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Strained Services: The Consequences of Mandatory Overtime for Health and Human Services Professionals

Updated: May 26

In the dynamic and demanding field of Health and Human Services (HHS), the dedication of workers is unmatched. However, the growing reliance on mandatory overtime raises critical concerns about the well-being of these essential professionals. As we delve into the intricacies of this practice, it becomes evident that mandatory overtime may not be the solution we need to address the challenges faced by both workers and the system.

Mandatory Overtime: A Case Study

In 2019, Texas’s Health and Human Services Commission was struggling to meet the demand for SNAP and Medicaid benefits. This was described by then Deputy Commissioner Wayne Salter, “The agency found itself unable to keep up with the workload.” The HHSC implemented at least 20 hours of mandatory overtime in June. This requirement strained the workforce and increased employee turnover. Although mandatory overtime seems extreme, the HHSC cited an increased wait time for services. The time from application submission to receipt of services went from 8 days in April 2019 to 29 days in June 2019. The need for change was further evidenced by HHSC’s failure to achieve timeliness standards for SNAP and Texas Works Medicaid redeterminations. Mandatory overtime is still required for HHSC workers and has been since 2020, but the agency is still unable to manage their workload. (https://cwa-tseu.org/turnover-crisis-leads-hhsc-to-reinstate-mandatory-overtime/)

With mandatory overtime required and the crisis of inaccessible benefits still growing, the Texas State Employees Union issued a letter calling for immediate changes to the HHSC eligibility system. Stating in the letter, “Texas families struggling to make ends meet currently face up to a 6-month delay in receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid benefits.” The HHSC’s current solution is moving eligibility workers around, providing workers with additional training, and focusing on one type of assistance over the other. The Texas State Employees Union argues this solution is insufficient “and will not resolve this system-level crisis.” Their two immediate actions will reduce employee workload so HHSC workers can get through the backlog of state paperwork. Those actions are to “request temporary federal waivers to extend benefits to Texans up for renewal in SNAP and children’s Medicaid” and “Take immediate steps to streamline eligibility processes.”

The Pitfalls of Mandatory Overtime

Using mandatory overtime as a long-term solution to a workforce crisis is unsustainable.

The Impact on Health and Well-being

Mandatory overtime places an immense burden on the physical and mental well-being of HHS workers. Extended work hours, often without adequate rest, can lead to burnout, heightened stress levels, and compromised health. The very individuals entrusted with the care of others find themselves in a precarious situation where their own well-being is at risk. This is evident in the Texas State Employees Union letter that attests the high turnover rates of the states workforce to low pay and poor working conditions.

Quality of Service Delivery

Although dedication to service is commendable, the quality of care provided during extended work hours may be compromised. Fatigue can affect decision-making abilities, attention to detail, and overall job performance. This not only impacts the professionals but also poses risks to the individuals and communities relying on the services provided by HHS workers.

Employee Morale and Job Satisfaction

Mandatory overtime policies can erode employee morale and job satisfaction. Constantly being on call and required to work beyond regular hours can lead to a sense of frustration and dissatisfaction. Workers may feel their personal and family lives are being sacrificed for the job, ultimately affecting their dedication and passion for their roles.

Impact on Work-Life Balance

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential for any profession, but it is particularly crucial in roles where empathy, compassion, and clear decision-making are paramount. Mandatory overtime disrupts this balance, straining personal relationships and making it challenging for workers to recharge, which is essential for sustained high-quality service delivery.

Long-Term Retention Challenges

The imposition of mandatory overtime can contribute to long-term retention challenges within the HHS workforce. Skilled professionals may reconsider their commitment to a profession that demands unsustainable hours, leading to a potential loss of expertise and experience within the field. As noted in the Texas State Employees Union letter, the HHSC has one the highest annual staff turnover rates at 29%, the highest the rate has been in 30 years.

Conclusion

Although the challenges faced by the HHS sector are undeniable, mandatory overtime is not the solution. A more sustainable approach involves embracing technology, comprehensive workforce planning, addressing staff shortages, and implementing effective management strategies. Creating a supportive work environment that prioritizes employee well-being will enhance job satisfaction and contribute to the effectiveness of HHS services.

In conclusion, the drawbacks of mandatory overtime for Health and Human Services workers are substantial and warrant a reevaluation of current practices. It’s time to prioritize the well-being of those dedicated professionals who tirelessly serve our communities and find alternative solutions that promote a healthier and more sustainable work environment.

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