Why you shouldn't work off the clock

Why Americans Work Around The Clock

If you're like a lot of American workers, you're no stranger to staying late at the office or responding to work emails well into the night. In fact, 81 percent of U.S. salaried employees report that they work outside of their standard work hours, with 29 percent doing it three or more days per week, according to a new survey from Harris Poll.

[See: The 6 Best Jobs for Work-Life Balance.]

That might get very relevant later this year when new overtime rules go into effect. Starting on December 1, employers will need to pay overtime to employees who earn less than $47,476 per year; specifically, the law will require that those employees be paid wages of time and a half for all hours over 40 worked in a week.

That's going to be quite a change, because it will mean that millions of people will need to begin tracking their hours and will probably be restricted from working any overtime at all. And yet working outside of normal work hours is so ingrained in American workers that a majority of full-time salaried workers in that Harris Poll survey said they would continue to do so even if it were against company policy.

Working off the clock might seem like it should be an employee's choice; after all, if you're willing to put in unpaid time to catch up on work, make sure a project goes smoothly or ensure you don't come in to find 100 emails waiting for you in the morning, why shouldn't you be allowed to? But there are some really good reasons why you shouldn't work off the clock.

[See: Relaxation Exercises for When You're About to Lose It at Work.]

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It's illegal. First and foremost, if you're among the majority of people who the law says must be paid overtime, your company would be breaking the law by allowing you to work off the clock. It doesn't matter if you're doing that work voluntarily; you can't waive your right to overtime. And if you just work the overtime anyway and don't log it, that could get your employer into a lot of trouble later. You would have the legal right to claim back pay and penalties from your employer later on, even if you were "volunteering" the time originally. So letting people work off the clock, even if they want to, is a serious risk for employers.

It gives your employer bad information about what it takes to get your job done. Your manager needs to know what can reasonably be accomplished in your position in 40 hours, in order to make accurate decisions about budgeting, staffing levels and work priorities. If you're secretly working off the clock and your manager plans your team's workload around that level of productivity, what's going to happen if you suddenly decide you don't want to or can't put in those extra hours anymore? Furthermore, by working off the clock, you're potentially making it harder for your manager to increase the staffing on your team, because if all the work is getting done, the company has less incentive to spend money on a new hire.

It's bad for your co-workers. If the rest of your co-workers are following the law and company policy and not working unauthorized overtime while you're secretly making an exception for yourself, you're going to throw off the expectations for everyone. Your manager is likely to wonder why your co-workers aren't producing at the same levels that you are, and that can ramp up the pressure and stress on them. Plus, it's going to be really bad for the person who replaces you when you move on at some point. That person will be burdened with an unrealistic workload because you set unrealistic expectations about how much could be done with the time available.

[See: 8 Ways Millennials Can Build Leadership Skills.]

You deserve to be paid. Worker protections have been hard won. People fought – and in some cases even died – for your right to be paid fairly for the time you work. And you have agreed to provide a particular amount of work in exchange for money, not to sign over all your free time to your employer.

If you can't realistically finish all your work in 40 hours, the solution isn't to work off the clock and not tell your boss. Instead, in most cases you should talk with your manager about what you can and can't get done and how you should be prioritizing things. And yes, in reality, there are indeed some managers who will tell you to just find a way to get it all done, but good, reasonable managers will want you to raise the issue.

Copyright 2016 U.S. News & World Report

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