October 27, 2021

Science Confirms That Mind-Numbing Overtime Sucks

2020 delivered much sorrow and absurdity but also brought us catchy new phrases. “Follow the science” has worn out its welcome in many circles, but I’m willing to resurrect this phrase for a just cause: debunking the myth that relentless overtime is a necessity in the accounting profession.

Without further delay, let’s take a nice long look at the science, shall we?

  • Individuals working 11 hours or more per day of overtime have an increased risk of depression. (Plos One Publication, August 4, 2020)
  • Productivity declines by as much as 25% when workers put in 60 hours or more per week in white collar jobs. (2005 Circadian Technologies Shiftware Practices survey)
  • Working more than 10 hours a day is associated with a 60% jump in risk of cardiovascular issues. (American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 176, Issue 7, 1 October 2012, Pages 586–596)
  • 10% of those working 50 to 60 hours per week report relationship problems; the rate increases to 30% for those working more than 60 hours. (Cornell University, Industrial and Labor Relations, Institute for Workplace Studies, Overtime and the American Worker, 1999)
  • Workers working long hours have a higher chance of experiencing occupational health problems including short sleep duration, fatigue, sleep disturbance, sleep problem and injury. (National Institutes of Health, June 13 2019)

No need to open up Excel, here is the simple math:

Productivity declines by as much as 25% when workers put in 60 hours or more per week.

60 x 25% = 15 hours

60 – 15 = 45 productive hours.

Working more than 10 hours a day is associated with a 60% jump in risk of cardiovascular issues.

10 hours x 5 days = 50 hours per week.

10% of those working 50 to 60 hours report relationship problems; the rate increases to 30% for those working more than 60 hours.

Relationship problems begin after 50 hours per week.

Fifty hours per week. That’s the magic limit. If this is the hurdle you have to clear weekly, but nothing more, then I would venture to say most of us in the profession would gladly choose door No. 1 marked “50 hours” versus the current booby prize containing a lifetime supply of high-octane OT.

Excess overtime produces steaming garbage for your outbox. Chronic hours above this limit become toxic. It pollutes our relationships, our health, and our spirit, and as study after study points out, it doesn’t make a spit of difference. Show me an exception to this 50-hour rule and I’ll show you 10 examples of broken accounting professionals who drive home rehearsing their “sorry I’m late again” apologies before they reach the front door.

It seems so very simple. Why doesn’t a version of this 50-hour limit become the centerpiece of every human resource effort to maximize productivity while retaining talent in our profession?

Instead, compare that with what we actually experience….

“Pay your dues!” …. “It goes with the territory”…. “Time to ramp up hours”….

The cries from countless partners and executives through the years. Why? When did we chisel in marble this notion that overtime is our version of professional hazing. Why are salaried employees only worth their salt if they keep pushing more and more limestone up the pyramid ramp. “Pile it on, they are already salaried.” Turnover, shmurnover … who cares? If you can’t hack it, you’re out. Another fresh wave of doe-eyed graduates flashing smiles and their diplomas on Linkedin are set to take your spot … or are they?

If you haven’t heard, there are some changes a brewin. CPA Evolution is the shiny new licensure model set for launch in 2024. Get ready for a new CPA exam, a revamp to undergraduate curriculum, and licensure modification. Technology now marries up with accounting, auditing, and tax as a core competency. Translation: Firms and organizations are sick of losing headcount to the likes of Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

Great, so what’s our value proposition to the next generation of go-getters compared to what tech has to offer? For starters, our overtime sucks just as bad as theirs. With that said, we don’t offer ISOs, hammocks, and in-house Starbucks (although some firms offer ping-pong tables that serve as great processing centers during tax season).

Tech: 1
Accounting: 0

Leaders, the time is now. Let’s put on our big boy (and girl) pants, take the lead in following the science, and stop acting like martyrs. Everyone is sick of sucking it up for another season.

Put a hard cap on hours. The natives are beyond restless and it’s worse than you think.

About the author:

Frank Castillo is author of over 250 continuing professional education courses across various fields of study including accounting, taxation, regulatory ethics, economics, technology, and finance. He is also a provider of “Personal CFO” services to high net worth individuals, including executives, entrepreneurs, professional athletes, and performing artists. Find him on LinkedIn or reach out via email.

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3 Comments

  1. My theory is that you ought to be able to get your “regular” work done in an 8-hour day. Then when something unusual comes up, you work an hour or two over to get it done. The problem is that if you get in the habit of working 10-hour days just to get the regular work done, then when something unusual comes up, you have to put in 12 hours to get it taken care of. And so on, and so on.

    I also have a theory (consistent with this article) that if you assume you are 100% productive during your “normal” workday (a big assumption I know), then your first hour or two of overtime is only about 80% productive. After that, it drops to 50% for the next couple of hours, and goes to nearly zero after that. You would be better off to just go home and come back tomorrow.

  2. “Workers working long hours have a higher chance of experiencing occupational health problems including short sleep duration, fatigue, sleep disturbance, sleep problem and injury.”

    Back in my day, they used to just call this “busy season”. It was a normal part of paying your dues early in your career, back when paying your dues was a good thing and everyone didn’t expect to be promoted to VP after working hard for six months out of college. But now I guess its a dangerous medical condition.

    1. You are part of the problem. Most people do not expect to be promoted to VP after a few months or years. They want to have a work life balance and value their health and well-being, because without it what do you really have? The fact is people can make more money in jobs where they are not expected to work 70+ hours a week at the expense of their health, happiness, and personal relationships and are not interested in comparing experiences with people who were willing to sacrifice these things to “prove” themselves. Bravo for you, but not everyone shares your priorities.

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