One company I have been visiting since last year has recently implemented “no-overtime days.”


As society changes, they are undoubtedly trying to improve the work-life balance enjoyed by employees, but I am sure that they are also trying to reduce overtime costs. No-overtime days makes sense to me — after all, who wants to spend all day at the office? In spite of this, when I asked some of the employees what they thought of no-overtime days, they didn’t look that enthusiastic about the idea. “What? You want to spend more time at the office?” I’ve spent a long time in Japan, and frankly, this surprised me.


I worked as an IT firm many years ago, and the staff there considered overtime to be normal. Deadlines were set assuming that overtime would be used, with salaries also taking this into account — indeed employees actually counted upon overtime pay to cover living expenses. This “scheduled overtime” proved beneficial, as it meant shorter development times, faster delivery, and higher product quality. I heard this justification from a number of people.


The thing is, in many Western countries, people have a very different idea of what overtime means. Around 20 years ago, while at university, I had a part-time job working in the inspection and quality office of an anhydrous milk fat factory in New Zealand. Deadlines were always tight, and despite the factory running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, shift work meant that the workers there never had to do overtime. Requests for overtime had to get the permission of superiors, and there was the general feeling if you required overtime every day, then there was a problem with your work performance.


People do not generally consider long hours of overtime to be normal, however Western countries are seeing a slow increase in the amount of overtime worked, with the work environments in some areas starting to resemble Japan — some are seeing the benefits of overtime, in that it lets companies provide higher quality products with shorter delivery times. However, if long periods of overtime continue, creativity and concentration will suffer, and this can be counterproductive in terms of delivery dates and quality.


Both of these concepts are at odds with each other, but at the end of the day, no matter the country or the type of organization, companies are trying to increase customer satisfaction. The issue is how to efficiently make this a reality, and I have no way of determining which method is preferable.


To be honest, as a New Zealander, I must say that I don’t want overtime to eat into my own free time or time with my family — I would rather work flat-out to produce quality work during my normal office hours.