When working overtime is too much

Working overtime can be an inevitability for many workers. However, at what point does overtime work go beyond its acceptable limits? Current economic conditions have forced some employers to push their workforces into longer hours to make up for decreased revenues and productivity. But new estimates show that there are limits.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration dictates that any work time of more than 40 hours in one week, voluntarily or otherwise, is defined as overtime and demands appropriate compensation.

A second hour of overtime multiplied five times for a work week means the employee is working 25 percent more in a 40-hour work week. A work week of 50 hours and above has a negative cognitive effect on productivity, according to a 2008 study by the American Journal of Epidemiology that surveyed 2,214 middle-aged workers.

Employees who worked 50 to 55 hours and above showed lower results on vocabulary and reasoning exams. The results provide a window into how much overtime is too much. Twenty-five percent beyond normal weekly working hours may be the acceptable limit. 

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