As I walked past a construction project the other Sunday, I noticed that a number of people were working on the project site. It brought up memories of some of my projects where we sometimes worked long hours and pulled weekend shifts.
In fact, we found that on some projects up to 30% of the hours worked were above the normal hours. I know that some of my colleagues routinely had their projects working every Sunday. But, were these additional hours really necessary and worth it?
The Cost of Working Overtime in Construction
Working long hours has numerous costs, some of which aren’t always obvious. These include:
1. The premium of working overtime
Those on wages usually have to be paid a 50% to 100% premium on top of their normal wages. Are these workers 50% to 100% more efficient? Of course, they aren’t. In fact, that working overtime is frequently less productive.
2. The loss of productivity
None of us can work long hours, day in and day out without rest. We all get tired and need a break. Our employees also need a break – especially those doing heavy manual work.
3. Shoddy management
Often, employees working after hours and on weekends aren’t supervised properly since the supervisors aren’t all required to work the same hours, or they spend time in the office drinking coffee. In fact, I knew one project manager who habitually expected most of the supervisory and management team to arrive on a Sunday, then they all went for breakfast at the nearest restaurant while the other employees were expected to continue working.
4. Payroll inaccuracy
A lack of supervision often means that some employees don’t work the full hours that they say they did, and consequently are paid more than they are due.
5. Working in the dark
Working at night can impact productivity and safety unless the work areas are properly illuminated (this includes proper lighting to access the work area and around the offices and laydown areas).
6. Staff shortages after hours
When equipment breaks down after hours, mechanics aren’t readily available, which could mean that the item isn’t fixed and the teams are left idle.
7. Family strain
Working extended hours and on weekends is detrimental to families, often causing family feuds and even divorce. Some employees can become disgruntled with having to work long hours and they eventually leave the company.
Sometimes Overtime in Construction is Effective. Even Necessary
Some projects have to work on weekends or at night because that’s the only time there is access to the work areas. Other times, limited overtime work may be beneficial to the project, such as:
- When there are too many people working in a small area, then it could pay to have some work done after-hours when the area is less congested.
- When the project is behind schedule, completing some specific tasks can help keep the project on schedule. Asking specific teams and key people to work additional time can help complete a critical task.
- When deliveries can only get to the project after-hours because of the traffic on the surrounding roads, then workers need to be available to offload the materials.
- Sometimes, it may help production if certain equipment is used longer hours, such as cranes to move materials around the project.
- Some dangerous tasks could be performed after hours when work areas are clear of people, specifically where cranes have to lift loads over areas where workers are busy during the day.
Unfortunately, some projects require teams to work around the clock and seven days a week. In these cases, it is always good practice to have teams working on different shifts (say 3 shifts of 8 hours each) ensuring that individuals don’t have to work extended hours without a day of rest.
In some cases, a particular task can’t be interrupted, such as when a large volume of concrete is poured. It’s good practice to arrange additional people to come in later in the day to take over from the first team and to always allow individuals in the team to take sufficient rest breaks during the shift.
The Golden Rules for Working Overtime in Construction
If the project has to work overtime, then it is vital to ensure that:
- There is sufficient supervision on the project so that employees work safely and productively.
- The work won’t annoy the neighbors and that the work doesn’t break any local regulations.
- The client is happy that work happens after hours.
- Workers don’t work such long hours that they become fatigued. They should always be allowed sufficient rest and meal breaks.
- The additional hours worked are monitored, to verify that the employees have actually been working on the project for all the hours they say they have.
- Only those that are required to work overtime are working.
- All the key people (such as crane operators) will be there.
- Workers are paid correctly, including the correct overtime premium.
- When the work involves key items of equipment, make sure there are standby mechanics available in case of breakdowns.
- When work is performed at night that all work areas are well lit.
- Employees have access to first aid kits and can contact the emergency services if there’s an accident.
- If there is the following shift, ensure that there is a proper handover to the supervisor of the next shift so that they know what work has been completed, what needs to be done, and are informed of any risks and dangers.
- That the project has all the required materials and tools to enable the work to happen after-hours.
Often, projects need to work extended hours and on weekends. Sometimes, if this is properly controlled it can be beneficial to the project. Unfortunately, some projects just get into the habit of working overtime. Often, overtime work is poorly controlled and very unproductive and costs far more than it is worth.
Don’t let unnecessary overtime in construction kill your project.
Is your project working overtime? Is it really necessary?
Are all the overtime hours worked on your project accurately recorded and verified?