Help wanted. Now hiring. Signing bonus. Those are words that are all too common within any industry right now including manufacturing. These words are often signals of another word that is lingering in our vocabulary right now: overtime.
Overtime largely used to be a method of capitalizing on peaks of demand among your customers. Get through a glut of orders and turn the dial back to a 40-hour week for your employees. The problem with today’s labor market is that the continued constraints on available labor have forced many manufacturers into using overtime as a constant means of keeping up.
Is that a bad thing? That is a really good question and a question that causes varying opinions and struggles within leadership teams. Stick to a 40-hour work week and push out lead times in order to meet commitments, you risk losing those orders to a competitor who can provide when your customer needs it. Keep the overtime turned up and lead times competitive, and you can risk losing your employees to a competitor because they are burned out.
Unfortunately, I believe that many organizations are operating in the latter mindset — keep overtime cranked up to meet demand, and in turn, pressure is put on retention and recruitment to keep up.
How do we balance that need for overtime so we are not losing employees while we are trying to find those last few to fill out our staffing?
The culture surrounding overtime is typically a top down model. Leadership posts the decision for overtime and the employees perform it. But why does that model need to be top down all the time?
It was a question I reflected on recently myself. What if overtime was controlled from the bottom up in an organization? Nobody would work it other than that group of employees that every organization has that will take any and all overtime, right? But the key is not the decision for overtime but the control of whether or not it is needed being the component that operates from the bottom up.
Week in and week out of overtime wears on all of us, and in turn, the pace of an entire organization can slow because the viewpoint is that we are going to work overtime “no matter what.”
Overtime is a topic that you can get buy-in from within the employees responsible for performing it, yet how often do we do it? If our employees understand the need for the overtime, and in return can develop some common ground on how overtime is handled, the risk of losing people due to burnout drops dramatically.
When you start those discussions amongst your employees, they are not fun discussions. You’re going to hear about every weekend that was worked for the last 10 months or 10 years, but that needs to be part of the discussion. Allow those emotions to be heard before you can move on toward something new.
Maybe it is agreement to work overtime every other weekend as opposed to every weekend or a future schedule of overtime several months in advance so employees can plan accordingly.
Maybe it is desired to have longer hours during the week to allow the weekends to remain free? Maybe it is the agreement that if certain production metrics are hit, that overtime will not be required?
Suddenly, the employees have some skin in the game to perform during the normal week. Each team is different, and that is what we need to get to — what does my team need to make overtime more beneficial to both parties?
I’ve known teams where their only request was that the entire leadership team is also present during overtime.
Overtime is a touchy subject, which makes it a subject that requires more dialogue and communication within the organization. Little changes can be all it takes for the culture within your organization to shift toward collaboration on overtime. It can be done while retaining those employees that you do have and being the employer that your competition is losing employees to. Work-life balance needs to be part of an organization’s culture, and a component that is not just stated to get candidates in the door.
Joe Brittnacher is general manager of VT Industries-Eggers Division.