Avoiding Overtime Without Saying “No”

Robin Schwartz

Most people get excited when they are asked to work overtime. They know that they will be able to get a higher paycheck and earn more money. With the extra money, they are able to splurge a bit on themselves, pay more towards their bills, go shopping or out to dinner. For others, working additional hours at the office may be difficult due to other commitments (family, school, hobbies, etc.). When you’re asked (or demanded) to work overtime, employees who don’t want to work overtime can offer some alternatives instead of just saying “No” to their boss. Outright refusing your boss (or manager) is unlikely to get you a promotion in the company.

Being prepared and offering alternatives to working overtime is your best chance to get out of working overtime while keeping your boss happy and getting the work done.

Handling Requests to work Overtime when you are Eligible for Overtime Pay

Scenario 1

Your supervisor comes up to your desk at 4pm on a Friday afternoon and tells you that the document you drafted for him on Wednesday needs additional editing.

Response(s):In the above scenario, refusing to complete the work will not likely strengthen your professional relationship with your supervisor. While saying “no” might seem to be off the table, explore the request more with your boss immediately.

Ask him specifically what needs to be completed and the expected time it will take to complete. Never neglect to ask about deadlines or “turn-around time”.

Understanding what the task is and the likely time commitment is the first step in offering alternatives. During this conversation, you discover that your boss needs to send the document out by 1pm the following Monday.

Propose arriving early to work on Monday and make sure that the edits will be made within enough time to meet the deadline.

Scenario 2

For the past six weeks, there’s been a large project which has required you to work 9 or 10 hours Monday through Thursday as opposed to 8 hours a day. The project team doesn’t meet on Fridays. You’ve been receiving overtime pay but the additional hours are becoming draining. The project is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, which means no end in sight.

Response: While some might welcome the opportunity to be paid overtime every week for a prolonged period of time, it’s not ideal for all employees. In this scenario, engaging in a conversation with your supervisor is necessary.

Talk frankly about the concern you have for the additional weekly hours since there’s no guarantee when they’ll end.

Since overtime hours are based on weekly hours and not daily hours, consider if you’d be willing to work (and propose) an altered schedule based on the project team needs Monday through Thursday. If you work 9 hours daily for four days a week, recommend a 4 hour work day on Friday. While you may still be working some longer days, a shortened work day on Friday to prevent overtime might allow you to feel more energized over the weekend.

A polite reference to the amount of overtime pay the company is responsible for during the duration of the project might incentivize your supervisor to consider your alternate request.

Handling Requests to work Overtime when you are Not Eligible for Overtime Pay

At times, your workload may be higher than normal but your boss may continue to expect you to take on additional work or projects as needed. When you’re an exempt level employee, getting paid for extra hours worked isn’t an option.

NOTE: Exempt means you are not eligible for overtime pay based on the rules of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Scenario 3

Your workload is increasingly demanding and you find yourself working evenings and weekends to stay caught up.

Response: As an exempt employee, your employer can require you work a schedule which results in completion of assigned work. Often, this can lead to employers taking exempt employees for granted since overtime pay isn’t required. So how can you stop working extra hours as an exempt employee?

No surprise here – a direct conversation with your supervisor is a must. Take the time to develop a list of tasks and duties you’re often completing outside your scheduled office hours. It’s not as helpful to sit down with your boss and say “I’m overworked”. Have evidence to show how much you’re working and in what capacity.

Scenario 4

Your role is in marketing and you’ve been asked to lead nightly focus groups from 6-9pm for the next two weeks while a client prepares to roll out a new product.

Response: 15 additional hours of work is a lot when you’re an exempt employee not receiving additional payment. In this scenario, your only recourse to avoid putting in the extra hours may be to accept the task but discuss a more flexible work schedule on a temporary basis.

Approach your boss and explain that you’d be happy to take on the extra work if you able to maintain a healthy work-life balance during that time period. Request coming in later in the day to negate the extra hours worked.

If you can’t use your evenings to relax or spend time with family/friends, perhaps you can consider using your mornings for a few weeks. This will indicate to your boss two things:

  • You’re willing to go above and beyond for your employer when asked and are flexible.
  • You value the balance in your work and life and expect to maintain it.

If it’s time you value over money, practice developing and offering alternative solutions to your boss so you can maintain the work/life balance you desire.

About The Author

Robin Schwartz

Robin Schwartz has nearly a decade of experience providing HR expertise to employees and management in higher education. Her broad experience includes benefits, compensation, performance management, employee relations, payroll, talent acquisition and management. She received her masters degree from American Military University and maintains a PHR certification.

Leave A Comment