BlogTop Tips For Reducing Overtime & Increasing Productivity

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Published: August 14, 2020

It often surprises people, but it’s an established fact that working more overtime doesn’t actually make you more productive. In fact, it tends to have the opposite effect. Employees who work longer hours gradually become less and less productive, leading them to work longer hours to make up for it – you can see how easily that can become a vicious cycle.

With that in mind, we’ve taken a look at a few ways that you can help to improve your team’s productivity during their scheduled hours while reducing the amount of overtime that they need to do – and that you need to pay for! Sounds interesting? Well, step this way…

Person looking down to check the time on their watch while working at a laptop
Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash

Investigation

First things first, you’ll need to figure out what’s motivating your employees when they work overtime. Has their manager given them more work than they can complete in work hours? Are they the only team member who can do a particular job? Are they underperforming during their shift and then scrambling to make up for it later? Or, if you pay for overtime, are they just short of cash and looking to earn a bit extra? Whichever it is, there’s no point in trying to tackle the problem until you know what the problem is. If you have software to keep track of your shifts try looking for patterns in overtime – is it always the same employees, or is it happening on particular days? Does it happen more frequently when certain team members are working together? Once you understand the issue you can start looking for the right solution.

Workload

Staffing

If an employee is overworking because their workload is too high then you’ll need to check your staffing levels. Running with the bare minimum of employees may seem like a good cost-saving exercise but it can quickly become expensive when they all start going off sick with stress and you have to find cover at short notice. A good indication of whether staffing is to blame is if the rest of your employees are also overworked; if they are they’re probably being given too much work per shift. If not, there may be another cause.

Availability

Even if you have the perfect number of staff it's useless if they all take leave at the same time. Putting proper leave and unavailability policies in place and making sure that all employees are aware of them will help to prevent this, as well as making sure that your team can see which dates other employees in their section have booked. Managing leave effectively is just as important, though; if leave requests are automatically approved or can be booked last minute then you’ll quickly lose control of your staffing levels. This leaves the remaining employees struggling to cope and working overtime as a result. If possible, try to base holiday approval around your employee schedule and make sure that you have enough staff to cover when a few employees are off at once.

Poor Management

The other thing to look out for when employees are overworked is poor management. If an employee’s manager isn’t managing effectively, or assigns extra work at short notice, employees will work overtime to cope. Make sure that managers are properly trained for their role and that they’re working in line with the company’s values; there’s no point trying to reduce overtime if line managers are telling staff that they’re failing if they take their allotted breaks and leave work on time.

Training

If particular employees are constantly doing overtime then it’s worth checking what they’re working on. All too often you’ll find that a small handful of staff hold all of the knowledge in a team, and inevitably they’ll be the ones who feel obliged to overwork. Perhaps they’re the only one who knows how to cash up. Maybe other team members always look to them when they have a question, filling up their time. Whatever it is, these are likely to be your most valuable employees and yet they’re the ones who will end up quitting due to burnout. Instead of waiting for that to happen identify any pinch points and train other team members to share the load. You probably don’t need everyone to be trained to do everything, but making sure that multiple employees can perform a task makes a big difference.

Time Management

Making sure that employees are managing their time effectively when at work is also crucial. Train employees in prioritisation best practice where possible and make sure that they’re given the chance to figure out and implement the methods of working which are best for them. Some team members will prefer to be given a long list of tasks to work through during the day. Others will struggle unless they complete one job before being assigned the next. Either way, you’ll get the most out of them if you allow them to play to their strengths, helping them to be productive during work hours rather than trying to make up time later in the day. Using a task-management tool can also be handy for this. They can let you keep track of how well employees are moving through their tasks during the day and allow them to manage their own workloads.

Allowing employees to set their preferred working hours can also dramatically help with productivity. Assigning morning shifts to early risers and later shifts to night owls will help them to focus while at work; they'll get more done when they’re supposed to rather than struggling through part of their shift and scrambling to make the time up later on.

Voluntary Overtime

Employees who are actively choosing to work overtime are another matter altogether. At first glance this might seem like the perfect situation – they’re happy to be earning extra cash and you’re happy that they’re doing extra work. In the long run, this can prove just as problematic as having stressed employees though. As well as being less productive during the extra hours they’ll also gradually become tired from overworking; this will only serve to make them less productive in their regular hours too. In addition to this, if they’re running into overtime you’ll likely be paying them more than their standard rate of pay for their trouble, making this not only an unhealthy arrangement for them but also an expensive one for you.

If this is the case then you’ll need to talk to the employee, making them aware of your concerns. It may also be worth considering giving them a pay rise. While that may seem a little counterintuitive, in the long term it could prove to be a better investment; your employee will be much more productive in work hours if they don't have the constant drain of overtime. They'll also be happier, and without overtime overheads you won't actually be spending more. Instead, you'll be investing in keeping a dedicated employee rather than burning out a tired one, which has to be a better prospect.

Communication

Whatever the reasons for employees working overtime, the main thing is to make sure that you communicate with them. Make it clear that taking breaks and switching off at the end of the working day is healthy – your team will appreciate you for it and will work all the harder in return. If you’re planning to start recording overtime talk to them about that, too. Explain your motivations so that staff don’t suddenly start putting in extra hours to prove themselves – that won’t help either their productivity or their mental health.

Overall, make sure that you listen to your team, too. Working with them to resolve overtime issues is likely to be far more successful than trying to guess at the problems and they’ll be grateful that you’re taking the time.



If you’ve found yourself agreeing with this article but aren’t quite sure where to start then let us (not overly humbly) suggest that you consider using Shiftie. With overtime tracking, shift scheduling, and leave and availability management we like to think that we’re well suited to resolving exactly these kinds of issues – which was, after all, why we wrote an article about it in the first place.

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