Why August Should Count as Overtime

Why August Should Count as Overtime

By James Watkins



Because flexible summer employment options could solve many problems.

By James Watkins

OZY’s educational wing, OZY EDU, is touring the nation’s colleges to bring important conversations into the classroom. First up: The Future of Work. We’re exploring how everything from automation to the gig economy is reshaping work, and how the education system can keep up. Read more.

As individuals and as a society, we’re overworked and underpaid. We’re on Earth for far too brief a time, most of which we spend doing things to earn money to survive. Those with full-time jobs spend half of their waking hours at work, plus all the additional time spent commuting, responding to emails and doing other work-related tasks outside the office — precious time that could have been spent with friends and family, relaxing on a beach or attending a wine tasting.

I can tolerate such toil during the dark of winter when the outside world looks almost as miserable as the office. But when kids are out of school and the sun is shining, the whole darn system feels terribly cruel. So here’s my solution: The maximum legal workweek for the month of August should be zero hours. Zilch. Nothing. If employers want their employees to stick around during inconvenient weeks of the year, they have to pay overtime. The very concept of a maximum workweek and overtime proves that this isn’t completely uncharted territory; as a society we agree that people shouldn’t be expected to work crazy hours without receiving additional compensation. All I’m proposing is that what we define as “crazy hours” should be different at different times of the year. It costs more to order an Uber at 3 a.m. because fewer drivers are willing to work at that time — by the same logic, it should cost more to employ an office worker in August. 

A progressive workplace policy that even the French aren’t mad enough to try (yet).…

This idea isn’t pulled from thin air. Already, one of the most efficient labor markets around accounts for seasonal fluctuations in workers’ willingness to forgo family time — the market for independent executive business talent. Business Talent Group, a company that manages a pool of self-employed consultants (“the gig economy for Stanford MBAs,” as co-founder and CEO Jody Greenstone Miller describes it) sees rates rise up to 25 percent in the summer, as well as for the week between Christmas and New Year’s. “That’s the way it should be, it’s a market,” Greenstone Miller says. Indeed, it’s basic economics: There is a different equilibrium price for where employers and employees are willing to do business with each other at times when workers value leisure time more.


Currently, this principle hasn’t infiltrated the full-time labor market. Rather, the wage rate paid over the whole year is slightly higher. “If you wanna own me, in a traditional full-time permanent job, to have the ability to call me when you want and to have me work in the summer, you have to pay a premium,” Greenstone Miller says. So maybe companies can forgo that premium and instead start varying wages throughout the year. Already, almost 1 in 3 privately employed workers in the U.S. is independent, and, as the gig economy continues to grow, institutions of traditional employment may need to adapt in order to court the same candidates, says Vikrum Aiyer, head of public policy at delivery service Postmates.

This policy may sound a little extreme — a progressive workplace policy that even the French aren’t mad enough to try (yet) — and I admit that it’s not perfect. Among other things, requiring companies to pay 25 percent more for labor in August (half the standard overtime pay rate) could be fatal for small businesses. But we could easily exempt small employers and tweak other taxes and regulations to accommodate these concerns. Many may question why summer is so sacred, and with good reason. But we’ve all experienced that summer lull when everyone chooses to take their vacation at the same time, so perhaps putting a dollar value on people’s time by paying more for summer work could lead to a more even annual company workflow — it could actually save companies money by using financial incentives to ensure that workers make a smarter trade-off between their own leisure time and the company’s seasonal needs.

And to those who say that this all sounds good, but that it should come from companies and not the government, you’re probably right (if companies can be trusted to do it). So, if you’re reading this, OZY bosses, consider it my formal request for 100 percent overtime next August.