long than they should, then plan your time around important tasks. Overtime during projects is understandable as some projects can be highly intensive.

Once you settle on a role, identify the repetitive tasks that take most of your time, research on tools and technology that can be adapted to take care of these tasks so that you can be free to take care of strategic roles.

If you are constantly working overtime on daily tasks, where will you get time to take on more roles, explore and research on best practice or become innovative in what you do? You are crippling your career growth and denying yourself opportunities because you are fixated on finishing daily tasks.

You are Eating Into Your Negotiating Power

overtime hurting career

If your boss is already doubting your capabilities because you stay late everyday finishing daily tasks, what do think that does to you at the negotiating table? If the tasks you are staying late tackling are additional and aside from what was agreed on in your contract, make sure your boss knows immediately and work on a plan for review.

If you quietly accept these additional roles that keep you in the office late and do the work for an extended time period, what will give you the power to wake up one day and say “ I think I have taken on additional responsibilities that should be reflected in my remuneration.”? You bosses will ask themselves, but you have been okay all along, what has changed?

Even if no change is effected on your remuneration package, ensure your boss knows that you know you are taking on extra duties. This could even be turned into a promotion opportunity for your to take on a leadership role.

If you are staying late doing what you actually signed up to do, you need to objectively find out where the problem is. Is the plate too full and overwhelming? Did you misunderstand the job description? Are you doing everything right? Is your time management as should be?

How to Do Overtime Strategically

  • In order to avoid the pitfalls mentioned above, overtime to should be a strategic tool. You first need to ensure that your time management is good and that you are tackling what’s important.
  • Identify the number of hours needed to complete each task and ensure your boss is aware of this.
  • If you feel like overtime is negatively affecting your productivity, conduct research on possible solutions and have this discussion with your boss. You will be surprised how many companies are willing to invest in efficiency.
  • If the tasks cannot be automated, emphasize on the importance of productivity and suggest some of these roles be delegated to junior team members in order to streamline processes.
  • Ensure you let your boss know that you are dedicated to achieving set targets and that you will be available when projects require overtime and going the extra mile.

Of Companies that Pay for Overtime

Companies that pay for overtime are a good demonstration that overtime is actually time that should be compensated. They usually have very clear guidelines that define what overtime is and what it isn’t. Most of the time, overtime is approved by the team lead and the number of hours stated.

If you work in such a company, you are forced to plan and manage your time well enough to complete all that is required of you in a day because a daily task cannot translate to overtime unless on special occasions.

Doreen Mueke
Doreen is the Senior Content Marketer at Ringier One Africa Media.