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Creative options for overtime compensation

Published on March 15, 2002
on TechRepublic.Com

There's no denying that overtime is a widespread mandate— nearly 60 percent of TechRepublic members described it as a job requirement in a recent CIO Republic poll.

There's little debate about the negative impacts of overtime, as well as the related management and morale issues. But there are some quick, easy, and commonsense solutions to thwarting burnout and reducing management headaches triggered by overtime.

Overtime often brings diminished returns

Heavy overtime brings diminished returns. While many companies are known to be aggressive in expecting IT staff to work overtime, the extra effort doesn't often equate to higher productivity and results.

This means missed project deadlines— a result CIOs certainly want to avoid, as the floundering economy has made it difficult to initiate new tech efforts.

"When projects demand extra hours over the course of months or years, you get less. You get poorer quality and more bugs to fix," said Jim Huggy, a TechRepublic member and enterprise architect.

In some instances, the impact of overtime has already done serious damage. As one Latham, NY, senior network administrator explained, his time in IT is numbered unless something dramatically changes.

"I'm fed up with IT departments just being told to 'get it done' regardless of the personal cost," said the TechRepublic member, who works at a company developing new non- computer-related technologies. "It is this attitude that will eventually drive me away from this industry. I figure I have less than five good years left."

Help employees understand the reasons behind overtime

The first thing CIOs and CTOs need to do is help employees understand how overtime relates to the reality of the current business climate. During this recession, employees have been called upon to put in extra hours to keep companies in business, said Antoine G. Dubeauclard, a principal at Media Genesis, a Troy, MI-based consultancy that builds Web applications and training modules. Media Genesis caps its employees' workweek at 80 hours, though most employees work 60 or more hours weekly.

The long hours are not something Dubeauclard instigated on a whim, however. The extra hours, he said, are symptomatic of a struggling business, explaining that economics prompted the company to change its client billing process. In the past, Media Genesis bid jobs on a time-and-materials basis, then submitted fixed bids. Today, 50 percent of the clients have Media Genesis on retainer. That, coupled with the bottom falling out of dot-com companies and the fact that a mainstay industry's (automotive) clients began sputtering, forced overtime into overdrive, said Dubeauclard.

Unique ways to compensate
  1. Provide outlets for unwinding and be flexible in offering time off
    • Media Genesis has turned to recreation solutions, like providing employees with access to foosball tables, darts, arcade games, and pool tables at the office, to ease some of the stress of overtime.
    • Giving employees the opportunity to play helps to breathe some life into tough workweeks. "Beer, network games, and fun projects generally make the balance," said Dubeauclard.
    • Finding ways to adjust the work-life balance is crucial to employees' well-being, said Huggy. That's why Huggy only allows employees to work two extended days each week. If for some reason that number stretches to three, he lets employees work a half day on Friday.
  2. Recognize the sacrifices families make too
    • Special treatment isn't just saved for employees at Huggy's company. At the end of one grueling project, the company treated the employees, and their spouses, partners, and kids to a resort weekend. Rooms, food, and drink were all on the house, and to avoid any work from being discussed, the employees' managers were not invited.
  3. Make sure team cohesion is strong going into projects
    • Another approach to averting the damage overtime can cause is to ensure that teams are solid and work well together. Media Genesis calls in a consultant for team-building exercises to boost cooperation and collaboration, based on personality and team dynamics.
    • "Burning out is much harder when you feel comfortable trusting that you can rely on your coworkers," explained Dubeauclard. As a result of team-building exercises, coworkers step in to help others who might otherwise fall down on the job.
  4. Be prepared to grant time off
    • Obviously, sometimes the best and only solution for an overworked staff is less work, said Dubeauclard.
    • "Sometimes, we actually suggest that employees take it easy for a few weeks, spend time with the kids, paint, etc.," he said.

A little time away often reminds people of why technology can be so rewarding and interesting. "At the end of the day, the work has to be an expression of that person, not a duty [one does] to be able to live," said Dubeauclard.

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david southgate
writing for living.