Overtime – Unprepared or Undermined?

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Would you like some overtime?

It’s a question that offers relief or recoil. So many times in my life I’ve been asked if I’d like some overtime just as my shift was about to end. My response would always be the same and that response was a scrunched up face as I contemplated what to do, on the spot.

Sometimes I’d say yes and be the hero of the day – for the extra time I was there. Other times I’d be the disappointing child of the family, getting the cold shoulder from my colleagues as I walk out. I’ve seen this happen to many fellow staff members in previous jobs as well. I’ve witnessed first-hand the brutality of comments made about those individuals that “just wouldn’t stay another few hours”.

The argument made was often “well, you should have given me a longer shift in the first place” or “you made the rota, it’s your problem” but on the other hand, managers and owners usually can’t predict staff shortages – be it from sickness or sudden, unexpected rush periods.

It creates a very odd duality of wanting and getting.

There’s never been a perfect solution. Staff often don’t want to be put on the spot like that and be expected to drop their plans and continue working and managers don’t have the time or resources to compensate. The results can become very toxic very quickly.

I once had a young man inform me that he had a train to catch, the last train as he put it, as the team and I were tidying up after closing. He had left it until the very last moment he could to tell me about his predicament. It hadn’t been the best of days and losing a member of staff at that point would put the rest of the team and I up against the wall even more.

That moment sticks with me. I had the choice to make of letting the young man go home, meaning everyone else would get home later than usual, or making him stay and miss his only train home. I didn’t have time to start looking up train running times, and nobody was going to come in at 9 o’clock at night to help finish up.

I often think back to that scenario and wonder if I should have handled things in a different manner. Regardless, I made a choice and lived with it.

I have always found it hard to find that balance in the workplace between the “yes man” – the reliable, hardworking, always willing to do more individual and the “maybe man” – essentially the “no man” in many circumstances as it marks one as unreliable or flaky.

You work hard – you get more hours and overtime. You start finding your work-life balance out of sync and begin declining overtime in favour of some personal time to readjust, and suddenly you’re the one letting people down.  It’s an awful system that really drives home the glaring issues of the zero-hour contract format that so many employers use.

Too many conclusions are made based on arbitrary decisions that happen in the moment. Judgments are made and later discarded based solely on the actions happening in the now. I wonder what work could be like if all of these unnecessary intricacies could be compensated for.

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