I realise this could be quite a contentious question but I'm looking for advice regarding the motivation of our workforce.

We are a workforce of around 150 people ranging from apprentices to people near retirement, some of whom have been working for us most of their working life; so there is a wide range of experience and personalities.

Every now and then, like the situation we are in at the moment, we are at risk of running late on a project which due to an onerous contract is likely to leave us hundreds of thousands if not millions out of pocket.

The company is asking its employees to work a bit more overtime than they currently do. Now we're not talking much, just a few hours extra which over the number of employees could mean the difference between the project being delivered late and costing us or a being delivered on time and having a happy customer.

Overtime is paid already at an enhanced hourly rate so it isn't like the company is asking them to do it for nothing.

The problem is that most of the people don't want to do any overtime for a number of reasons.

The apprentices would rather have an easy life and leave early. They do have college work to do so this does exonerate them to some degree.

You have the retirees who have the attitude that they don't need the extra money as they are drawing their pensions, so won't do any overtime.

You have the petty ones who have a gripe with certain members of the management team and they see this as an opportunity to get back at them.

And then you have the few, and I mean a few, who are company people through and through who will do extra but you cannot expect them to drive themselves in to the ground because no one else will do their share.

There have been suggestions by the employees along the lines of significant increases in the overtime hourly rate but the company, quite rightly in my opinion, have refused this on the grounds that it sets a precedent which will be seized upon in the future tantamount to blackmailing the company. There are unfortunately some in the company who drag their heels just to create overtime!!

Has anyone been in this situation before? Are there any alternative incentives which could be looked at which would not be seen as setting a precedent for the future?

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    What's the cause of the project running late? That's cause is usually the biggest reason for complaints about overtime.
    – Erik
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 20:28
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    @cosmarchy customer changing their mind without changing the deadline sounds like a problem somewhere in the management layer on your company's side. That should not be tolerated.
    – Erik
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 20:53
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    I'm really struggling to see your point of view here… If the rate for overtime you offer is so low that people would prefer their free time to the additional money, you should offer them a higher incentive. I'd say that's pretty black & white. If you can't offer them any incentive, if you were in their shoes, why would you choose to do it? For company loyalty? Generalising here but those days are largely gone, as people know if the shoe is on the other foot, loyalty will likely not be shown back to them. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 21:01
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    Anything that encourages people is an incentive by definition... Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 10:27
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    The formation of your question betrays condescending views towards some of your subordinates. They are probably picking up on that. Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 17:27

17 Answers 17


If I were one of those employees, I'd turn it down, too. All that overtime is basically the result of poor planning. By signing up to do the overtime, it enables those bad planners to stay around and keep making the same mistake. If nobody shows up for overtime, eventually it puts the planners in the hot-seat. Consider putting the whip to their backs, and not the worker bees. Try that for a precedent.

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    Project failure can cause bad project planners to transfer out the door and be replaced by someone competent
    – Daenyth
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 0:12
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    Project failure ends up with bad project planners finding a scapegoat...
    – HorusKol
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 0:41
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    This answer won't help you. It sounds like old fashioned union style, us vs. them thinking. I could agree if I interpret your meaning as: Try to be clear and honest with employees about why the situation exists, why it's in everyone's best interest to help, and what credible plan is being put in place to make sure it doesn't happen again. Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 15:19
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    @JoeStrazzere makes a strong point. OP mentioned the company is 150 odd strong. OP also mentioned the company is in a bit of trouble. "Better planners" will not be the outcome of the behavior suggested in this answer. The downfall of the company seems more imminent a result. It all really comes down to whether or not the employees see a real possibility to and a BENEFIT FROM trying to save a sinking ship.
    – coderodour
    Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 12:56
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    @Lee When you've tried more constructive avenues but the management has no incentive to change anything, then "old fashioned union style" is sometimes the only way you can give them that incentive. It's not so old fashioned; even in this day and age, organizations still naturally resist change as long as there are people who keep cleaning up the mess.
    – ptomato
    Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 19:54

Numerous studies have shown time and again that money is an extremely poor motivator. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is a well sourced book which dives into the topic. The author, Dan Pink, has a really nice animated version of a talk he's given summarizing the findings.

While monetary incentives are a poor motivator, instead people are primarily motivated by Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

Autonomy — Our desire to be self directed. It increases engagement over compliance.

Mastery — The urge to get better skills.

Purpose — The desire to do something that has meaning and is important. Businesses that only focus on profits without valuing purpose will end up with poor customer service and unhappy employees. [wikipedia]

Based on your description, it looks like the company has a lack of Autonomy and Purpose (your question doesn't mention much relating to Mastery).

The employees aren't self-directed and in control of their own fates. They're being asked to work overtime because things are off schedule, again cutting into their autonomy.

They likely don't feel like there is much purpose to the work they're doing, which is evidenced by their resistance towards additional overtime.

So, how do you solve this problem? There's no "easy fix" and no "one size fits all" approach. Especially as you're already between a rock and a hard place.

It may help to communicate the reason behind the contract, what it means for the company, what it means for the customer, what it means for the customer's customers, etc. There may be some employee engagement activities you can organize to help them understand the reason their work matters. This can't be superficial, or trite either, that will backfire. Honestly, the company/project purpose needs to be defined and ingrained in the culture. If you have done that yet, now it's the time to start, but don't stop as soon as the current fire burns out. (Thanks to the commenters for pointing this out)

It may help to solicit feedback from the employees about how to proceed. Give them an opportunity to right the ship themselves. You likely have a bunch of smart people who understand the work, customer, environment, etc. and likely have lots of ideas they may not feel comfortable sharing that could help.

If you've been running in overtime mode for a long time, it's quite likely that things like new opportunities, moving teams, changing technologies, etc. are being sacrificed in the misguided notion that "we don't have time for that". Happy employees are always better, more productive employees.

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    "Numerous studies have shown time and again that money is an extremely poor motivator." The studies may show that, but people are individuals. Find what drives the people, and offer them that. For me, money always works...
    – PeteCon
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 1:38
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    Perhaps if managers were held accountable for agreeing to unrealistic customer requests and you consulted your workforce about whether they'd agree to perform some overtime to help the company before agreeing to customer demands, the employees would feel more like team players. Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 2:27
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    "There may be some employee engagement activities you can organize to help them understand the reason their work matters." The company should be careful to not come across as superficial, which might produce a cynical reaction from the workforce. If someone has to make an argument about why a project "matters", rather than it being self-evident, then that argument's existence might be its very own counter-argument. It's like someone trying to convince others that some work X should be considered "art": the fact that it has to be argued is itself its own counter-argument, IMHO.
    – code_dredd
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 9:20
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    Easily the most insightful answer here. If people took more time to look into it it would be the highest rated as well. Suggest updating it with input from @ray. Credibility and trust are fundamentally required for this to work. People can sense the tiniest hint of implausibility, self-interest or bullshit. This is where good leaders come in that can successfully leverage the sound theory here described here. Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 15:43
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    The article assumes that people earn good enough, so they don't care for extra money. Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 7:32

Overtime is not the answer.

The more hours people work the lower their productivity goes. Especially if it is for weeks on end. Not only this but quality drops as well. So you end up with more work being needed to fix mistakes. The fact that you are asking for extra overtime on top of normal overtime is a big red flag

It sounds like the company has more problems than this. Bad project and customer management. Badly negotiated contracts. And who knows what else.

Letting people be happy and have a home life should help productivity.

So you are still in a situation where you stand to lose a lot of money with a late fee. Split the difference. Say if the project was late it would cost $1,000,000 why not offer a quarter of that to the staff if they ship on time. A shipping bonus or something.

edit to respond to Chris G

Chris G makes an important note in that bonuses are not normally good motivation. The points that the main issues seem to be managerial are very valid.

This is an exceptional case. It is not a woolly annual bonus. It is a very specific task based one.

Also by framing it as a group effort and not simply dail saying 'work more' you may foster team work and autonomy which could improve motivation (if general bad management also sorts itself out)

Finally this is not a regular thing. It is a stop gap until you remove the need to do extra to hit goals.

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    Except bonuses tend to not be a good way to motivate and can actually lead to DECREASED productivity (much like overtime) inc.com/geoffrey-james/…
    – Chris G
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 22:16
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    While generally, this is a valid answer, imagine following scenario: People put in overtime, project is on track again, but then the customer decides about another change and the schedules break, no bonus for the employees. Only do this if confident that the goals are set in stone, and it is a genuine workload problem (because people left or something) Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 10:23
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    @Lee overtime mostly just burns morale and costs a lot of money, but doesn't get the project done any quicker because people will just make more mistakes.
    – Erik
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 18:47
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    @Lee we should answer the question, and the answer is "overtime does not help, because net productivity will go DOWN, not up." It's not just that overtime is undesirable for the workers, it's that it usually doesn't help anyone because it doesn't accomplish anything.
    – Erik
    Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 5:28
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    "Finally this is not a regular thing." THIS. Make it clear that the overtime is needed for a LIMITED time. That this too shall pass, and if at all possible, give them the chance to take days off when this is over. Having to do overtime sucks. Feeling that it will NEVER END sucks all life out of you!
    – Layna
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 9:34

You seem to be having the problem that the project is running late, and you're asking employees to work more hours to fix that. You want to know how to encourage them to work more, but I think that's the wrong approach, so I'm going to try and address the real issue at hand, which isn't "my people won't do more overtime" but rather "my project is running late".

First up; it's pretty widely established that overtime doesn't really help. There is a peak productivity for people, and the peak is generally considered to be below even 40 hours a week. So putting in more hours doesn't allow more work to be created.

Likewise; adding more resources to a late project is likely to make it even later as well. There is a lot of time needed to train new employees, which means for a time your current workers will be losing time to educate, correct mistakes, and get to know their new colleagues. Unless your deadline is at least half a year away, more people will not fix your problem either.

What you need to do is make the people you have work more effectively. That's the only thing that can help you produce more output in the short term.

Sit down with each of your people, one-on-one, and ask them exactly which things they are currently doing that don't contribute to the end-product but still take up time. Ask them what the company can do to make their workplace more enjoyable or motivating. Ask them which things are distracting them from focussing on their work. Then improve all of those things.

Some examples of things that you might have to do:

  • eliminate all mandatory meetings that aren't directly helping the product be completed. Allow your team to skip any meeting they don't feel is useful for them to join
  • move your team to a private area, with zero distractions. Be prepared to lock the door and let nobody in to bother them
  • eliminate all administration that isn't immediately useful
  • upgrade workstations, furniture, local decorations, the cafeteria menu, or any other number of things that demotivate people
  • have your sales/management team bring coffee and apoligies every day of the project for creating this problem
  • etc.

Whatever you do; make sure you listen to the people doing the work when they tell you what's holding them back. Then eliminate everything that is holding people back from being the most productive they can be. Even if it means breaking all the company rules. You want your people to come in well rested, as motivated as possible, and to get right to delivering the project.

You can't fix these short-term deadline issues by adding more hours or people, but you might be able to fix them by eliminating waste and making your existing manhours more productive.

And figure out who is writing these contracts and allowing these last minute changes, and then tell them that if it ever happens again, they are fired. Because those people are the real root of this problem, not the people delivering the project. So whatever you do; don't blame those who had no say in this mess for not being willing to commit to more unproductive measures, and then likely get the blame for the project not being done. Put the blame where it belongs; with those who created the issue, not those who failed to resolve it.

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    "have your sales/management team bring coffee and apoligies every day" - excellent idea, but sadly, the type of person creating such a mess is not the one who will apologize for it. Blaming others is more likely. Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 7:04
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    @Lee overtime doesn't work, if it's structural (which seems to be the problem here, structural need for overtime because of poor planning and management practices). Incidental overtime (say in case of a severe problem that needs to be solved ASAP) is fine, especially if well compensated with extra days off following it, but only if it happens rarely. Requiring constant overtime is highly demotivational.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 6:05
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    Once we had a panic and had to work several Saturdays. We were all really miserable about this, until our line manager (who didn't even have to be there) turned up with a cake made specially by his wife, and some jugs of coffee to cheer us up. It worked.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 8:43
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    @SGR the (mostly joking) idea of having these people bring coffee and apologies is designed to combat us-vs-them thinking. If they don't feel (at least partly) responsible for this problem, then you are already stuck in an us-vs-them. Everybody needs to share the pain of being late; it shouldn't be shoved entirely on the people doing the project. It's why RedSonja's comment works; people picking up a part of the suffering when they don't have to does wonders for team-spirit.
    – Erik
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 15:28
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    @Erik if i'm going to note part of your answer is simply false, It only seems fair not to hold back positive impressions. Agree on coffee and apologies, It's so fundamentally important it's hard to overstate it. Not that coffee is magic, but that nothing good can happen without empathy. Why more managers don't get that is hard for me to understand. Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 15:39

Every now and then, like the situation we are in at the moment, we are at risk of running late on a project which due to an onerous contract is likely to leave us hundreds of thousands if not millions out of pocket.

Oh, this has happened more than once. Clearly more labor is needed.

The company is asking it's employees to work a bit more overtime than they currently do.

Then forget about overtime. Get more labor by increasing the labor pool. Hire additional staff.

Why spend X% more per hour on trying to get more work from people who are already being overworked?

If you're worried about the long term commitment of cost from extra staff, then just make sure your terms are flexible. When hiring, note that often you may have 25-35 hours, but sometimes will need 35-40.

Your new staff will appreciate the job, and your existing staff will appreciate not needing to work more hours only to experience management disgruntlement that they aren't choosing to work even more hours.

The apprentices would rather an easy life and leave off early. They do have college work to do so this does exonerate them to some degree.

Exonerate? Really?

Your staff members are willing to trade in hours of their individual lives, and in exchange you offer them a bit of money which is paid by an organization (your company) that has figured out a way to be making even more money from that time investment. Be happy with each of these staff members that they agree to these terms at all.

There is no legitimate basis to expect that a person makes that trade any more than they desire. What a person chooses to do with their life is up to them. These college students should have no defense, because they should have no need to be defending themselves.

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    Adding more resources to an already late project only puts the project further behind. There's actually quite a bit of evidence to back that up.
    – Andy
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 19:24
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    @Andy : I realize that. "9 women cannot make one new baby in just one month." However, I addressed that in the very first sentence that I wrote (not just quoted) in my answer, where I note "this has happened more than once." That realization was a key factor which explains why staffing up is worth doing. (The company should not be so short-sighted as to only care about the current late project.) Over-spending through overtime may be more sensible than taking on longer term commitments in a one-time scenario, but makes less sense when the situation frequently repeats.
    – TOOGAM
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 19:54
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    That's all well and good, but doesn't actually answer the OPs question, which is how to deal with the current mess, only how to prevent it from happening again.
    – Andy
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 19:57
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    You're adding things that weren't asked. e.g. you said "an already late project", whereas the question said "we are at risk of running late". Not the same. There may still be time to allow a proper (long term) solution to have effect.|OP's question's first statement says "I'm looking for advice regarding the motivation of our workforce." When overworked, new staff can be encouraging to the workforce. So I did answer what was asked. Cultural change can encourage (but maybe not overnight). If you, Andy, want an answer about something a bit different, feel free to write your own Question.
    – TOOGAM
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 20:24
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    The OP says the employees are already working overtime. There's no need to work overtime on a project which is on time. New employees also take time to ramp up, which, even if on schedule, slows things down. Not wise if the project is already at risk.
    – Andy
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 20:28

An open and honest letter to the employees that:

  1. Accepts responsibility for the company's part in creating this mess (no matter what, the responsibility probably does land there).
  2. A clear path to solving the problem – outline exactly what needs to be done.
  3. Whatever bonus structure the company can actually afford.
  4. A believable plan to prevent this from happening in the future.
  5. Non-monetary reasons to help out — extra time off, a company trip, something like that.

Update - in response to some of the comments: --The "open and honest part" -- so many letters to employees are not. So, I stand by the fact that adding this criteria IS important. Most people have a very well developed BS detector -- the best way to not trip it is to make a effort to be "open and honest".

--This is not just random off the top of my head advice, I was in this situation. I was the Director of Operations for a mid-sized company (400ish people). A large client brought on a nice sized book of new business, however, it ramped up much slower than they told us it was going to. We were bleeding money because we brought on a lot of temp help for the start up. After scaling back they business finally exploded - catching us with our pants down so to speak. By the time we were really aware of how deep we were it was a mess. I wrote a letter simply acknowledging that fact that it was not the employees or our contractors fault but that regardless -- we as a company were in trouble if we did not fix this. I asked for help. I told them that I would see that next time we brought on business of this size we would try and think it out better. And the company responded beyond what I could have hoped for. I am talking about Saturday and Sundays of not just employees, but even some of their family showing up to help sort boxes, make deliveries etc. So...yes...a bit of humility and honesty goes a long way with most people.

  • This answer reads sort of passive aggressively with the "open and honest letter" frame. Maybe you should throw it out and expand (1) and (2) into a full answer?
    – user42272
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 23:50
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    I like this answer, as someone who has been in the OP's position quite recently this works quite well for me and is similar to what we did. The balance is to ensure you don't burn people out
    – Jamie
    Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 13:09
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    @djechlin why do you infer "open and honest letter" suggests passive aggressiveness? Even if that somehow was what a speaker was thinking, It seems to not give any benefit of the doubt without having more context. I like the answer. It's simplistic, but the concepts of empathy, honesty, and attempting to act in good faith are pretty damn important to realize for managers in this situation. Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 18:21
  • @Lee idk because it presupposes "take responsibility for all your problems, solve them, and throw money and perks at your solution." Why does this writer need to try passing the main step as "write an open and honest letter?" Just give the actual advice. Except, the actual advice is crap, because the key step is "solve all your problems." Honesty seems extremely secondary to step (2), which is "solve all your problems." It actually would be really weird to not be open and honest after you solve all your problems.
    – user42272
    Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 20:02
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    @djechlin the question suggests that the company knows what the solution is ("more overtime so we finish the project on time"), so I don't think this answer is unreasonable.
    – Erik
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 5:37

I once worked at a company where overtime had to be done , everyone did some (even high leaders) and they had a pretty effective way to convince people to do it.

They offered free time at higher rate than they usally did. In France for exemple , you can get your overtime paid , or you can have this time back later as additional holiday time. This company offered like 1.5 or 2 hours for 1 hour worked.

Free time offen motivates more than a slightly better income because you can't be taxed on your free time.

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    +1 Work harder now, party harder later. A much more tangible incentive than money Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 16:29
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    @LordJebusVII I don't know how it works outside of France but here overtime is overtaxed. Often ppl won't do some just because of that. Free time is the key !
    – Rolexel
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 6:51
  • @AlexandreAudin this tax is France-only, or at least I can't find any other country doing it. Other countries tend to punish employer for overtime work, not employee. On the other hand, if employer is so desperate for overtime, he should pay enough to overcome this tax, right?
    – Mołot
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 11:20
  • It's a possibility yes. But even if you end up earning more money, you're still taxed more on your overtime than on your regular time. It's more of a psychological problem than a financial one. You work for yourself, not to give money to the government. Plus, taxes are paid one big time at the end of the year in france so you have more money at the end of the monce but for most ppl this money is gone when you have to pay your taxes, at higher rate than usual because of the overtime. I don't know if i'm making my point clear....
    – Rolexel
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 12:43

You can always think on alternative incentives. For example, instead of paying more, your company could offer more holidays/leave time (proportional to the amount of overtime carried out by the employee).

There could be company wide prizes: A trip somewhere if the project completes successfully. New equipment. A really good social event (nothing related with corporate bs, of course).

IMHO, the best thing you can do is to discuss the issue with your employees. Surely, there has to be something else they would like to get, in addition to overtime money. Communication here should be the key.

  • I believe the MD is planning to address the workforce shortly but I suspect this will be seen by some as success (management grovelling to them oneupmanship) and by others as a waste because they're already the ones who will put themselves out to do extra. I guess, we'll see how that goes and I'll suggest the other ideas and see whether they'll go with that????
    – cosmarchy
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 20:54
  • Use this time to gather as many ideas as possible - you'll possible won't be able to please everyone, but at least you should be able to make some people happier about the situation. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 20:55
  • It's almost useless to say communication is key without noting it has to be seen as authentic and productive by staff. Not disagreeing with you. And you may say, it's already implied that it has to be effective communication. However since that's so often not the case I think we have to emphasize - If you don't know how to make it authentic and productive, don't even waste your time. Instead start by getting help to hone your delivery of the message. Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 16:14
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    If using prizes make sure there is no confusion about what is being offered. You don't want a Toy Yoda situation Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 14:24
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    How could they realistically keep a promise of more leave or holidays if time is what they run out of because of bad planning in the first place? Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 15:36

Doing simple math, million of dollars and 150 people means that you have to get what you want from them for average of about $6500 per person. Given that you are already overworking them, letting project fail may be cheapest option. Especially if you will consider additional cost of young people leaving for another company to get college degree and some respect, old people doing just enough for you to not be legally able to fire them (if there is pre-retirement protection in your country) and those in the middle leaving for jobs with better management. Don't know how expensive is recruitment process in your company, but it may eat more dollars than it's worth.

  • Upvote for considering all possibilities, even unpalatable ones.
    – mkingsbu
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 13:24
  • @mkingsbu Thanks. I don't think this is pleasant, but the numbers speaks for themselves, and they are telling me that costs of making it and failing it should be carefully reconsidered. I upvoted some other answers, of course, I posted this for the sake of completeness - as this might be a solution
    – Mołot
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 19:32

A Piece of the Action

When people have a personal interest in success, they will show up. When they view it as other people reaping the rewards of their work, they will not.

Assuming you've figured out that trying to trick people into working overtime to benefit only others won't work, consider this:

Offer a % "investment" into the project - those that participate in Overtime until the project is complete will be given % of the profits of this project if successfully completed on time, for however long those profits last. Those that do not, get nothing.

That gives your staff a personal interest in success and will motivate them as they become proxy owners of the product.

  • 4
    And if you do this, make sure you clearly define how those "profits" are calculated. That's easy if you are setting up shop for manufacturing Trinkets, or even if you are actively manufacturing Trinkets and just happened to get a large order; revenue minus costs, adjusted for applicable taxes. That's trivial accounting. If it's a software (boxed or subscription) product, it's not necessarily so clear-cut; for example, what's the cost for one month's worth of sales? Is that programmers' pay, or also sales, management, ...? How about the guy who spent all month working on some other product?
    – user
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 14:03

Having been on the receiving end of this type of management failure on multiple occasions, one thing that helps is if management works as many hours as employees to fix the issue. If you are not willing to pitch in, why should they?

It also helps if there is a clear consequence for the person (people) who over-promised (preferably being fired or demoted), if that is the cause. The problem here is the worker level people are the only ones taking the hit for what was originally a management failure.

If the cause is some sort of failure of equipment, then that needs to be fixed.

If the cause is that the team is not fully trained to do what they are doing, it might be faster to stop, spend a week training and then restart the project.

If the cause is that people are making mistakes, then stop all overtime immediately. Working more than 40 hours is what causes mistakes. Tired people get gradually slower and slower and make more and more mistakes. It is only rarely productive to work overtime for more than a couple of days.

If your team has been working overtime for months, a good part of your problem is they are exhausted. In that case they need fewer hours not more to be able to work effectively. There is a over 100 years of research that supports this. This is the main reason why the 40-hour work week became standardized in the first place. Probably the best thing you could do to get this project back on track is give them all a couple of days off and then restart with no overtime allowed.

Please read and heed the following: http://www.planningforfailure.com/post/1461931855/the-problem-with-working-overtime

Now the other thing making them not want to work more hours to save your butt is that you, based on your writing, disrespect them and treat them like machines that never break or get tired.

If there are management incentives for completing this contract on schedule, publicly announce that those incentives will no longer go to management but to the employees who pitch in and work the extra time. And then actually do that. No manager should ever be allowed to get a bonus when asking employees to work overtime to fix his error in planning.

Why should anyone care to help rescue a management staff that treats them poorly. You think giving them more money is blackmail. You think they are not entitled to a work-life balance. You don't recognize that they are exhausted and have no reason at all to work more hours. Basically you consider your employees to be your slaves and that is an unacceptable management attitude.


If you are looking at how to get this project done in time, I'm not sure you can implement company-wide compensation and other changes in time for it to help.

If you are looking to change what you're doing because people aren't currently motivated to go over and above, doing so in a slap-dash, hurried fashion runs the risk of (A) not working and (B) creating a deeper cynicism in the workforce that would view management as the kind that rolls out change that does not address problems, for the sake of looking like they are doing something.

The workers currently have incentives to work X hours, and get Y amount of money. If the company has an unhappy customer, fails in a project, etc, it does not impact them getting Y dollars (or other monetary units) for X hours, one way or the other.

What you need is for the workers to be invested in the success of the company, as a whole, not just in putting in the hours they need to meet their household budgets.

Do you have any kind of profit-sharing plan? If they get rewarded when the company succeeds, beyond having a continued hourly wage, then the quality of product, service, satisfaction, and reputation of the company suddenly matters a lot more. Often, to keep the long-term view on this, companies will tie such profit sharing partially or entirely to fattening their retirement plans.

Quite often, as well, if workers are told to do the work they are getting paid for, and they're not invested beyond that, a change in how decisions are made might be in order. If they are taking marching orders from above, then they accept was is bad or inefficient because they don't have any say, and they're not getting paid to do their jobs better, just to do the jobs. If the process improvement and decision-making structure is changed to a more team-oriented, bottom-up approach, with managers becoming more team facilitators and not the ones who impose their decisions, then, for the workers, it becomes theirs, and they are able to change and make better their work routines, eliminate the stupid time-wasters that frustrate them, and feel empowered about their day-to-day jobs, which are all very motivating, even if there aren't a large amount of additional dollars involved.

That all takes time, and it takes commitment from the top, either for a wide change and sharing of the financial stake with the workers, or for giving up control and ceding a lot of that to the workers who do the work. Either way, just giving lip service and not committing to that change will only deepen the frustration and cynicism, so if you want to truly motivate the workforce, and not just save this one project that is in trouble, it's going to be a broader, more comprehensive change that will have to be carefully thought out and implemented.


You could have a variable overtime markup to get the number of hours where you need but that might not actually bring the product in faster.

You could have each employee bid to the price they will work overtime but again that might not actually bring the product in faster.


One thing my company did when it wanted to encourage workers to do overtime was they would choose a restaurant, collect orders from people working overtime that day, and then buy supper for everyone who was working overtime. From the people on that project I talked to the prospect of having the company buy them dinner was a bigger draw than the bit of extra money. Also since it sounds like you have at least a few college students/apprentices it is worth bringing up that many college students are more than willing to jump through hoops for free food.

While this is technically an incentive, I think it's one of the cheaper options only costing 10-20 dollars per person working overtime per day depending on where you order food from.


How do you encourage the workforce without incentives?

Be honest and open about the need for more effort. Explain to them why it is need, what the costs to the company will be without it and how you will ensure their extra effort is not wasted. Importantly show genuine gratitude and appreciation for their efforts.

The problem is that most of the people don't want to do any overtime for a number of reasons.

Be careful about statements like this. A company needing employees to work beyond their hours is usually a problem with the company systems, not the staff. Perhaps some failure has happened meaning work has been lost or a task has become inefficient and time consuming. Perhaps some archaic systems is needed and only a few staff now know how to use it. Perhaps staffing levels are too low due to sickness, holidays, retirements or whatever. Maybe as many other answers have suggested the projects are poorly managed with unrealistic deadlines or too little contingency.

It is the companies problem that it needs the staff to work longer. If the staff keep seeing this need arise they are likely to be less inclined to put themselves out by sacrificing personal time (even with compensation) to work around a long standing issue.

Project overruns happen. Project planning is not easy. No one has a crystal ball or can produce 100% accurate results. If this happens occasionally then I am sure the staff will understand if the management team are honest and say the deadlines were too aggressive and due to a few unforeseen issues we are now behind.

Can you get people to work longer without incentives? Maybe once or twice. Can you encourage people without incentives? Well no, encouragement itself can be the incentive. You can do it for free (as in beer) by spending some of your time to show your gratitude in an email, meeting or in person. Be open, be honest about making improvements or admitting where fault lies and be grateful for people's efforts.

Note I am going to believe that "Every now and then" is really infrequent and not every; project, new product, end of quarter rush or similar. People are great at spotting patterns or making them up. If you are regularly asking for extra effort (as in more than once every 6 to 12 months) then people will begrudge the broken system.


You need to either increase the overtime rate, or hire some contractors or temporary workers, and then come up with a plan to mitigate this in the future, perhaps by hiring more employees. Just beware the mythical man month.

If it's definitely a one off, just triple the overtime rate.


It is my assessment that you need to replace your existing project managers, and hire people who are capable of proper schedule management.

You state that this sort of thing happens often. As a salaried software developer in the US, and having worked with PMs who haven't managed a good schedule, the main thing that comes of it is frustration. Regardless of how much you start offering me in overtime pay, I'm still going to be frustrated with the way that this project was managed. That sort of thing can leave an impression that lasts for a career; I've had those same PMs ask me for a reference, and I could not in good conscience ever give them one.

In my assessment, the only thing that makes sense is to manage expectations of schedule. You're putting a lot of burden on your employees by asking them to make up for gaps in those expectations, and you're also negatively impacting your project managers' confidences in being able to accurately describe the schedule of work. However, it's very important that you get people in the building who can accurately manage schedules.

Speaking as a worker bee, I'm relatively easy; I will do the work asked before me and I will accomplish it to the best of my abilities. However, asking me to have to work overtime doesn't jive with my work-life balance. You make reference to an "easy life", but most don't see it that way; work-life balance determines just how loyal and happy your employees are, too. Don't underestimate it.

Your company makes enough money to have it worry about deficits of millions. Surely a percentage of that should be used on beefing up your management team.

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