The Overtime Problem

Just like anything in life, we as public servants come from all walks of life - all social backgrounds, economic areas, and financial situations.  Some of us are “lifers” in the industry and others are using their time in public service as a stepping stone to something else.  No matter what you reason for working in the public service sector, we all have one very big and potentially dangerous issue: overtime work.

For many, overtime work is the difference between having extras in the household and being able to meet the minimal expenditures in life.  And lets be real - EMS is probably at the bottom-tier for pay making it much more likely that you will come down with the overtime bug.  I remember being young in my career working 80 or more hours a week and that not being uncommon.  Still many more add to their responsibilities by holding a volunteer position or adding a second or third job into the mix.  It is not uncommon for us to work an excessive amount of hours per week and find it completely normal.

Overtime can come about in various ways.  From call-outs to needing to fill extra coverage due to call volume all the way to issues with hiring and employee retention.  This presents an opportunity to you to bring extra money into your household - and rarely do we think twice about jumping on the opportunity.  Why should you be cautious?

Here is why: working an extended shift or extended hours will begin to take its toll on you mentally, physically, and will eventually begin to cause stress in your relationships.  If you haven’t been there yet, I assure you that at some point in your career you will be.  Working extra time presents another challenge: increased exposure to trauma and stress in addition to what you generally expect from your normal work cycle.  You can also be missing out on important things like quality sleep and relaxation time which are essential for managing stress.  People who work the most tend to be the worst at managing and coping with stressors in life.  This causes a cumulative effect which can be difficult to dig yourself out of.  This is also especially true for those who work rotating schedules.  The temptation of overtime often overrides your general instinct to say “no” because who doesn’t love extra cash?  Being well takes effort and most of all time.  How can you reasonably expect yourself to be happy, healthy, and steady when you are not taking the time to take care of yourself?  The answer is that you can’t.  And that is why it is important to take into account the amount of hours you work and the amount of time you take to yourself and your family.

Balance is everything in life and if you find yourself suddenly on the outside of what is typically normal for you then there is clearly a problem.  Overworking yourself has a direct impact on how you manage stress and keep your personal life together.  Finding a balance to keep all three where you need them to be can be challenging; especially if you are trying to put yourself through school or support a family on a moderately low wage.  Pay and public service is a special subject to me, but I won’t get into that right now.

You should take an hour or so every few weeks and plan out how you plan on spending time for the next few weeks.  Plan your normal work schedule, plan time to yourself and family, plan time to engage in a hobby or some healthy form of coping, trying some exercise, and then plan on picking up extra time at work.  If you aren’t taking care of yourself and your own personal needs, you aren’t doing yourself or the public any favors.  In fact, you are only headed to the stage of “burn out” much faster than you think.  Many people may be in denial that they have reached that stage, but it is always obvious to your coworkers.  It has been my experience that management staff tend not to pay attention to these issues for one simple reason: they need stuff done, and when it’s getting done, they are doing their job.  It is not their responsibility to ensure that you are taking proper time to take care of yourself, it is your job.  You must do it; no on else can do it for you.

Be mindful of your time, make a plan, and stick to it.  Limit your extra hours to the extent where you can manage your life and still remain healthy in the process.  Your job will still be there when you come back, we promise.  You should be the most important thing you have to manage - because without you, nothing will be worth the sacrifice.