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Effects of Mandatory Overtime
By Caterina Spinaris
Published: 07/04/2016

Correctionsofficer The following has been reprinted with permission from the June 2016 Correctional Oasis, Volume 13, Issue 6.

A prior version of this article was first printed in the March 2009 issue of the Correctional Oasis.

It presents views of Corrections Officers from several states on mandatory overtime (MOT), and on the consequences of frequent MOT. We are reprinting it because we are aware that, due to job vacancies and high sick leave use, frequent MOT continues to be a considerable operational stressor in the lives of Corrections Officers in numerous states. This of course can potentially impact their functioning at work, their physical and also their psychological health, and their personal and family lives.

"MOT is a fact and a necessary evil of Law Enforcement work. There is more to MOT than meets the eye though. Be-sides the time away from our families, MOT can be a serious hazard. Having worked through some serious staff short-ages myself, I can attest to the effects of MOT. Short on money, years ago my department was running almost 25% short-staffed. We were working 3-4 forced overtimes per week. This was a time we did not dare answer our telephone on our off time, to not risk being called into work. After several months of this, the effects of the working conditions became obvious. Everything, from illnesses to injuries to divorces, was a direct result of repeated, constant MOT. There was a steady increase of Worker’s Compensation claims. Many of these were directly related to tired officers making small mistakes that got them hurt. Most of them were minor, but as we know, small mistakes can turn bad quickly in our profession. The rate of incidents skyrocketed. The normally patient officers were running out of patience with the inmates. Long hours were affecting the moods and decision-making abilities of almost every officer. Sick calls soared. Officers were desperate for a break. Home life was strained also. All of these unintended consequences eventually led to an increase of cost to the state. Administrators need to remember that their officers are more than Law Enforcement machines. They are human beings with needs and with families. When employees begrudge their leaders, our goals to protect and serve are not accomplished well."

"Due to MOT I don't get to see my family, as I often have to work 16 hours. My commute home is a challenge to stay awake. I have almost fallen asleep behind the wheel. When I get home I try to go to sleep right away because I get up 5-6 hours later, sometimes less, because I am too wired to sleep due to stress and due to drinking caffeinated beverages throughout the night to stay alert. When I am mandatoried I am not able to take my nighttime medication, so I fall behind in my schedule in taking my daytime meds. My health deteriorates. I am tired and irritable. At work, I am not as alert as I want to be, fighting off sleep and fatigue. I can be doing a back to back mandatory or maybe get one day in between. If I get a mandatory on my Friday, I spend one day catching up on my sleep. At times I have to call in sick to get some rest. This impacts the shift because now other Officers have to be mandatoried to fill my position."

"My biggest stressor is mandatory overtime. It has been a consistent high stressor for 18 years! Not a good way to live."

"Although MOT is necessary, the effects can be very dangerous. You are not mentally prepared to work for at least 16 hours. I like to know ahead of time when I am working overtime. When my children were younger I had to make arrangements to ensure that they were looked after (and pay additional costs for childcare). It is hard to work 16 hours and then get up again the next morning prepared to deal with the inmate population. You have to be able to quickly diffuse situations. I have trouble sleeping, so I am already not getting the required amount of sleep. MOT makes it worse. I also have not brought enough food to have two meals, so I begin feeling sluggish. Imagine the effects after 16 hours of dealing with various personalities. Tempers flare. Things that would not normally bother you are enhanced ten times and incidents get out of control quickly. Inmates also know when you are working overtime and they will use it to their advantage. Sometimes they purposely bait you into arguments, so that they have a reason to be disruptive."

"Emotionally an 8-hour shift is all I can handle. Negativity from officers and inmates alike gets to me. My normal work week consists of at least 2 half shifts of overtime. If I don't schedule them I am subject to being forced to work at the last minute and for an entire extra shift, not just half of one. After 12 hours spent around criminals I come home, eat, shower, veg in front of the TV, and just fall out and prepare for the next day. When I take my boots off my calves are swollen and do not go down until I go to bed. It is depressing that my “real life” depends on whether my supervisors decide I can go home at the end of my shift or I need to "help out" for another 4-8 hours. I wouldn't mind the job so much if I knew that I could just go home at the end of my shift. I'm not in this field to work overtime. Extra pay is not worth missing grandkids' activities, holidays, being dependable for picking kids up from school, making my own appointments, etc. In spite of my seniority, I'm subject to the same rules of MOT as the 25 year-old rookies who are in excellent shape and gungho about the job."

"MOT hits everything from having to drop out of college to watching staff burn out. I love my job, and most of the time I take pride in it. My greatest challenge is how MOT affects me and my family. My ailing elderly parents are often in need of extra care. Holidays at work bum me out when I think, Could this be their last Christmas? Once when MOT was so bad I hardly saw my daughter except to put her to bed at night. She told me I was not her momma anymore, that her daddy's girlfriend was. Wow, how that hurt! I'm not sure I can pick my job over my child again if MOT got bad in the future. You just can't raise a healthy family when you go to work in the dark, work 16 hours and come home in the dark, then turn around and do it all over again."

"I once lost three days’ pay because we had so much comp time (hour for hour, no time and a half), that we went over the allowed limit. Some staff lost even more than that. Due to riots and other problems, I and other officers incurred over 180 hours each of overtime in one year. Our health suffered, our families suffered, our work suffered, but true to the correctional officers’ unspoken code, we “handled it.”"

"MOT makes me feel like I am running at half speed with no hope of getting caught up. It is even worse if I have had something planned or it occurs on a holiday. Loved ones do not always understand when you have to call and cancel an arranged function because you have to stay at work. There is absolutely no consideration of the officer's circumstances when OT is mandated. The more it happens, the worse it gets. I am not sure you ever mentally recover. It is always worse the next time it happens, no matter the time in between. It is one of the reasons I left custody even though I am less safe in my current assignment. It is also one of the reasons that officers resign."

"Massive overtime with no relief in sight. The DOC is dragging their feet in hiring new COs. The short staffing and extra long hours are having a negative impact on many officers and sergeants at my facility."

"When there are staffing shortfalls that result in mandated overtime, it can take up to a week to recover from just one 8 hour additional shift. Around the holidays, there may be up to 3 mandated overtimes in a week increasing my stress level at both work and home."

"Too much mandatory overtime has affected my sleep patterns, which are vital to overall health and wellness."

"Frequent MOT results in staff’s "I don’t care, I don't have a choice to be here" attitude. They don't enforce rules as they should because they are run down. Due to MOT we LIVE at work. It becomes our second home. Departments of Correc-tions wonder why we have all these “overfamiliarity” cases across the country. Not every staff gets involved with inmates because of MOT, but I believe it contributes in some cases."

"The unpredictable nature of forced overtime has caused anxiety for me."

"Low and inadequate staffing that has led to the need for overtime at unprecedented levels. This along with the extraordinary need and demand for MOT above and beyond voluntary overtime in excess of 12 times within the past 10-11 months has been a major contributor to adverse health related issues for me as well as bad attitudes, constant malaise and fatigue among co-workers."

"We are required to work a lot of mandatory overtime due to an acute lack of staffing. At least once a week I am required to work against my will. This is starting to wear on a lot of the COs. People can't make plans with their families, and there is no end in sight."

"The original idea behind MOT was to allow for staff to be available during major disturbances, or when weather conditions or disasters prevented staff from coming to work. Unfortunately, now MOT is being used as a budgetary tool. This is not good for the department or its officers. There are going to be times when bad planning or bad events are going to lead to MOT, but they should be few and far between. As for the employees, every officer needs to under-stand that MOT is part of the job. It is their duty to safely staff the institution. We cannot allow our personal feelings to jeopardize the safety of our communities. Saying “no” is not an option unless you are prepared to lose your job. If your administration is abusing their power of MOT, then it is time to sit down with them and discuss it. If the MOT is causing you stress on or off the job, take the time to talk it over with someone. If you have a caring spouse at home, sit down and talk to them about it. If you are still struggling, seek out a counselor for help. It is important that you keep your mind, body and spirit strong!"

Editor's note: Caterina Spinaris is the Executive Director at Desert Waters Correctional Outreach and a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Colorado. She continues to contribute to the field of corrections staff well-being individually and organizationally, in particularly regarding issues of traumatic stress due to exposure to violence, injury, death on the job, and also issues of organizational climate improvement.

Visit the Caterina Spinaris page

Other articles by Spinaris:


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