We Didn’t Require Any Overtime

Safety in the workplace

Right out of college, I took a position as a detail draftsman at SCM Photocopier Products.

  • The 2-person drafting/design teams committed to 55 hours per week (10 hours per weekday and 5 hours on Saturday) or 110 hours per team.
  • I was days away from starting my MBA program at Santa Clara University. I told the hiring manager that I could only work 7 hours per day, 5 days per week. He said that would be fine.
  • I was paired with a single mother, Sandy, who could only commit to 45 hours per week.
  • Sandy and I committed to only 80 hours per week, far less than the 110 hours expected of everyone else.

When the project ended, our manager asked us both to come see him. He told us that every week, he was pressured to fire us due to the 30 hour difference in our work commitment. We had no idea–he had never shared this with us likely as he didn’t want to scare the heck out of us.

Each week, he refused to fire us as he could point to the fact we met our work commitment within our 80 hours. He went on to tell us we were the only team to ever meet even one work commitment and that we had met every single one. 80 hours versus 110 hours each week, week after week.

He asked how we were able to do it. We told him we knew we were at a disadvantage and we suspected that that fact put pressure on him. We didn’t want to give him a reason to get rid of us. It worked. We were head’s down focused on our work–there was no time for socializing.

What was the lesson?

Work expands to amount of time allotted.

Sandy and I had 80 hours to get the work completed in each design cycle. While we weren’t the best or smartest team, we needed our jobs and knew there was only one way to ensure our continued employment: meet the deadlines.

I hope they went back and understood that they had to pay for 30 hours at overtime rates for each 2-person team’s compensation. That’s quite a premium to get a less than satisfactory result.

Instead of pressuring our boss to fire us, the senior leadership team should have approached us to find out how we were able to achieve this outcome week after week. That would have created real value.

Photo Credit: James Case on Flickr


Thought for the week:

“The smallest of actions is always better than the noblest of intentions.” ― Robin Sharma


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