6 Ways to Curb Overtime Conundrums During Peak Water Testing Season

Once summer strikes, it's peak season for water testing labs to facilitate safe swimming, drinking, and recreation. With these increased workloads, overtime for water lab employees is all but inevitable.

During this busy time, lab managers must pay close attention to how employees' hours are divvied up in order to keep operational budgets under control. But the best way to ensure all the work gets done — without blowing your bottom line — is to take a proactive approach.

From cross-training employees to leaning on time management tools, these six best practices can prepare your water lab to tackle the high volume of testing requests that are synonymous with summer.

1. Relay Expectations

Lab managers need to anticipate the need for overtime and communicate realistic staffing expectations. Don't let it come as a surprise — be upfront and honest with your employees that you'll need extra hands come summertime and that vacation requests may be denied. If you're transparent with employees and willing to work with them on scheduling a break at a more opportune time, they're more likely to respect your approach.

But, no matter how tight budgets are, never allow your staff to work for free. And that goes for you, too. Anything that needs to be done for the business must be done on the clock. Period. Overtime work that's done without pay — even if employees agree to it — can still be grounds for legal action, explains The Balance Small Business.

2. Properly Classify Employees

Looking closely at employee classification, the distinction between nonexempt and exempt employees, is important in avoiding legal action or costly penalties from labor regulators, The Balance explains. By not getting these details correct, it can come off as an attempt to either save a pretty penny or take advantage of employees.

Even if you're accidentally misclassifying employees, says The Balance, it won't make a difference in court. It's your responsibility as an employer to make sure everyone gets paid correctly, so be diligent.

3. Cross-Train to Distribute Responsibilities

If only a subset of your staff is trained to do a particular task, overtime expenses can add up quickly. Even when you're not in the peak summer season, cross-training your staff can be highly valuable in accommodating workplace absences, new business, and any other upticks in your workload.

When your employees are able to float between different roles, it allows you to avoid bottlenecks in workflows and make sure everyone is sharing the load. You can also bring on interns to help with the extra work while keeping costs low.

4. Reevaluate Your Scheduling

Truth be told, the best way to manage for overtime is to schedule shifts in a way that avoids extra hours altogether. This starts with anticipating your needs, evaluating your players, and covering all the bases so that no one person is overburdened. You know better than anyone else who is capable of what, so set your staff up for success and step in yourself when necessary to get the work done during regular hours.

Pay close attention to time cards and any costly trends, such as if an employee is routinely using overtime to complete their lab duties. They may need more training or support and are too afraid to ask, so stay alert and attentive to these unspoken needs.

If you really need to resort to overtime, make sure there's clear messaging in place that all requests must be approved by a supervisor. Business writer Lisa McQuerrey, in an article for Chron, adds that managers should also pay mind to how employees are using their time during these busy seasons. Never assume your staff is cashing in on overtime just for the sake of doing so. But without regularly monitoring workloads and assessing staff performance, you run the risk of paying employees for work that could have been done during normal business hours.

5. Offer Time Management Training

It's not out of the ordinary for an employee to fall behind during busy season because they simply aren't managing their time efficiently. But don't wait until backlogs are booming to educate your staff on time management best practices.

McQuerrey notes that taking opportunities throughout the year to teach employees how to prioritize tasks and use their time wisely can pay off in a big way come peak season. Be transparent about how long routine duties should take and relay any tricks you learned along the way to expertly manage your own workload. And keep the dialogue open: Each employee will have their own time management challenges, so encourage them to come to you with their hurdles and then help them find ways to overcome them.

6. Invest in Time Tracking Tools

Utilizing the latest technology is another good way to gain insight into staffing. When employees are trained to track how long tasks really take, managers can ensure scheduling needs are always being met. For example, if you've always believed one test takes x amount of time, but in reality, it's taking your employees x times three, it's good to know that to not only avoid overtime, but to make sure shifts are properly staffed.

Certain apps can flag you when you're encroaching unscheduled overtime, help streamline department scheduling, generate customized labor reports, and automate overtime pay calculations. Some even come with easy-to-navigate employee portals and manager dashboards, where requests for overtime can be made and approved. Look for a time management system with features that'll help make this busy season a little easier.

Even with best-laid plans, overtime is sometimes unavoidable. But by having effective time management techniques in place, lab managers can minimize the effect overtime has on operating budgets and their staff.

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Jeff Rowe
Writer and Editor

For the past 25 years, Jeff Rowe has worked as a writer and an editor for the nonfiction and professional markets, including researching, writing, and editing feature articles, blog posts, speeches, project reports, and magazine essays. He has published numerous articles and essays on developments in health care and health information technology, the home medical equipment market, natural resource and environmental issues, and food topics. He has also been editor and community manager for numerous industry-targeted websites, as well as author of a developing series of novels set in medieval Spain.