It’s pretty miserable to work overtime. I know this because I’ve worked plenty of overtime in my life. In fact, I worked overtime during my summer jobs throughout school and in several of my early HR jobs.

While it was okay to earn time-and-a-half for my efforts beyond my typical 40-hour workweek, I would’ve appreciated a higher base salary and more coworkers.

For me, it’s a quality of life issue.

First of all, a higher base salary would have meant that my wages were in line with the rising costs of my housing, utilities, and student loan debt. I wouldn’t have been so desperate to work overtime if my employers paid me what I deserved instead of nickel-and-diming me to death.

Second, more coworkers would have meant that more people were employed and available to cover shifts. That’s good for the economy, although expensive for business owners when you’re in a recession. I would have welcomed more colleagues during peak HR events such as open enrollment or the time of year when we’re crunching numbers to calculate executive bonuses.

(Oh, the irony of working overtime and earning $22.50/hour to calculate, gain approval for, and distribute seven-figure bonus checks for dudes who never knew what it was like to earn an hourly wage!)

I understand that overtime is the lifeblood of working class Americans, including hourly HR professionals. But I don’t like overtime pay on principle. I believe that OT represents a failed state of broken incentive systems, poor planning, and weak talent pipelines.

And municipalities and industries that rely on overtime to address talent shortages are poorly served by short-sided leaders and HR professionals who aren’t thinking strategically.

So I’m not a fan of overtime pay, but there’s a caveat: if you’re going to allow some workers to get overtime and prevent others, you should at least make sure the system is fair and equitable.

While some HR nerds don’t like the overtime rules that were implemented by the Obama administration (and now blocked) because it’s an expensive solution to a complex problem, I’m yet to hear a better idea. Few alternative solutions provide a reasonable pathway forward. And someone needs to watch out for employees who are locked into a job where they work 60 hours each week as “managers” or “supervisors” and have no power or authority but are paid a salary.

I can see why some business owners find the new rules daunting. However, if you’re going to run a business and be tight with your workforce, you shouldn’t run a business. Run a robot factory where you never have to look an employee in the face, instead.

But if you employ people, pay them properly. Guard their schedules, and don’t make anybody work overtime unless it’s required.

And, for those of you who work in HR, stop being a sycophant with no dignity who wants to impress her boss at the expense of the workforce. Just because your CEO has tight pockets doesn’t mean that you can’t work on behalf of America to pay people what they’ve rightfully earned.

It’s HR professionals like you — the ones who spit out lines from Fox News and argue the wrong points about overtime pay — who give the rest of us in HR a bad name.


  1. The FLSA is an archaic remnant from FDR’s New Deal era. The economy then was post agricultural – early industrial. The economy now is transitioning from post industrial into early/mid service/knowledge. Times have changed, but archaic compensation systems remain the ‘revered’ Law of the Land (spoken in an ominous voice).

    I, for one, was pleased with President Obama’s initiative to update the OT rules and eliminate the abuse of the S/M exemption.

    Right now, local unemployment is below 2.5%. The only way to find needed skilled workers is to poach them from somewhere/anywhere else. To meet our customer needs, to retain our good customers, overtime is a necessary expense for competitive business survival.

    As a salaried employee, I regularly ‘log’ 50-55 hours/week, with no end in sight.
    What does a modernn compensation system look like?

  2. Laurie- Interesting and thought provoking viewpoint on overtime pay in general.

    I found the congressional hearings and pro/conc debate about the OT rule was real informative last year. I know, I don’t have a life.

    Lest we forget, one the purposes why overtime pay was created by FDR & Francis Perkins was partly political & social engineering, int that it was implemented during The Great Depression, employers reduced overtime liabilities by hiring more employees to reduce costs.

    Solution? This is should be taken up on a local or state level (e.g.Seattle mw $15 bucks). My home state has recently seen the salary level increase three times over the last four years, currently $40,560. Yes, the federal DOL should set a floor and it should be adjusted periodically for inflation, but to blast it higher than all fifty states is/was an unprecedented act.

    Great stuff Laurie.

  3. ‘Oh, the irony of working overtime and earning $22.50/hour to calculate, gain approval for, and distribute seven-figure bonus checks for dudes who never knew what it was like to earn an hourly wage!’
    That irony is not lost on any poor HR person who has been ‘trusted enough’ to view the salaries and bonuses of those fortunate few. I am eternally grateful that I do not ‘see’ what others earn in relation to me. I feel so much better about myself.
    Good post Laurie. x

  4. Oh, I certainly agree with you, Laurie. I used to have to work back-to-back 16-hour shifts at O’Hare on the ramp to survive when I was young, foolish, and had a wife and kids. I got very tired of it, literally and figuratively. I’m surprised our accident and injury rate was as low as it was considering how overtired we all were and how much dangerous equipment there was around us. Things like propellers and jet engines, mind you. But hey! The comapny made great profits…until a bigger one bought our airline and plucked it like a chicken…and dumped most of us on the street.

    America needs more jobs, better jobs, and better PAID jobs if the people are going to survive. Just remember what happened to the French (as just one example) when the top class pushed the people too far…There’s a lot of anger in this country, including the most dangerous kind: free-floating anger. That can attach to anything or anyone without warning, and woe to those who think they can guide or control it.

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