Heather K Adams
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  • To work overtime means to work more than you're normally schedule to or past the 40 hours in a standard workweek.  
  • If you're going to work overtime, plan ahead, leave room for self-care and when it's time to clock out, actually log off and stay away from work.

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The daily grind becomes just a little more challenging when you start clocking hours over your standard nine-to-five. Yet if you're not exactly making bank with your regular schedule, snagging a few of those extra hours here and there might sound like a good idea. Which might make you wonder: What does working overtime really mean, and is it worth it?

How does working overtime work?

Working overtime means exactly that: you will be working over the time for which you're normally scheduled. Careful, though — this is per week and not on a daily basis. Working more than eight hours in any given day does not entitle you to overtime. Your employer may choose to grant you more than your regular hourly rate, of course, but isn't federally required to do so.

When it comes to "overtime" as discussed by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), working overtime is what you do when you surpass the 40 hours in a standard workweek. So, you have to clock in those regular 40 hours first, be it via normal or extra-long workdays, before you reach that overtime pay. Which, sure, if you're pulling 10- or 12-hour days inside those 40 hours seems unfair, right? It kind of is. But once you start working in that overtime zone, your employer is legally required to pay you at least time and a half, or one and a half times your normal pay.

6 tips for working overtime.

1. Plan ahead.

So you know this week is going to be killer, right? Working overtime is something you can sometimes see coming, be it during an upcoming holiday season or some other work crunch. This means you can plan your outfits, your meals, your errands or other necessary life stuff around it. Pre-pack lunches, fill your freezer with heat-and-eat dinners and make sure all your favorite work outfits are clean. In other words: set yourself up for success.

2. Don't let self-care slide.

From getting good sleep to eating good food, the key to not only surviving but thriving during a period of working overtime and juggling a busy schedule is to prioritize yourself. It's easy to lose focus on your needs when you're under the gun on the job, but seeing to those needs is exactly what will keep you going.

3. Maintain that sense of team spirit.

Chances are, you're not the only one stuck pulling a double shift (again) or coming back in on a Saturday. At least some of your coworkers are going to be right there with you. And while you're all bound to do a certain amount of grousing, don't get sucked into the black hole of the "this sucks" broken record. How? Work in little breaks together, have a funny cat video on standby or bring in some donuts to get the day started on a cheerful note. Make a conscious decision not to be negative.

4. Guard your fun time.

If you work retail, you'll probably end up working some overtime during the holidays for sure. Other industries and positions have similar periods of intensity. Does this mean you should decline all Friendsgiving invites and bow out of all holiday get-togethers? Absolutely not! You still need to have a life and make a point to enjoy it. Sneak in power naps or other relaxing self-care practices after work (Bubble bath? Yoga? Yes, please!) to recharge yourself, and then go have a little fun. You'll be glad you did.

5. Hit the gym or the yoga mat.

Whatever physical activity you love that puts you in your body and feeling the sweaty good vibes, don't let that slide! Being active is good for mind, body and soul, so there's nothing quite like a good workout to help you process and decompress. These days, there are a number of gyms open late or even 24 hours a day, so you can get a workout in no matter how wonky your hours are while working overtime.

6. Clock out = drop out.

Hitting the gym or that bubble bath, meeting up with friends and enjoying a quiet homemade meal by yourself: these are all lovely activities totally spoiled by a work hangover. Teach yourself to leave the workday behind you, no matter how long or how stressful it was. Doing that can be as simple as taking a few good deep breaths with your eyes closed as soon as you step outside. Learn to leave work at work. Don't let it follow you home.

Is working overtime worth it?

To be sure, working overtime equals a bigger paycheck. And there are times in all our lives when we might prioritize the bottom line on our bank statement. After all, cars don't pay for themselves and neither do houses. If clocking in more time at work will get you closer to either of those goals or whatever you're squirreling away your pennies for, by all means, take advantage of those extra hours.

Something to keep an eye on, though? What those hours and that extra money actually cost you. Sometimes working overtime is pretty manageable and will indeed give your paycheck a nice occasional boost. But if those extra hours move from a sometimes situation to more of a lifestyle and putting in all that extra time starts to make you hate your job and dread going in every day, it might be time to reevaluate whether you're in the right position, company or field.

FAQs.

Can I get fired if I refuse to work overtime?

Yes. The FLSA states that employers have the right to terminate an employee if they refuse to work, be it overtime or on a day they weren't previously scheduled to work.

How much overtime can I work?

There aren't any federal restrictions on how much overtime you can work. You're required to be paid adequately for that extra time, of course. But there are only standards about how often you must be allowed to take breaks during a shift and how long those breaks should be. As always, knowing your rights as an employee is crucial. The FLSA website is a useful resource.

I'm salaried. Do I get overtime?

This is a firm "probably." Just because you're salaried, which means you receive a guaranteed amount of income no matter how many (or how few) hours you actually work in a given period, doesn't automatically make you exempt from overtime pay. It just depends on what your salary actually is, whether or not certain duties inside your position are exempt from overtime calculations, what your company sets as its overtime policy for salaried workers and also any industry-specific standards your employer might need to adhere to. Again, know your rights. Not being paid for working overtime is a serious concern.