NextShift – Changing Overtime Paradigms

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Renowned and trusted employment experts Bachman Turner Overdrive summarized what employment means for many in our industry – “takin’ care of business—every day—and working overtime.”  The Government of Alberta has just released changes in the employment legislation related to overtime hours and pay stating that non-eligible employees include “…professionals, including…architects”.  Given the current economic climate, and the veiled threat of being let go we must ask ourselves – does the practice of not paying for overtime (be it in time or cash) make good business sense?  Let’s examine a few areas.

When a salaried position is agreed upon, there is a social contract that the employee’s work is an “exchange” for capital, that which is needed to pay bills, buy stuff, have some fun (if you have the time) etc. The employer, in turn, expects that they will receive value for the money paid. One problem is that an employer can formulate a value proposition that is diametrically different than the employee’s (or what was agreed upon for the number of salaried hours). Some big players in our industry expect that a salary is fixed but that work to be done for them to receive value is variable.

First, it is a proven fact any hour spent in overtime comes at about a 50% productivity of that of an hour that which belongs to the regular workweek.  As the number of overtime hours increase, the value diminishes exponentially – in other words, work is not done well when the employee is burnt out.  Second, as the employer attempts to use overtime to increase the value they are receiving from the employee (often demanding more work to be done); they are essentially driving down the cost of the labor by simply getting more hours out of each salary. Third (and probably the worst) is the toll on young architects and professionals when expected to give up huge portions of the daily life to feed the machine, thus setting our industry up to disenfranchise huge swaths of our potential future resources and talent, no doubt, an immeasurable and gradual depreciation of the quality of the work in the industry.  Finally, overtime is a function of bad fiscal and temporal planning at the most senior levels of managers and companies – these companies can do a better job at balancing this and at the same time set an example for their greatest asset – their staff.

Another factor that has contributed to working additional hours without compensation is the result of technology; companies are struggling with how to adequately address technology now that there is the potential for 24/7 accessibility. We want both ourselves here at Next and the industry to be better, so let’s look inward and work together to fix this value proposition.  The survival of our industry is at stake when we continually erode our primary asset. It comes as no surprise that in chatting with some in our industry that almost 60% feel that they have a poor work/life balance – with just 13% (not surprisingly) claiming they work overtime for the love of their job. This is not a very good metric nor good for us as an industry that is already challenged in so many areas.

Until next time,

Allan Partridge