Following the events of 2020 and 2021, public safety agencies are facing historic struggles with funding restrictions and loss of personnel, making it crucial to manage overtime as effectively as possible for the benefit of both the organization as a whole, as well as the well-being of the employees.
Overtime is often one of the largest concerns of any public safety agency due to the challenge of maintaining minimum required staffing during a period where personnel counts are low. When any number of emergencies occur, you quickly find your needs changing – straining available resources further. Although overtime is unavoidable in emergency response environments, it’s still important to be judicious when planning in order to minimize overages to the budget, as well as avoid fatigued personnel.
Too much overtime, and workers can begin to feel tired – creating liabilities, raising safety issues, and causing productivity to suffer. But if an employee calls in sick before their shift and leaves that shift below minimum staffing levels, overtime for another employee is the obvious result. For this reason, the best strategy for most agencies is to eliminate – or at least reduce – overtime for general staffing needs and limit overtime pay to unforeseen circumstances only, though this is far easier said than done.
Other factors can contribute to an overtime crisis at emergency-service agencies, such as ‘overtime hoarders’ who regularly choose to add overtime to their schedules, putting themselves and those they are working with at risk due to the high stress nature of their work and the long hours involved. Although it makes sense to assign overtime on a voluntary basis, it’s also important to have systems of checks and balances designed to ensure overtime is scheduled more evenly to emphasize safety whenever possible and reduce liabilities as the consequence of fatigue.
One method some agencies have implemented is to have a standard minimum staffing number, as well as a critical minimum. This allows for a certain number of last-minute sick leave absences before the need to fill a slot with overtime takes place, resulting in smoother day-to-day operations for the organization. The distinction between minimums and critical minimums also enables greater visibility into when staffing levels have been running too thin for too long, rather than falling into the habits of considering your bare minimums to be standard.
A few solutions include:
- Cross training staff to handle more than one job at the agency to improve flexibility and reduce scheduling complications
- Tracking overtime to identify patterns early and ensure overtime distribution is fair and equitable
- Promoting dialogues with employees that account for reliance on overtime pay
Ultimately, a thoughtfully improved schedule represents one of the most significant areas to positively impact reliance on overtime. It may take some time to assess and implement, but small adjustments to shift lengths and patterns can make a big difference in your everyday coverage – in this way, overtime is being used primarily for unforeseen circumstances, rather than being the default. In most agencies, the easiest and most effective method to accomplish this is with an automated overtime solution designed to intelligently manage your agency's schedule while ensuring compliance with rules, regulations, policies, and procedures.
Overtime is a necessary and often significant factor which is weighed against appropriate staffing of an agency. Having the right understanding regarding overtime, human limitations, and exceptional service for any emergency response team will help to set expectations and achieve personnel responsiveness and agency success.