Is overtime overrated?

| 24 August 2015

Research shows working excessively long hours might be backfiring and putting a strain on business. Here are the top five reasons consider creating a work environment where leaving at 5pm is encouraged, not frowned upon.


Employees burning the candle at both ends – and investing in mats to sleep on at the office – probably means your business is flourishing right? Maybe not. Cumulative research, including studies by the American Journal of Epidemiology and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, suggests consistently long hours can actually be counterproductive.

That’s not to say the occasional extended working day is completely off the table. Last minute assignments and tight deadlines often require the odd 60 hour work week – this is a reality of many work environments. But it’s consistent, unyielding overwork that might backfire on both employees and employers.

Here’s what the research shows:

Longer hours could mean mistakes

Studies show there’s an incremental increase in inaccuracies and miscalculations made by employees as work hours extend overtime. These errors could have far-reaching consequences. If it’s a major project requiring attention to detail, insist your employees see to it when they’re well rested, with dedicated time during the normal work day to focus on the task at hand.

Unhealthy employees are unproductive employees

According to Mariana Virtanen’s research at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, spending an excessive number of hours in the office drives unhealthy habits amongst team members. Negative consequences of these extreme working hours include back and neck pain from being sedentary for long periods of time, eye strain from computer use, sleep deprivation and, in extreme cases, cardiovascular complications.

Interpersonal skills take strain

If your business is client-facing or revolves largely around team-based projects, this point is important to consider. The study by the American Journal of Epidemiology shows that after 55 hours of work per week, there’s significant drop-off in employee’s cognitive function, including vocabulary and reasoning.

Sleep deprivation and stress take their toll on communication, perception and interpersonal skills, which can cause serious issues when dealing with clients and inferring information, or in simple intra-office interactions.

It’s a drain on your resources

Believe it or not, having employees in the office until all hours of the night doesn’t always deliver a desirable return – particularly if it’s simply perception management. Unproductive employees sitting at work for the sake of it consume precious – and costly – resources like air conditioning, lights and connectivity. And you’ll have to foot the bill.

It means something’s wrong

Employees who feel they can’t leave the office because of an overwhelming sense of guilt or duty, and employees who are utterly overworked are equally concerning. And, in most cases, this is indicative of a bigger problem within the business.

If your employees are inefficient and not completing their given tasks within working hours, that’s one problem. If there are delegation issues or you’re understaffed, it’s another. But either way, something’s out of sync.

Do you think overtime is overrated? Share your experiences and unique business insights.

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