How to stop working “off the clock”

How to stop working “off the clock”

We’ve all known at least one: that tiresome virtue-signaler who makes a point of telling the world that they come in early, work through lunch and stay late, all on their own dime. They may even favor their listeners with a detailed account of all they do for the company out of the goodness of their heart. Yes, I refer to the “off-the-clock” worker.

The hourly “off-the-clock” worker is not doing the company any favors. As the boss, their actions reflect badly on you. As a worker, you are setting up your company for legal trouble by flying in the face of the Fair Labor Standards Act .

The “off-the-clock” worker sends several bad messages, such as:

  • They are more dedicated than their coworkers.
  • They are more hard-working than their coworkers.
  • Their workload is too large for the time they are allowed to do it.
  • They should be paid more.
  • The rules do not apply to them.

For the boss: ways to stop employees from working “off the clock”

The actions of the “off-the-clock” worker are a constant reproach, and serious. Working for free is also the fast track to an angry burnout. This has to stop, and as the boss it falls to you to stop it.

  1. Have a frank discussion

    Do not wing it. Have your points ready. Jot down their possible excuses and your answers to them.

    For example, if they say, “I like to come in early because I get so much more done in the peace and quiet of an empty office,” your response can be to offer to shift their schedule so they get to come in and leave an hour earlier.

    If they say, “I don’t mind because I like my job so much,” you can praise their dedication and remind them that allowing them to work “off the clock” is unethical and could cost you, the boss, your job. Apart from the ethics, such activity could possibly result in legal trouble. If your hourly-paid employee is injured at work while working “off the clock,” you, the boss, could be in the hot seat for allowing this activity. This would be especially uncomfortable for you if your company’s workers’ compensation premiums go up as a result, or if the “off the clock” employee decides to play the injured innocent and sue.

    If they say, “I’ve got so much to do,” you can offer to lighten their work load a bit.

  2. Make the company policy clear

    The key here is to make it clear that the “off-the-clock” work has to stop. If they ask whether they may take work home, say no. Work materials may be sensitive. Or, if working remotely is an option, offer to set this up for them in strict accordance with the company’s policy governing working remotely. Make it clear that they must follow this policy; they do not get to make it up as they go.

    Tell them that, sure, we’ve all worked through a break now and then, or taken lunch at our desks when we were swamped, but that these are exceptions. These instances were made expedient by circumstances, and must remain rare.

    People who insist on working “off the clock” like to talk about it, and nobody likes a virtue-signaling goody-two-shoes. This disrupts the smooth running of the workplace. If they promise to keep it quiet going forward, tell them the damage is done and they have already put your job at risk by flouting policy. Be firm. Make it clear that, if you hear about them working “off the clock” again, and can confirm it, there will be consequences.

  3. Offer to help

    Impress upon your “off-the-clock” worker that you get it and will back them up. Seeing them determined to give up the bad habit of working for free, tell them you will be happy to put out the word that people should refrain from pestering them unnecessarily.

For the overworked employee: How to stop working “off the clock”

If you work “off the clock,” understand: your coworkers in a busy and demanding environment are sympathetic to your desire to accomplish as much as you can, for the benefit of the company and your own career. But working “off the clock” benefits neither.

The frustrations you describe are real. Events conspire to prevent your getting your work done. No sooner do you sit down to the project the boss assigned you than a coworker stops by to ask what you think about the new policy memo. Another needs you to clarify something in your last report. The phone rings with something that just can’t wait. Your printer runs out of toner, and when you schlep down the hall to the supply closet you find there are no replacements.

  1. Set boundaries

    Being productive at work is often a matter of setting boundaries.

    A boundary may take the form of closing a door if you have one. Or a small, polite “Please Do Not Disturb” sign at your elbow. Encourage chat apps rather than visits. Put out the word that you intend to stop working “off the clock.”

  2. Ask your coworkers for time management tips

    Your coworkers face struggles similar to yours. Ask how they cope. You may discover that some you have pegged as “out-at-five” time servers have established time management practices that allow them to be more productive. Asking your coworkers for ideas may also plant in their minds the idea that they should leave you alone when you’re busy.

  3. Learn to say no

    You may have to learn to say no. Your busy coworkers cannot always drop what they’re doing to see to your needs; do you resent this? Of course not. You’re busy too. Those who are reasonable will respect your boundaries.

Disclaimer:  This article is not intended as legal advice.