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Whirling Chief

Don’t Go Overboard with the Overtime!

My husband comes home the other week and asks, “Mrs. Psychologist, when faced with the challenge of a project deadline – which you know is going to kill your team! – how do you prioritize? Do you take sides with the workload or the people?”

When it comes to prioritization, I hate to say it but there is no magic bullet. We all look for ways to be efficient when it comes to organizing and managing our life activities; everyone has their own distinct recipe, depending on where they find meaning, excitement, inspiration, and relief.

Having said that, for the second part of the question (regarding results vs. people) I told my husband one should always side with people. He said he thought so, too, thank God! ☺

Kidding aside, the question is a valid one.

In the short term, for a manageable period, and with transparency and communication, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to ask people to skew their habits and work extra hours to meet a certain deadline. What you will find is that the majority of people are understanding. In fact, there was a study, ‘Working Overtime Hours,’ conducted back in 2004 with Dutch workers as subjects, which explored a possible correlation between overtime and motivation. It was concluded that moderate overtime has no negative impact on motivational factors and, conversely, has a motivating factor for high performers.

In the long run, however, people will react differently to overtime. Exhaustion will eventually win out over our internal drive, and for those high flyers who tend to push themselves and their teams hard, it can lead to unintended burn out.

Remember, leadership demands that we look out for others’ interests, despite the personal tendencies we may have. At the end of the day, project work can always be delegated, but your people? Well, you can’t easily replace them, and it is they who are going to get you sustainable results.


  • 1 May 2017

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