The Politics of Overtime

It never ceases to amaze me how an industry so built on overtime still can’t understand the politics of overtime.  They are very simple.  I’ll outline them.

  1. The best overtime is the overtime which is volunteered.
  2. Forced overtime burns goodwill at an extremely high rate.
  3. The instant forced overtime goes in to effect, everyone will immediately give only the bare minimum to the project.

And now for an explanation.

  1. An employee who volunteers overtime is an employee that believes in the project, or has personal investment.  These people want the project to succeed, and are willing to give of themselves to make it happen.  When employees volunteer overtime, it doesn’t burn any goodwill, and it actually builds goodwill, from the top down.  Which is great, because then everyone wins.  People are more productive, get more done, feel better about the project, and in general, are happier.
  2. As soon as you tell someone they don’t get an evening or weekend (or any multiple thereof) they’re going to get angry. They are going to bitch and complain, and the employees doing the real work are going to amplify this anger amongst themselves.  Offering direct and immediate compensation can mitigate this somewhat, but only in small quantities.  And this can be really dangerous to management, because if they compensate once, but they don’t on a following bit of forced overtime, they will actually burn even more goodwill the second time around than if they’d not even offered compensation in the first case.  Because now they expect something for nothing, when previously they brought something to the table.
  3. Someone who doesn’t want to work overtime won’t.  Sure, they may be in the office, but most will actively limit their productivity past a certain point as a coping mechanism.  If you tell someone on Wednesday that they have to work Saturday and Sunday, you can pretty much guarantee they won’t be working any extra hours before Saturday.  Whereas before with a simple push for completion, people might have given some extra time each weeknight, which ties back in to point 1.

Of course, none of these points ties in to basic limits of productive work time, or the reasons behind the need for crunch.  That’s a different topic for another time.

On a more personal note, I’ve realized that after my near seven years in the game industry, that all goodwill I have for a project pretty much evaporates as soon as there is forced overtime.  I just… I can’t do it.  It’s not in me to allow parts of my life to be taken for a simple job.

I’ve been down that road many times, and I know where it leads.

2 thoughts on “The Politics of Overtime

  1. redwench

    I never thought to see you complaining about mandatory overtime. I am shocked, but welcome to humanity.

  2. Charles Post author

    It’s not complaining, per se. It’s explaining how some overtime works, and some doesn’t. I’ve always enjoyed working late nights of my own volition. But it has been a Very Long Time since I enjoyed working overtime simply because I was told to.

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