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askST Jobs: Feeling peer pressure to work overtime

The Straits Times’ manpower reporter offers practical answers to candid questions on navigating workplace challenges and getting ahead in your career. Get more tips by signing up to The Straits Times’ HeadSTart newsletter.

Q: A colleague keeps volunteering to work overtime and I feel pressured to do so as well even though I don’t want to. What should I do?

A: There is nothing inherently wrong with an employee volunteering to work overtime occasionally to meet urgent or seasonal deadlines, says Ms Jaya Dass, managing director of Randstad Singapore and Malaysia.

Still, it is important for employers to keep the practice in check, lest it lead to employee burnout and poor well-being, or make presenteeism – spending excessive time at work to signal dedication – a norm in the workplace, she adds.

If employees can meet the key performance indicators of their role, the relative lack of overtime versus other colleagues does not put them at a disadvantage for job appraisals as it could reflect skill at managing their workload and stakeholders, Ms Dass says.

“They are able to show great time management and may have found ways to increase their productivity so that they can get things done quicker without compromising on quality.”

Ms Faiza Noor, a certified Institute for Human Resource Professionals senior professional, says employees should be appraised on performance and behaviour relative to their role expectations.

However, she notes that equal distribution of overtime can often be a challenge in a manufacturing environment or hourly-compensated workforce.

“Motivation in this environment is regularly additional salary compensation which, without limits, can have significant detrimental effects, including overall lower output through fatigue or pacing the work to require overtime,” she says.

Some ambitious employees in a professional environment may undertake unpaid overtime, but this can be “viewed as an unfair advantage” that does not obligate other employees to volunteer for overtime, Ms Faiza adds.

“The organisation’s managers must… demonstrate consistent principles in managing workloads and staffing, enabling work to be completed within the standard work day, rather than wrongly encouraging or incentivising employees to volunteer for excess overtime.”

Both experts warn that normalising excessive overtime could backfire on the employer.

It may “directly misinform the management’s expectations on the duration and cost it takes to complete tasks”, notes Ms Dass.

For example, managers may believe that employees can meet deadlines for several projects without knowing that they are sacrificing their personal time to do so, leading to unrealistic demands and unreasonable workloads, she adds.

Ms Faiza says that normalising excessive overtime can create animosity or negative competition among colleagues.

However, it is not advisable to approach the colleague who caused the feeling of peer pressure, as they may not have intended to cause this, Ms Dass notes.

She adds that the colleague may be working that amount of overtime out of either personal choice or to deal with unexpected or seasonal workloads.

Instead, Ms Dass suggests that employees arrange for an open discussion to either help offload some of their work, or share best practices on how to improve productivity so that they can complete their tasks quicker without compromising on quality.

“However, if you have noticed that your overworked colleague has already tried everything he could to lighten his workload and is already showing signs of poor mental health, it could be time for you to step in to speak with his mentors or managers.”

Have a question? Send it to askst@sph.com.sg

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