Is Working Overtime Worth It? The Study, 100 Hours/Week and Work-Life Balance

by Darwin on October 23, 2011


I came across an interesting article linking to a prior study evaluating whether working overtime was worth the downsides.  Here was an excerpt cited:

“Overtime work hours generally are associated with increased work stress, fatigue and work-family interference. When overtime work is required, this appears to offset the otherwise greater happiness and mental healthiness produced by its additional income.”

Is Overtime Worth It?  It WAS, but NOW IT’S NOT

Personally, I had some really mixed feelings on overtime in my early career.  Right out of college, I landed a job as a shift supervisor in a biotech plant.  Long story short, the product we were manufacturing was in demand so much so, that we ran around the clock without ever stopping, outside of Christmas week.  By running 7 days a week, 3 shifts, we needed a lot of overtime with both the technicians and the supervisors.  Further contributing to the overtime needs were the fact that supervisor turnover was really high.  A lot of people quickly realized they couldn’t handle the stress, the hours or the job just wasn’t for them and they quit.  So, for a couple years, I was working anywhere from 60-100 hours per week.  We had tried out various shifts like straight Mon-Fri with OT on the side vs. Sat-Wed & Wed-Sun shifts vs. 4 days on 3 days off 12 hour shifts and more.  No option really seemed much better than the last, it was pretty much just working all the time.  When we did 4 days on 3 days off, we just ended up working on our off days so it that illustrious “long weekend” never happened.

Depending on what was going on in my life, at some times, I was pretty psyched about all the extra money and would even volunteer for certain shifts, especially at Holiday pay if it was a holiday I wasn’t really celebrating with friends and family, like MLK day or say, the Friday after Thanksgiving.  Conversely, come summer time and as I was getting close to our wedding date, the lack of time and constant work would start to get to me and the money didn’t really matter as much as just having some time to breath and live my life.

There were some years I probably cleared an extra $40-50K or more above my salary and bonus which was awesome for a young twenty-something.  At the same time, I missed out on a lot of things like doing that shore house each summer with all my college buddies or my wife (then fiance) had to go to a lot of events and functions alone, because I was always working.

I think what kept me going was the knowledge that there was light at the end of the tunnel.  This wasn’t going to be the rest of my career – it was just a temporary thing.  With all that extra money, I bought a house, we travelled to some great places like Hawaii and Europe and saved enough so when my wife had our first child she didn’t have to go back to work.  Financially, it was worth it.  Lost-experience wise, it’s tough to say.

Key Considerations Most People Don’t Contemplate


  • What’s Your Relative Income WITHOUT Overtime?  Like many things in life, there are “relative” issues that must be considered rather than considering something as black or white.  I think if I had the opportunity to work over time now, while I’m at a higher level, making more money, etc., I’d pass.  I already work plenty during the week, we’re real busy with the kids and our personal lives, and now I have multiple income streams on the side (blog income, a new outsourcing business that isn’t yielding income yet but will, and a real estate deal).  Therefore, overtime for me just isn’t as attractive as it used to be.


  • Do You Have Kids?  I mentioned kids previously, but this is a huge factor.  As a young twenty-something with no kids and a fiance in another state who I only saw on days off, I didn’t really get why other colleagues would balk at overtime shifts.  Some of them were miserable and even turned down double-time holiday shifts.  I used to jump all over that.  Well, they had kids.  It wasn’t until I had kids of my own until I realized there’s a heck of a lot more to life than making extra money.  Nowadays, I spend as much time as I can with them during waking hours and only work on my side stuff from about 9PM to midnight or on a weekend when I have the little one and she’s napping or something.  I was just completely disconnected from the world and gone for a full weekend with my boys for an Adventure Guides trip in the mountains.  We do a few trips like this a year.  Imagine if I had to work overtime?  I can’t imagine missing that.  I know I won’t look back in 10 years and say, “I wish I spent more time in the plant”.


  • What’s Your Work Schedule?  Another factor is whether you’re working days, nights, weekends or everything in between.  When you’re a day-shift worker, signing up for a double once in a while to work until midnight isn’t such a big deal, especially if it’s not on back-to-back days in a row where you can never get more than like 6 hours of sleep with a commute, shower and eating in your off-hours.  But when your normal shift is midnight-8AM and you’re used to sleeping from 9A-3P but someone throws a double shift at you to stay until 4PM that next day, it sure can throw you for a loop!  Or, if you’re already on one of those weekend split shifts running Sat-Wed, with Thursdays and Fridays off, perhaps working a Thursday for overtime is no big deal because it’s already a workday for most other people anyway, and your weekend was already shot.  Depending on what kind of shift you’re on might really dictate whether you can even muster the strength to make it through another shift without sleep.


Have You Ever Worked a Job With High Overtime Requirements?

Was It Worth It?

Would You Do It Again?

Previous post:

Next post: