Even though I’ve worked in the corporate world for close to 5 years now, I don’t think I’ll ever understand how ‘overtime’ is supposed to work. Most engineers are actually pretty lucky, a majority of companies pay their engineers for overtime. But apparently the rest of the workforce isn’t like that, since I have lots of friends who get paid the same amount whether they burn the midnight oil or ‘only’ work 8 hours a day.
I guess I’m fundamentally against overtime because I cherish my 9th and 10th hour of the day a lot more than the first or second hour. It’s harder for me to work during those last two hours than it is during the first two hours yet I’m paid the same. Mathematically, that just doesn’t make sense – that must be my engineering side though. It makes no sense period to me to work two extra hours every day for free.
Growing Up Biased
I’ve grown up in an era of corporate greed and been subjected to the constant barrage of news stories detailing multi-million dollar bonuses for execs while their employees are being laid off. I’m sure upper management is working very hard for that money but at the end of the day it’s all about the people you have working for you. That’s one of the first things I learned as a volleyball player during college and then as a coach. No matter how good or bad of a coach you are, if your players are vastly inferior you won’t stand a chance.
We all know that the income disparity between management and those on the front lines is widening but no one wants to do anything about it. I have experience on both sides though and know how to handle it.
Where Does it All Go Wrong?
I feel like most interviews are pretty straightforward: you tell them about yourself, they ask you questions and then a few days later, if they like you they make you an offer. In every offer letter I’ve ever seen, there is a salary based upon number of hours worked in any given year. If I’m going to accept a job, the first thing I want to know is how much will I be getting paid and how many hours do I have to work?
But for some reason, things don’t always work out like that in the corporate world. Instead, there are implied rules and subtleties that if you go into certain positions or fields, you’re expected to work 50-60 hours a week. I don’t know for sure, but an offer letter for a Wall St. banker probably doesn’t say they’re going to have to work 50-70 hours a week but that’s what’s expected.
Fixed Salary vs. By the Hour
I have a few virtual assistants for my online businesses and they do everything from website design and manual data entry to writing actual articles for me(none on this site yet though). I typically do most of my hiring using Odesk since they give me the option to select a fixed salary or pay by the hour for each project I set up. As a manager, I know that it’s always in my best interest to select a fixed salary project since that way you can get exactly what you need no matter how long it takes. Obviously it’s up to the freelancer to decide if they’ll accept that rate but once they do, they are locked in since they don’t want to receive negative feedback. A good manager knows exactly how long a project should take and how much it should cost. It’s up to the manager to figure out who they can get for that project and at the lowest cost, that is business efficiency in a nutshell.
I think my hiring practice is the perfect microcosm of the corporate world. Big companies know that if they lock you in to a certain fixed salary you have to work 40 hours or more because they say so. You can’t tell your manager, “I don’t feel like staying late because the waves are totally epic today boss!” Employers know that you are going to go above and beyond the call of duty because you don’t want to have a bad reference on your resume. There’s also the fear of getting fired which is completely illogical in my view. Ask any manager at a mid-level company how hard it is to fire someone and they’ll tell you it’s a pain in the ass. Companies are so scared of getting sued these days, they’d rather let a poor employee languish than risk a lawsuit.
What do I do?
Like the title of this article implies, I usually don’t work overtime. And the funny part about it is that I actually get paid for overtime. But yet I refuse to do it because I don’t think I’m being adequately rewarded for my time. Most engineers get paid single time for overtime so it’s not a bad gig if you’re looking for extra money. But I’m very content with my salary and I don’t need the extra money. I try and say no in the most gracious way possible.
Employee success is usually driven by a combination of skill and impressions. I would actually argue that the latter is more important in the corporate environment since poor performance can easily be covered up by other people. If you’re a one man business and you suck at your job but everyone loves you you’re still not going to make much money. But if you work in a 30 person group at a 5,000 person company and people love you but you’re not a very good engineer, there’s a very good chance you might even get promoted.
How to Say No and Still Be Liked
It’s important to pick your battles when it comes to working overtime. I like using excuses that you can’t really rebut since that way your boss won’t ever know that you just don’t want to work overtime. Like I said, it’s important to project eagerness at the thought of spending your Saturday crammed in a cubicle but also be scheming a way to figure out how not to come in.
Too many companies treat overtime like a normal work day. If you’re always having to work 80 hour weeks, then there should probably be two of you. It doesn’t make sense to even call it overtime in that scenario. I’ll come in from time to time on a Saturday or work a few hours extra here and there but that’s only if I have a performance review coming up 😉
I have a pretty negative view on overtime but I’m actually the complete opposite when it comes to my own businesses. I’m always willing to work hard and go the extra mile because I can see a direct correlation between how hard/long I work and how much success I have. Ultimately, I think people’s experiences are going to vary a lot depending on their role and industry. Some of us don’t mind doing overtime and making the company a ton of money while others like me are much more cynical.
Readers, what do you think about working overtime? If you have a 40 hour a week job would you constantly work more than that in order to increase the company’s bottom line?