Young employees refuse to work overtime

By Nguyen Hang, Quynh Chi   August 24, 2023 | 03:44 pm PT
Le Phuong Anh quit her most recent job on the first day after she found out she’d have to work overtime.

"My working hours were supposed to end at 5:30 p.m. every day according to what I was told during my interview," the 25-year-old woman recalls. "But everybody just sat there and kept working even after the clock hit 5:30."

Anh left the office at 9:30 p.m. that day. She asked her coworkers whether working overtime was a constant pattern at the company or simply a once-in-a-while occasion. She was told that employees would normally leave at around 7:30 p.m., but more like 10-11 p.m. during peak seasons.

With a salary of VND5 million ($208), Anh thought it was an unfair exchange and decided to quit.

"I wondered to myself why people were still working there," she says.

Anh is an example of young office workers who refuse to deal with work-related tasks after office hours as they do not want their private lives to be interfered with that.

Phuong Oanh, a 27-year-old creative content creator at an entertainment company, told VnExpress that she started turning off work-related notifications after 6 p.m. two years ago.

She imposed the boundary because of how frequently work messages would wake her up during the midnight hours when she was having her first full-time job after graduation.

"My ideal job is a job that allows me to start working at 8 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m. without having to solve any unexpected issues outside of that time span," she says.

Oanh says she has fortunately found a job like that, though that does not mean she does not have to sacrifice anything: her current monthly salary stands at only VND10 million because she won’t work post-office hours. But she feels comfortable with that.

"I could put up with my first job because I had just graduated and had a lot of free time," she says. "But I have more personal interests and relationships now, so I want to finish all my tasks in my working hours and not worry about them in the time that is supposed to be my free time."

A survey of over 1,000 people aged between 18 and 25, conducted by Google in April 2023, showed that around 53% of the participants were aiming for a "just enough" lifestyle. They resisted being drowned in deadlines and saw nothing wrong with avoiding competing at workplaces as they prioritized their emotional health.

Another recent report done by the American analytics and advisory company Gallup pointed out that the proportions of young employees feeling connected to their jobs in various countries were alarmingly low. Not even a third of American employees belonging to the Generation Z (anyone born from 1997 onwards) and Millennials (anyone born between 1981 and 1996) groupings felt passionate about their jobs, while the figure in the United Kingdom was even lower, a figure of only 9%.

Many young employees are resisting to working overtime. Illustration photo by Freepik

Many young employees are resisting to working overtime. Illustration photo by Freepik

This low satisfaction with working is believed to be largely because of negative working trends, including overtime working.

Le Cam Van, 22, also quit her first full-time job after three months working overtime.

"I always sent my completed tasks at around 4-5 p.m., leaving my supervisors enough time to send their feedback before working hours ended," she says. "But they never did that."

Van says she often received feedback from her supervisor at around 9-10 p.m., if not midnight. As a new employee, she always tried to prove her determination and enthusiasm by stopping whatever work she was doing at that time and instantly fixing her tasks based on their suggestions.

She got a monthly salary of VND6 million in return, which, she believes, is not a fair return for what she invested in her job.

"I began to feel burdened after a while, thinking that I was having to sacrifice my life and revolve around my supervisor’s routine," she says. "I started turning all work-related notifications off after two months and quit after three month."

Van adds that she has been looking for a job that does not require working overtime, as she believes she deserves to have time for her private life after work. She is confident that she can finish all of the required tasks in her working hours, and has promised herself never to work past midnight again.

However, these patterns have puzzled senior employees.

Ngoc Linh, a manager at a communication platform, says it has been hard to find patient and enthusiastic young employees over the past few years, as not checking work-related messages after working hours and missing deadlines are common patterns among employees from the current generations.

Similarly, Le Dao, a manager at a communications company, says she does not understand those who disappear after work.

"Working in the field of communications means you have to stay contactable 24/24," she explains. "So, when I learned that a few young employees felt uncomfortable being reached outside of working hours, I was surprised."

Dao says there was one time when her company’s official TikTok name and picture randomly changed on Sunday. Her whole team spent a day trying to figure out how and why, only to get a message from a young member of the team the following day saying that her younger sister had changed it.

"If she had checked her messages over the weekend and saw our discussion, she could have notified us of the real reason and made us less worried," Dao says.

When asked to try explaining the phenomenon, Dao says social media might be playing a role. She says that a wave of content encouraging people to "take a break because working is tiring," or "quit office jobs to work as a freelancer and earn VND20-30 million a month" contributes a large part to the trend, as this type of content makes people feel less motivated to work in a corporate environment.

Dr. Ashley Weinberg, a chartered psychologist and senior lecturer at the University of Salford in the United Kingdom, suggests that businesses adapt their ways of working to better fit young employees’ preferences. Changing office layouts, providing free snacks and drinks, and raising incomes are among solutions named by Weinberg to get younger employees more willing to devote themselves to their companies.

While waiting for Weinberg’s ideas to become reality, institutions may have to get themselves familiar with the continuing trend of young employees turning down work they think is not rewarding enough.

"I have seen many employees citing issues with their studies, their part-time jobs, and their families as their reasons for missing deadlines or disappearing after working hours," Linh says.

"As someone who is not much older than them and has always been able to arrange my private life to guarantee my work performances, I wonder why current generations have so many problems and doubt their justifications."

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