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How Many Hours Do Employees Really Work?

CoAdvantage- Although an eight-hour workday and 40-hour workweek have become the de facto standard in the United States, few employees actually devote that much time to their work.

According to one recent report, over half (53%) of people say they spend at least one hour of the workday browsing social media and 60% say they’ve napped at work. Over three-quarters (77%) shop online at least once a week during work hours. Altogether, more than half of American workers spend anywhere from one to six hours away from their computer.

That said, there are some caveats to keep in mind when considering these numbers.

First, it’s hard to know how reliable these numbers are. Since they’re self-reported behaviors, many survey respondents might have lied. The numbers might be even higher! Or the way the survey was conducted could have distorted the responses. For example, the researchers asked about time spent away from the computer, but it isn’t clear if that means respondents weren’t working or just weren’t working at their computers.

Second, these figures don’t communicate anything about productivity or successful outcomes.

Netflix, for example, famously doesn’t adhere to strict schedules. “We don’t measure people by how many hours they work,” says CEO Reed Hastings. “We do care about accomplishing great work.”

Indeed, it’s entirely possible that an over-emphasis on raw hours could be counterproductive.

We already know, for example, that productivity is not strictly correlated to hours worked. A series of experiments in Iceland between 2015 and 2019 revealed that workers placed on a reduced scheduled of only 35 hours per week on the same salary did not decrease productivity. In fact, some teams reported an increase in productivity, like the city of Reykjavik’s Department of Accountancy processing 6.5% more invoices during the trial than before.

Indeed, if workers truly spent 100% of their time on work tasks all day, every day, that could easily lead to burnout (and thus decreased productivity or increased turnover), and it would reduce the organization’s capacities to deal with day-to-day changes.

But the relationship between hours and productivity isn’t necessarily clear-cut or strictly linear.

Imagine that Sally produces 100 units of whatever she makes over a 40-hour workweek. That’s 2.5 units per hour. Let’s say she can increase her productivity by 10% more (2.75 per hour) by working fewer hours. Unfortunately, a 10% productivity bump over 35 hours will yield only 96.25 total units – a net shortfall.

Maybe that’s justifiable if it means Sally stays instead of quits due to burnout. But it also represents a net loss in productivity. On the other hand, if the effect is larger – reduced hours mean she can increase output by something like 20% instead – she’d up end up with 105 total units after 35 hours, a net increase.

The truth, though, is that there’s no one size fits all answer here, and each employer has to consider the effect of different approaches on their own unique situation and workforce.

CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To learn more about CoAdvantage’s ability to create a strategic HR function in your business that drives business growth potential, contact us today.