5 ways to hold the line at 40 hours

img_1611While many people think of a full-time job as 40 hours a week, white collar jobs can vary wildly in their requirements. In the past, there has often been little accountability, one way or the other.

New labor regulations, however, are drastically changing who must be paid overtime for clocking more than 40 hours/week. The salary threshold used to be around $23k/year. As of December 1, it is rising to over $47k. Employers have a few choices for dealing with this. They can raise people's salaries over the threshold. They can convert salaried employees to hourly, but set the hourly rate to make it come out to whatever the person's salary had been (based on the usual # of hours worked). This only really works, though, if the person's hours were pretty steady.

The simplest solution is to try to limit people to roughly 40 hours a week. Here are 5 ways employers can do just that.

1. Change the expectation

This is the most straightforward approach: Announce that overtime is only going to be approved in dire circumstances. The normal course of business is not an emergency. In many cases, managers haven't worried too much about limiting team hours because they haven't had to. Now, the decision to have someone work over 40 hours/week will have consequences, and so people will figure out a way to have it happen less. Incentives generally work.

2. Track and reflect

With the new overtime regulations, lots more employees will have to keep track of their time. This is not a bad thing. Figuring out where the time goes now is the first step to figuring out how to spend it better. Have everyone track, and then set up systems for weekly reflection. Was the time spent well? What worked? What could have been done differently? This creates a good mechanism for people to discover that a 2-hour 4-person meeting probably could have taken 1 hour, thus freeing up 4 person-hours for other things.

3. Let people work flexibly

This is counter-intuitive. If you need to limit hours, it seems like you'd probably want to control all details of when and where people work. The issue is that not everyone works best at certain times and certain places. A night owl forced to work at 7 a.m. might be operating at sub-capacity before 10 a.m. That's 3 hours you're paying for that aren't optimized. If he can start at 10 a.m., though, you get the 8 hours you're paying for. Likewise, someone who gets easily distracted in the office might do better working from home 2 days a week. If you only get 40 hours, you want to use those 40 hours as productively as possible.

4. Plan, plan, plan

Bottlenecks, dead ends, and redundancies can eat hours. When hours are limited, you need to plan your hours. I find Fridays are great for this. Maybe a manager can plan the week on Friday morning, and then talk with team members on Friday afternoon about planning the week ahead. The goal is that everyone leaves for the weekend knowing what they're realistically going to accomplish in the next 40 hours, and everyone has plans for making those goals happen.

5. Limit email

Some companies are actually taking away mobile devices from non-exempt employees (those who must be paid overtime over 40 hours/week) in order to limit inefficient after-hours email checks. I don't know that I'm a fan of this, because I really like the idea of people being able to work when and where they want. That said, guidelines might help. Like, only sign on if you plan to devote a concentrated chunk of time to email. Or that, in general, we only send/read email on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (to account for most of the time people might choose to work with flexible hours).

I'd love to hear any other strategies people have for holding the line at 40 hours.

In other news: I wrote a bit more about this at Fast Company a few weeks ago.

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3 Responses to 5 ways to hold the line at 40 hours


  1. H says:

    Hi Laura, This comment doesn’t necessarily belong here, but I am wondering if you have done any pieces/posts on managing family schedules when one spouse travels internationally periodically. Specifically my husband has recently added Asia to the areas he has to travel too. The time change there is much more drastic than what we have had to deal with in the past. Also, when he returns home he will have days that he hast to stagger his schedule to accommodate working 8p-12p to be available for meetings in Asia. I know there is probably no “magic bullet”, but I’m hoping you might have written on this before so that I can find a tip I hadn’t thought of, gain some perspective etc.! Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Anne McCormick says:

    These are all great ideas. And very practical for most companies to implement. There may be some changes to this new rule (already) http://ow.ly/Tbhv306stdZ

  3. Just thought you should know an injunction was handed down today in a federal court that put the new overtime rules on hold. Doesn’t mean the rest of the piece want excellent and spot on, though.

    Great piece!

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