While practicing for the EPSO exams, have you ever come up against a question asking about your willingness to do overtime? This can be a rather difficult question to answer particularly if you don’t know the internal staff regulations of the EU Institutions and their stance on such matters.
Most people would presume that working extra hours couldn’t possibly be considered a bad thing, but without this inside knowledge, it is difficult to say for sure either way. EPSO could assess a willingness to do overtime positively – as someone prepared to go above and beyond the normal call of duty when needed. Alternately, it could be viewed negatively and associated with an inability to priorities workload efficiently, not maintaining an acceptable level of productivity during work hours, or not consulting with one’s supervisor to address issues of workload etc.
This is however an interesting question and worth some debate.
Let’s first have a look at the regulations ruling this matter in the EU institutions - the Staff Regulations.
EU personnel (people who have a permanent or temporary employment governed by the Staff Regulations) have to work an average of 40 hours per week. In most places there is a “flexitime” regime installed, meaning that individuals can arrive at work within given time ranges, they can have a flexible lunch break, and they can leave work in the evening at a time they choose. The only “obligations” are to work an average of 40 hours per week and to be present in the office or at the workplace during the “core” work hours - usually from 10am-12 noon and 2pm-4pm. In many instances telework or working from home is allowed, within certain limits.
These arrangements have been implemented to accommodate for cultural differences and to allow staff to manage their personal work-life balance better. For example, some nations’ work life-style varies greatly; also the needs of workers with children are very different to those who have no dependents.
Whereas these rules are applicable to most statutory staff there are exceptions for certain categories (management, linguists, security staff, IT people, drivers etc.) who are required to adapt their working hours to circumstances. Also, these “general” rules may be implemented differently in the individual institutions, Directorate-Generals or even at unit level.
For external agents, the above rules do not apply. In Belgium it is forbidden by law to have a “hierarchical” relationship between internal staff (representing the customer) and external staff (representing the supplier of goods or services). Imposing working hours would be an infringement in this respect. The working hours of external agents are governed by this person’s employer (which is not the customer) and these will be fixed in the contract between the customer and the supplier.
What is overtime?
If and when an EU statutory staff works more than the average of 40 hours (typically this is settled on a monthly basis) they can “compensate” this time by taking extra time off, with the agreement of their superior and limited to one or two half-days per month.
Only time that exceeds these limits (after compensation) is considered to be overtime. Disregarding some rare exceptions this is not compensated (financially or with extra holidays), meaning that the employee is working for free during this overtime.
Is doing overtime good or bad?
Allow me to give a consultant’s answer: “it depends”.
There is nothing wrong with overtime as long as you are personally motivated to do it. By this I mean that it is your own decision, based on your assessment of the situation and it is not your boss who randomly imposes it on you. If imposed, there have to be good and compelling reasons for this and it has to be known and scheduled beforehand.
There is nothing wrong with overtime if you do it for the right reasons. Some people “burn hours” by just being at the office, spending their time daydreaming, surfing the Internet, socialising all day long, or drinking coffee in the cafeteria. Not being productive and doing overtime merely to build up compensation time is not good, because you are actually “stealing” time form your employer.
There is nothing wrong with overtime if it doesn’t affect your productivity. Human beings are not machines that can go on and on without resting. Our attention span is limited in time and we can only be truly productive for a certain amount of time, after which our output or the quality of our work decreases.
There is nothing wrong with overtime if it is necessary to fit in with a good schedule. President Eisenhower once said:
“Usually, urgent things are not important, and most important things are not urgent.”
These wise words have been converted by management consultants like Steven Covey into personal productivity (time-management) methods. The basic idea is to focus first on what is really important and urgent, then on what is important but maybe not so urgent, and postpone or even drop the other tasks. Don’t waste your time on things that are not important, and don’t be inclined to do overtime to carry out work that may be “urgent” but not important.
There is nothing wrong with overtime if you don’t hurt yourself by doing so. By this I mean that you are taking a serious risk of burning-out or suffering from depression when doing overtime is your only strategy for coping with high workloads or tight deadlines. Even in the best case scenario, excessive overtime will negatively affect your motivation and productivity.
Also, there is nothing wrong with overtime if you don’t hurt your colleagues in the process. Especially when you are in a hierarchical position and “give the good” example by burning lots of time at the office. You may be putting pressure on your colleagues to do overtime against their will (see first argument above). Furthermore, your typical workaholic who does overtime just to please the boss is hurting their colleagues by doing so.
Finally, there is nothing wrong with overtime if you keep control over your work-life balance. Work-life balance is a very individual thing and differs widely from person to person. It is even variable over time. Don’t project your personal situation on that of your colleagues. Bear in mind that a good work-life balance is essential for your resilience.
There is no clear-cut, black-and-white answer to this question. It also depends on how the question and answers are formulated. As long as you stay aware of the risks you can do as much overtime as you want.
This article was written by our expert coach and trainer, former EPSO Selection Board President Jan de Sutter. If you do find yourself regularly stumped by these bizarre Situational Judgement Test questions, consider booking a Personal Coaching session with him or other members of the team. Through their personally tailored guidance and vast experience they can help to enhance your understanding and skills in all areas of the EPSO selection process. Work on your weaknesses and use this opportunity to gain valuable insights to enhance your performance.