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Age, Overtime, and Employee Health, Safety and Productivity Outcomes: A Case Study

Allen, Harris PhD; Woock, Christopher PhD; Barrington, Linda PhD; Bunn, William MD

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: August 2008 - Volume 50 - Issue 8 - p 873-894
doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e31818521ec
Fast Track Article

Objectives: To expand a study of the impact of overtime on employee health, safety, and productivity outcomes, previously reported in this journal, with tests comparing older versus younger workers on these relationships.

Methods: Secondary analyses of a longitudinal panel (n = 2746) representing workers at US sites for a heavy manufacturer during 2001 to 2002. Structural equation techniques were used to assess two hypotheses in the context of multiple group models positing the prediction of a broad set of employee outcomes using a three-step causal sequence. One set of models compared overtime impact for three age groups (<45, 45 to 49, 50+) at the aggregate level. Two others compared overtime impact for the three age groups by compensation type (hourly vs salaried).

Results: Advancing age was linked to greater rates of adverse consequences as a function of overtime (hypothesis #1), but these increases were largely confined to hourly employees working extended overtime (averaging 60+ hours per week) and occurred on only four of the nine study outcomes. With respect to moderate overtime (48.01 to 59.99 hours) and to variables reflecting the possible impact of past overtime (eg, prior disability episodes), increases in age among hourly employees did not lead to stronger associations between overtime and adverse outcomes on most tests and in fact in many cases were linked to decrements in these associations (hypothesis #2). Salaried employees recorded no greater linkages between overtime and adverse outcomes with advancing age across all tests involving hypothesized overtime effects or “possibly a function of overtime” effects.

Conclusions: The results support the proposition that, when employees work overtime, adverse outcomes—and indirect costs—do not increase with advancing age in any kind of wholesale fashion. Where rates of adverse outcomes do increase, they are confined to certain subgroups of employees doing certain types of work and occur on certain dimensions at certain levels of longer workhours. It is argued that carefully calibrated approaches vis-à-vis older workers are needed to maximize employer capacity to address the unique challenges posed by this increasingly important portion of the workforce.

From the Yale University School of Medicine (Dr Allen), New Haven, Conn.; The Conference Board (Dr Woock, Dr Barrington), New York, N.Y.; and Northwestern University School of Medicine (Dr Bunn), Chicago, Ill.

Address correspondence to: Harris Allen, PhD, Harris Allen Group, LLC, 31 Stearns Road #3, Brookline, MA; E-mail:

Copyright © 2008 by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine