Are You Addicted to the Overtime Habit?

By Vicki Voisin, ACP 

November 25, 2009 was Go Home On Time Day in Australia. 
What a great idea!

This was a collective action by hundreds of thousands of Aussie white collar workers who clock billions of hours in unpaid overtime each year.

An estimated one-half of all would-be protesters …lawyers, teachers, engineers, bankers, scientists and more… failed miserably. They did not go home on time on Go Home on Time Day .

The Sidney Morning Herald reported that 68% of those interviewed said they could not leave on time because they had ‘too much to do/.

Go Home On Time Day made me think about paralegals in the US who, pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), are entitled overtime wages. Even with the FLSA in effect, though, I’d be willing to bet that many paralegals work overtime without appropriate compensation.

I’m talking about the skipped lunch hour here and there, leaving a half hour late a couple of days a week, putting in an hour or so on a Saturday to ‘catch up’, or taking some work home to ‘get ahead’.

While this may be billable time and count toward your billable hour goals, you aren’t paid for it. In other words, these added hours do not result in any added dollars in your paycheck. Instead, they rob you of precious hours of your life.

In essence, since this is self-imposed, not required, and done for no additional pay, you’re giving away your life…your most valuable asset. These small bits of time add up to a huge chunk of your life. For what purpose?

A few years ago, my then-boss held weekly meetings on Friday at 8:00 a.m. I was required to attend these meetings and they were outside my normal work day. The plus was that we got breakfast (I’m all about food that someone else pays for!) but the minus was that this was totally unpaid time.

I once calculated that if we met for one hour every week for 48 weeks, 48 hours of my life was being ‘donated’ to the firm. I usually worked 35 hours a week, so I was literally giving away over one week of my time with no compensation. If you think of that in terms of one week of vacation, it is really galling. That someone would think I’d gladly do this is totally unbelievable.

But, again, we often do this to ourselves because working unpaid overtime becomes a habit. This habit can be damaging to our personal lives…we have less time to take care of personal responsibilities, we may not eat properly, there is no time to exercise or visit with our our friends. When we do have a day off, we’re frequently too tired for fun. Life can’t be enjoyed when there’s no time to live it!

It’s not always The Boss who instills this bad habit, but your own martyrdom. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • if you don’t work late, the work won’t get done
  • it’s quieter when everyone else goes home and you get more done (Note to self: those co-workers are at home enjoying their free time!)
  • you want to be helpful
  • you want to be a team player
  • you get so accustomed to a 10 hour day that you actually feel guilty when you leave on time…and you feel too guilty to take some comp time to make up for it
  • you feel like ‘leaving on time’ is cheating your employer (not yourself!)

What would you do with an extra hour a day? You could rediscover life’s less pressing pleasures:

  • have lunch with friends
  • play with your children
  • read a good book
  • take a walk
  • make a relaxing meal
  • watch a magnificent sunset

Due to the nature of our work there will be occasions when working additional hours is absolutely necessary: a pressing project, a trial, a client who can’t get to the office during regular hours. Hopefully, on those occasions you’ll have arranged for this to be counted as overtime so The Boss will follow the rules and pay you your well-deserved (as well as legally mandated) overtime wages.

Your challenge: With the New Year approaching, it’s time to re-examine your values. Ask yourself why you’re giving away your time. Why do you place so little value on your time?

Remember that you can always make more money but you can’t make more time. You have only ‘one life to live’ and you probably don’t want ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office’ engraved on your tombstone.

Make a New Year’s resolution to celebrate Go Home On Time Day EVERY DAY!

©2009 Vicki Voisin, Inc.

Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or Web site? You can, so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, “The Paralegal Mentor”, delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by achieving goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She publishes a weekly ezine titled Paralegal Strategies. More information is available at