How To Encourage People To Work Overtime

I believe that every project manager, sooner or later, faces the need to request project team members work overtime. This part of my job really embarrasses me. I hate to be trapped in such a situation when I have to take people’s personal time, the precious moments of their lives which they could otherwise spend with their families or friends, or just for themselves. Another thing that eats at me is a thought that, if the necessity for overtime work has come up, it’s often due to bad planning or bad risk management, which is a project manager’s (i.e., mine) responsibility. So, the moral is the following: it is better not to bring the project to the necessity of overtime work than to figure out how to ask people to work extra hours.

Unfortunately, projects are being undertaken not in a perfect world, and even with the best possible planning and risk management, you can’t always protect your team from overtime work. When you realize that the project is in jeopardy and you need to put additional efforts into making the release, extra work is often one of the best options to cover the slippage. 

Interview people in advance about their capability to work overtime 

Keeping the possibility of overtime in mind, I recommend interviewing your teammates about their capability to do overtime work in case of need. I usually do this at the very beginning of the project or as new people join the team. Here is a piece of advice on how this interview can go. 

First of all, this should be done during one-on-one meetings with each of your team members, so that nobody influences other people or is influenced by them, and then some agreements can be made between you and each person. 

When I ask people about their possibility to do overtime work, I always explain to them that we don’t expect overtime at that very moment (unless we do), and I just need to know what support I can count on in case of an emergency. If a person can do some overtime work, I clarify how much time exactly he or she can spend on it in percentage to the regular schedule or in absolute value (hours per week). Also, I usually put up some follow-up questions like what days of the week or what time of the day the person is likely to work overtime if there are any other constraints related to this and others. 

After every meeting, I write down some notes to estimate roughly how much overtime capacity I can count on.

Explain the situation on the project and the potential consequences to the team

If it has happened that your project is going off the rails and overtime work is the only option to save it, you need to come to your people with the request for overtime work. In most cases, they aren’t happy about it, but you should be transparent about the root cause of the crisis and, what is more important, about the potential consequences. The team may not be the ones at fault in the project problems. However, if the project is not completed on time, its implications can affect the entire team. Understanding this makes people more cooperative.

At the same time, you shouldn’t put pressure on the people. You had better appeal to them, trying to convince them that overtime work is for the common good, and nobody can be forced to do this.

I know that there are situations and projects where managers are forced to put different pressures and manipulations on their people to get things done. But I really don’t want to find myself in such a situation and don’t tolerate it. 

Compensate people for the overtime work

If you ask people to work extra hours, you have to make sure that this work is compensated. It is fair because you take people’s spare time. The most common and obvious way to compensate for overtime work is extra money paid for your employees. Depending on your laws and your company policies, it may be X2, X1.5, or just a 1-1 rate. In any case, if you can compensate your people’s overtime work with money, it’s the best-case scenario. 

But what to do if you can’t pay them for overtime? It may be the case if your company or your client doesn’t have an extra budget; however, the project still should be completed. The most obvious way of compensation, in this case, seems to be extra time off. If your people are doing some one-time urgent work out of working hours, you may allow them to come to the job later or leave earlier the next day. However, if you need regular overtime work, this approach doesn’t work. In the latter case, you may start tracking the number of overtime hours spent, and when the rush on the project is over, you allow employees to take extra days off, corresponding to the total extra time.

If for any reason, the tips mentioned above do not work in your case, you’re in a tough situation, and the only suggestion I can make is to embrace your creativity. Maybe, you could organize some party or a free of charge training for your employees who have done overtime work, or perhaps you can assist their promotion, etc.

Stay with the team during overtime hours

When an emergency occurs, and your team is forced to work overtime, this is a good manner to stay with the team and provide them with any support and help. Even, if at first glance, you can’t do any work that directly leads to the necessary outcome, try to find out what areas you can be helpful in or just ask the team. 

However, when people see a manager, who first enforces them to work overtime and then leaves the team at their own devices, they’re demotivated. So, you have to lead people by example and show your dedication to the successful outcome of the whole endeavor.

Thank people for overtime work

When the job has been done, don’t forget to thank your people for their effort and dedication. It may start with a simple speech or thank-you email telling people how you appreciate their contribution and summarizing what you as a team was able to achieve due to this. However, don’t hesitate to celebrate your achievements: organize a pizza party, go to the cinema together or host a remote party on Zoom if your team is not in one location.

From my perspective, asking people to work overtime is always a challenge, and I don’t want you to get into such a situation. But if it happens, maybe this article will help you to handle this. If you can share your experience with motivating people to work overtime, please, share in the comments.

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