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?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Sustainable PF October 23, 2011 at 11:08 pm

I think the undertone here all leads to the “where are you at in your life” question. Overtime today is our side business, but it doesn’t do a lot on a compensation per hour basis compared to our day jobs. Thing is, we can put in extra time @ work but in an unionized environment over time is rarely approved officially. Mid 30s, new baby – I get my job done, well, but I don’t take it home or put in more (unnecessary) hours at the office.


PKamp3 October 24, 2011 at 9:35 am

Sounds like you proved the Backwards bending supply curve of labor, haha ( )! I currently have no children, but I can see my leisure time becoming much more important when I do. I currently don’t work much more than 40 hours a week (not counting the web site), but I can see capping it at a certain point as my career advances.


Kevin @ October 24, 2011 at 9:58 am

Working a bunch of overtime is definitely a personal choice, and there’s no “right” answer.

I know personally, I make enough money with my 8-5 that I’d never want to work overtime. Just not worth it to me. If I want to work more, it’s going to be working for myself on a side business


MoneyCone October 24, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Here’s a bitter story. When I was much younger, used to work my butt off for a startup. The boom ended and the startup went belly-up!

Looking back, I wasted a good amount of my time on a wasted cause!


101 Centavos October 24, 2011 at 10:53 pm

My first job out of college, the regular schedule was 12 hr days, 7-day weeks, for months on end.
You’re right, of course, it’s OK when you’re single, not so hot when kids enter the picture. I cut back a little when our first son was born, but it was still a matter a six-and-a-half day workweeks. That lasted a couple of years only. After I moved went to a different job with a regular 40-hr (OK, more like 50), it felt a little like being on a semi-vacation.


Martin October 25, 2011 at 8:31 pm


Ah yes, I know exactly what you mean! Its nothing to work 10-12 hours in a row, weeks on end; but after working “Eight and Skate!” for a little while, you don’t want to touch O/T sometimes. You are, after all as you say and I agree, on a semi-vacation.

I always try to work a couple extra shifts before any vacation or before the holiday weekend. Its just makes your time off that much more pleasant.


Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog October 25, 2011 at 11:25 am

I did a lot when I first got out of school, but that was mainly because I wanted to get my finances on the right foot and start saving. I dont have kids, but my fiancee didnt really enjoy it much, but she did deal with it.


eemusings October 31, 2011 at 7:26 pm

A large reason why I changed jobs this year was for regular working hours. The shifts and weekends were doing me in and I wanted my life back.


Invest It Wisely October 31, 2011 at 9:00 pm

You can do overtime where I work, but you won’t make an extra dime for doing it… heck you won’t get matching time off, either. 🙂

My girlfriend’s dad on the other hand worked at an aviation plant where they always needed extra help on the weekends, and he was able to double his salary by working 6 or 7 days a week instead of 5. Exhausting, and you make a good point about the experiences, but it also helped pay for their home, school, etc… so it’s hard to say.


Sam@ How To Invest In Gold November 2, 2011 at 7:36 pm

I like working a lot because I am young and want the extra money. However, there must come a point where one sits down and says ‘hang on, is all this cash really worth wasting my life for?’

Moral of the story- I agree with your sentiments exactly.


J.B @ My University Money November 5, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Whenever I work overtime I cringe when I see how much I get taxed for it, but I have to get out of debt somehow.


L Marie Joseph November 28, 2011 at 12:28 am

Overtime is beautiful you have an opportunity to write your own check. It’s harmless as long as it’s temporary


tonyamos May 5, 2012 at 7:30 am

my view on ot is NO all the time. like others i did all the doubles and did the every day thing. after all that i didn’t get anywhere. still lived in the same place, same car, same everything. it is good for your 401K


spencer April 17, 2013 at 10:56 am

I am in my mid 20’s no kids but married, I work a lot of overtime for the fact my wife is full time at school, so I have to work overtime to fill the void of her not having a full time job yet, time 1/2 for over time and if you work both your off days back to back its double time, so the pay is nice and or they will giver you however many hours off on any day you chose for the hours you worked. the sleep and getting taxed sucks but I like my job so its not so bad.


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