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Mar 17, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Time is a valuable commodity, and it is not surprising that professionals expect to be compensated for it.

More time worked equals more time paid, right? Not for everyone.

More salaried employees, exempt from overtime pay, want their employers to provide the perk. In a survey conducted by my company,, health IT professionals rated overtime pay among the top three perks they want — but don’t receive — from their employers.

Alternatives to paying out OT

The desire for overtime pay isn’t unique to health care IT. Professionals across industries want the benefit, leading the U.S. Department of Labor to propose new overtime regulations. Although employers want to reward employees for their hard work, these changes have HR professionals worried.

In a 2015 survey conducted by SHRM, a staggering 75 percent of HR professionals said that reclassifying exempt positions as nonexempt positions may result in unbudgeted overtime costs.

Even if the desire for overtime pay is strong among employees, many employers don’t have the budget to grant it. It’s a tough position — you want to do what’s best for employees, but your hands are tied. Or, are they?

There are alternative ways to show appreciation for the extra work exempt employees put in. Here are a few ways to do just that, when there is no room in the budget for overtime pay:

1. Give employees time off

When employees are swamped, stressed out and putting in extra time, they need some time to breathe. Instead of rewarding hard work with overtime pay, give employees a much needed break.

A 2015 survey of employees published by Quantum Workplace found that 71.1 percent want breaks such as naps, massages, and required time away from their desks, but only 28.4 percent of employers provide them. In addition, 76.7 percent said they want more time off to recharge.

Although it may be difficult to pry employees away from their tasks when their schedules are packed, build in time for them to take breaks.

Challenge employees to walk around the office a few times a day, eat lunch away from their desks or head home an hour early, occasionally, on Fridays. Bring in a yoga instructor to get employees up and moving, or provide a space for power naps and relaxation.

After periods of high-stress, reward employees with spontaneous days off to show your appreciation and to allow them to refresh. Short, timely breaks allow employees to catch a breather without the stress that extended time away from the office brings.

2. Offer remote work options

Giving employees the option to work from home can boost their satisfaction, reward their hard work, and help reduce the need for overtime pay.

After all, a survey conducted by FlexJobs in August 2015 found that 68 percent of respondents say they are more productive when they work from home because it reduces the stress they feel from commuting. In addition, 97 percent said a job with flexibility would have a positive impact on their overall quality of life, while 87 percent said flexibility would lower their stress levels.

Allowing employees to choose where to work will help them do their best work in less time. When employees are less stressed by their work they are more productive, and will be less likely to work overtime.

3. Provide time flexibility

Employees want more flexibility and greater work-life balance, but focusing on overtime pay could actually decrease the amount of control employees have over their schedules. In the SHRM study, 61 percent of HR professionals surveyed said that reclassification of exempt positions may lead to less flexibility and autonomy.

If employers can’t afford overtime pay, they’ll need to closely monitor and limit hours – giving employees less control and flexibility. But flexibility is the very thing that could help make employees and employers happier. According to the FlexJobs survey, 30 percent of employees would take a 10 or even 20 percent cut in pay for flexible work options.

Allowing employees a choice of where they want to work helps them be more productive, and giving them a choice on when they want to work can be even more effective. Instead of focusing on set hours, focus on what employees can accomplish in the time they work.

When possible, offer flexible start and stop times, and allow employees to leave early if they finish their tasks for the day before quitting time. This way, employees will be better focused and more motivated to complete work in the time they have.

4. Grow your employee’s skill set

When employees work hard and put in extra time, they want to be rewarded with advancement opportunities and more responsibility. But many employees don’t know how their everyday work impacts their career as whole. Although 60 percent of HR leaders surveyed last fall by Saba Software believe their companies provide clear career paths, only 36 percent of employees agreed.

Show employees how their work impacts their career path by rewarding those who put in extra effort with continuing education and professional development opportunities. You can offer these perks at low or no cost. Hundreds of online courses and seminars are available to help advance employee skills and push their careers forward.

Alternatively, consider starting a mentor program in which hard working employees are groomed for management and other upper-level positions. Give employees who go the extra mile the time and resources they need for professional growth, to move farther along their career path.

Rewarding employees doesn’t need to involve expensive overtime pay. You can appreciate employees’ time with other benefits that are every bit as valuable.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.