Working time

Working time

Working time is the period of time that an individual spends at paid occupational labor. Unpaid labors such as personal housework are not considered part of the working week. Many countries regulate the work week by law, such as stipulating minimum daily rest periods, annual holidays and a maximum number of working hours per week.



Since the 1960s, the consensus among anthropologists, historians and sociologists has been that early hunter-gatherer societies enjoyed more leisure time than is permitted by capitalist and agrarian societies;[1][2] For instance, one camp of !Kung Bushmen was estimated to work two-and-a-half days per week, at around 6 hours a day.[3] Aggregated comparisons show that on average the working day was less than five hours.[1]

Subsequent studies in 1970s examined the Machiguenga of the Upper Amazon and the Kayapo of Northern Brazil. These studies expanded the definition of work beyond purely hunting-gathering activities, but the overall average across the hunter-gatherer societies he studied was still below 4.86, while the maximum was below 8 hours.[1] Popular perception is still aligned with the old academic consensus.[2]


The industrial revolution made it possible for a larger segment of the population to work year-round, since this labor was not tied to the season and artificial lighting made it possible to work longer each day. Peasants and farm laborers moved from rural areas to factories, and working time during the year increased significantly.[4] Before collective bargaining and worker protection laws, there was a financial incentive for a company to maximize the return on expensive machinery by having long hours. Records indicate that work schedules as arduous as twelve to sixteen hours per day, six to seven days per week were practiced in some industrial sites.

The automobile manufacturer, Henry Ford, was an ardent proponent of shorter work hours, which he introduced unilaterally in his own factories. Ford stated that he pursued this policy for business rather than humanitarian reasons. He believed that workers (who were also the main consumers of products) needed adequate leisure time to consume products and thus perceive a need to purchase them. Over the long term, consumer markets needed to be grown. This view of the economy has become the predominant one since then.

Recent studies[5][6] supporting a four-day week have shown that reduced work hours not only increase consumption and invigorate the economy, but also improve worker's level of education (due to having extra time to take classes and courses) and worker's health (less work-related stress and extra time for exercise). Reduced hours also save money on day care costs and transportation, which in turn helps the environment with less carbon-related emissions. These benefits increase workforce productivity on a per-hour basis.

Over the 20th century, work hours declined by almost half, mostly due to rising wages brought about by renewed economic growth, with a supporting role from trade unions, collective bargaining, and progressive legislation. The workweek, in most of the industrialized world, dropped steadily, to about forty hours after World War II. The decline continued at a faster pace in Europe: for example, France adopted a 35-hour workweek in 2000. In 1995, China adopted a 40-hour week, eliminating half-day work on Saturdays. Working hours in industrializing economies like South Korea, though still much higher than the leading industrial countries, are also declining steadily.

Technology has also continued to improve worker productivity, permitting standards of living to rise as hours declined.[7] In developed economies, as the time needed to manufacture goods has declined, more working hours have become available to provide services, resulting in a shift of much of the workforce between sectors.

Economic growth in monetary terms tends to be concentrated in health care, education, government, criminal justice, corrections, and other activities that are regarded as necessary for society rather than those that contribute directly to the production of material goods.[citation needed]


Working time is a quantity that can be measured for an individual or, in the aggregate, for a society. In the latter case, a 40-hour workweek would imply that employed individuals within the society, on average, worked 40 hours per week.

Some industrialized nations legally mandate a maximum work week length of between 35 and 45 hours per week and require 2 to 5 weeks per year of holiday. However, the actual hours of work per week cannot fall below a certain minimum without compromising a nation’s ability to produce the material standards of living its citizens are accustomed to.

If the work week is too short compared to that society's ideal, then the society suffers from low availability of labor and human capital. All else being equal, this will tend to result in lower real incomes and a lower standard of living than what could be had with a longer work week in the same society.

In contrast, a work week that is too long will result in earning more money at the cost of stress-related health problems as well as a "drought of leisure." Furthermore, children are likely to receive less attention from busy parents, and childrearing is likely to be subjectively worse. The exact ways that long workweeks affect culture, public health, and education are debated.

Several nations have imposed limits on working time in an effort to combat unemployment. The theory is that less work hours per a worker will create a demand for more workers, and give those that are already hired more leisure time. This has been done both on a national level, as in France's 35-hour workweek, and on the company-union level, for example the agreement between Volkswagen and its union to temporarily reduce the workweek to 29 hours to preserve jobs. This policy is controversial among economists.

Decrease in staff working hours

Many people think that the increased use of ICT has caused a reduction in the number of hours employees are required to work. This is because ICT has allowed people to work from the distance regardless of their location (via the internet). As a result, this leads to a decrease into the time spent in an office or away from the family. A general study also proves that most people (children) desire to spend more time with their family and are deprived of that fact due to the excess time spent at work. Nowadays this has changed and people split their time from the main office. An increase in number of people working part-time is also more evident as people realize that the internet allow people to work from their home and therefore allowing them to spend the desired time with the family, resulting in shorter work hours for the staff. Consequently, in order for this to be successful, a company must be organized in order to allow the employees to work fewer hours at the office but still do the same amount of work if they were to stay full-time.


9-to-5 is a phrase used to describe a conventional and possibly tedious job. Negatively used, it connotes a tedious or unremarkable occupation, the idea being that, because the job is so boring, the workplace shuts down outside of required hours.[citation needed] The phrase also indicates that a person is an employee, usually in a large company, rather than self-employed. More neutrally, it connotes a job with stable hours and low career risk, but still a position of subordinate employment.

The phrase is an expression in the United States originating from the traditional American business hours of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, representing a workweek of five eight hour days comprising 40 hours in total. The actual time worked, or rather at work, often varies between 35 and 48 hours in practice due to the inclusion, or lack of inclusion, of breaks. In many traditional white collar positions, employees were required to be in the office during these hours in order to take orders from the bosses, hence the relationship between this phrase and subordination. Workplace hours have become both more flexible and, especially in urban locations, longer but even still, the phrase is commonly used. (Though exceptionally demanding such jobs might be described as an "8-to-7" or "7-to-10".)

Days of the work week

The structure of the work week varies considerably for different professions and cultures. Among salaried workers in the western world, the work week often consists of Monday through Friday or Saturday with the weekend set aside as a time of personal work and leisure. Sunday is set aside in the western world because it is the Christian sabbath.

Several countries have adopted a workweek from Monday morning until Friday noon, either due to religious rules (observation of shabbat in Israel whose workweek is Sunday to Friday afternoon) or the growing predominance of a 35-37.5 hour workweek in continental Europe. Several of the Muslim countries have a standard Sunday through Thursday or Saturday through Wednesday workweek leaving Friday for religious observance, and providing breaks for the daily prayer times.

Day nicknames and expressions

Among salaried workers in the western world, Monday through Friday structure of the work week has led to the coining of phrases reflecting shared states of mind or moods among workers as they traverse the week.

'Blue Monday'

'Hump day' is a synonym for Wednesday. The idiom is based on the notion that if a worker has made it half-way through the week, struggling uphill from Monday, that the rest of the week is an easier slide toward Friday and the weekend; the end is in sight from the hump, the top of the hill.

'TGIF' is an acronym meaning "Thank God It's Friday" or "Thank Goodness It's Friday" an expression of relief that the work week is finally over and that even if the weekend is not full of leisure, at least the drudgery of the workplace is temporarily over.

'Pau Hana' (pronounced "pow hana") is a Hawaiian phrase literally meaning "finished work" but generally refers to the practice of leaving work early on Friday to start the weekend.

POETS day is an acronym meaning "Piss Off Early Tomorrow's Saturday", a term for Fridays, used in industries where it is common practice to finish work early at the end of the week. Variations on this are "Punch Out Early Tomorrow's Saturday" (referring to a manual punch time clock), "Push Off Early Tomorrow's Saturday" and "Push Off Early Tomorrow's Sunday" (based on the old 6 day work week). Used in UK[8] and Australia but appears less popular in the US.

Differences among countries

South Korea and Japan

Workers in South Korea have the longest and fastest declining work hours among OECD members.[9] The working hours have steadily fallen every year since the 21st century, declining from 2,512 hours in 2000 to 2,193 hours in 2010.[10] The amount of working hours falling every year has also increased significantly, accelerating the decline. Between 2000 and 2001, only 13 hours declined, leading to a 1.6% decline. However, between 2007 and 2008, a quadrupled 60 hours declined, leading to a 6.8% decline. At this speed, the next longest working country, Greece, is likely going to overtake South Korea soon as its 2,109 working hours in 2010 fell only by 10 hours from 2009.

South Korea's rapidly falling working hours is the result of the government's proactive move to lower working hours at all levels in order to increase leisure and relaxation time, which introduced the mandatory 40-hours, 5-day working week in 2004 for companies with over 1,000 employees. This expanded to companies with 300 employees or more in 2005, 100 employees or more in 2006, 50 or more in 2007, 20 or more in 2008 and a full roll-out to all workers nationwide in July 2011.[11] Since 2006, all primary and secondary schools have held classes every other Saturday and from 2012, South Korea will roll-out the full 5-day school week nationwide.[12]

Work hours in Japan are decreasing, but many Japanese still work long hours. Recently, Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) has issued a draft report recommending major changes to regulations that govern working hours. The centerpiece of the proposal is an exemption from overtime pay for white-collar workers.

Western Europe

In most Western European countries, working time is gradually decreasing.[13] The European Union's working time directive imposes a 48 hour maximum working week that applies to every member state except the United Kingdom (which has an opt-out meaning that UK-based employees may work longer than 48 hours if they wish, but they cannot be forced to do so).[14] France has enacted a 35-hour workweek by law, and similar results have been produced in other countries such as Germany through collective bargaining.[citation needed] A major reason for the low annual hours worked in Europe is a relatively high amount of paid annual leave. Fixed employment comes with four to six weeks of holiday as standard.


Law in Mexico provides for a maximum of 48 hours of work a week. However, due to loopholes in the law, the precariousness of labor rights in Mexico and its underdevelopment in relation to other OECD member nations, this is rarely observed in the private sector, with workers more often than not working overtime without getting any due compensation for it. Fear of the employees' losing their job or threats by the employer partly explains the reason for these irregularities .


Law in Colombia provides for a maximum of 48 hours of work a week.


In Australia, between 1974 and 1997 no marked change took place in the average amount of time spent at work by Australians of "prime working age" (that is, between 25 and 54 years of age). Throughout this period, the average time spent at work by prime working-age Australians (including those who did not spend any time at work) remained stable at between 27 and 28 hours per week. This unchanging average, however, masks a significant redistribution of work from men to women. Between 1974 and 1997, the average time spent at work by prime working-age Australian men fell from 45 to 36 hours per week, while the average time spent at work by prime working-age Australian women rose from 12 to 19 hours per week. In the period leading up to 1997, the amount of time Australian workers spent at work outside the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays also increased.[15]

In 2009, a rapid increase in the number of working hours was reported in a study by The Australia Institute. The study found the average Australian worked 1855 hours per year at work. According to Clive Hamilton of The Australia Institute, this surpasses even Japan. The Australia Institute believes that Australians work the highest number of hours in the developed world.[16]

United States

NSC-68 and labor force size, participation, and the steady growth of working time in the United States from 1950-2007:

By 1946 the federal government had already inaugurated the 40-hour work week for all federal employees.[17] Beginning in 1950, under the Truman Administration, and continuing with all administrations since, the United States became the first known industrialized nation to explicitly (albeit secretly) and permanently forswear a reduction of working time. Given the military-industrial requirements of the Cold War, the authors of the then secret National Security Council Document 68 [18] proposed the US government undertake a massive permanent national economic expansion that would let it “siphon off” a part of the economic activity produced to support an ongoing military buildup to contain the Soviet Union:

… the United States could achieve a substantial absolute increase in output and could thereby increase the allocation of resources to a build-up of the economic and military strength of itself and its allies without suffering a decline in its real standard of living … With a high level of economic activity, the United States could soon attain a gross national product of $300 billion per year, as was pointed out in the President's Economic Report (January 1950). Progress in this direction would permit, and might itself be aided by, a buildup of the economic and military strength of the United States and the free world; furthermore, if a dynamic expansion of the economy were achieved, the necessary build-up could be accomplished without a decrease in the national standard of living because the required resources could be obtained by siphoning off a part of the annual increment in the gross national product. These are facts of fundamental importance in considering the courses of action open to the United States (cf. Ch. IX).

This proposal was adopted by President Truman, who, in his 1951 Annual Message to the Congress, stated:

In terms of manpower, our present defense targets will require an increase of nearly one million men and women in the armed forces within a few months, and probably not less than four million more in defense production by the end of the year. This means that an additional 8 percent of our labor force, and possibly much more, will be required by direct defense needs by the end of the year. These manpower needs will call both for increasing our labor force by reducing unemployment and drawing in women and older workers, and for lengthening hours of work in essential industries. These manpower requirements can be met. There will be manpower shortages, but they can be solved.[19]

Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, working time has remained unchanged by subsequent administrations and Congress. A 2007 C.I.A. estimate of United States labor force participation placed it at approximately 153.1 million individuals.[20] Assuming each individual worked a 1987 average work week of 1949 hours, working time rose from 121 billion man hours per year to 398 billion man hours per year. This represents an actual extension of the working time by 247 percent over the fifty-seven year period. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics states that between 1950 and 2000 the number of individuals in the active labor force grew 227 percent from 62 million to 141 million, and was projected to reach 192 million by 2050.

Working time and female labor force participation – 1950-2000:

Most significant, as President Truman’s 1951 message predicted, the share of working women rose from 30 percent of the labor force, in 1950, to 47 percent, by 2000 – growing at a particularly rapid rate from 1970 to 1980.[21]

“In the 1950–60 period, population growth alone was responsible for the growth of the labor force. During the 1960–70 period, population growth contributed about 94 percent of the growth in the labor force. In the 1970–80 period, when the labor force participation of women underwent rapid growth, 76 percent of the labor force growth was the result of population growth, and the rest was related to the growth of participation rates, mainly of women.”[21]

The report continues:

“In 1950, the overall participation rate of women was 34 percent. […] The rate rose to 38 percent in 1960, 43 percent in 1970, 52 percent in 1980, and 58 percent in 1990 and reached 60 percent by 2000. The overall labor force participation rate of women is projected to attain its highest level in 2010, at 62 percent.”[21]

The inclusion of women in the work force is seen as a symbol of social progress, but, since this participation has not been offset by an overall reduction of individual average work time, the net effect, once the vastly improved productivity of the United States labor force is factored in, has been a labor force that is today worked to more extreme lengths than any earlier period in United State history.

The price impact of United States lengthening working time – 1950-2007:

Although it is not yet supported by independent research, one argument states the lengthening of work time in the United States may be implicated in the secular persistence on inflation. Between 1950 and 2007 official price inflation was measured to 861 percent. President Truman, in his 1951 message to Congress, predicted correctly that his military buildup “will cause intense and mounting inflationary pressures.” Yet even he did not appear to sense the permanent and long term price implications of a longer working time.

The official inflation statistics may actually understate the real impact of the lengthening work week on prices. To give a closer estimate, it is necessary to correct for productivity increase during the same period. Using the data provided by the United State Bureau of Labor Statistics, Erik Rauch has estimated productivity to have increased by nearly 400%.[22] Says, Rauch:

“… if productivity means anything at all, a worker should be able to earn the same standard of living as a 1950 worker in only 11 hours per week.”

The increase in productivity since 1950, ideally, should have had the effect of lowering prices of material goods. Given this, a truer measure of inflation during this period might be as much as four times higher than government figures.

In the United States, the working time for upper-income professionals has increased compared to 1965, while total annual working time for low-skill, low-income workers has decreased.[23] This effect is sometimes called the "leisure gap".

Social impact

Because of the pressure of working, time is increasingly viewed as a commodity.[24] This trend, as well as the amount of working time being found to affect gender roles, has been notably researched by Sociology professor Dr. Stephen C. Smith.[25] In 2006, the average man employed full-time worked 8.4 hours per work day, and the average woman employed full-time worked 7.7 hours per work day.[26]

There is no mandatory minimum amount of paid time off for sickness or holiday. However, regular, full-time workers often have the opportunity to take about nine days off for various holidays, two weeks of sick leave and two weeks of paid holiday time, with some workers receiving additional time after several years.[27]

Overtime rules

Many professional workers put in longer hours than the forty-hour standard. In professional industries like investment banking and large law firms, a forty-hour workweek is considered inadequate and may result in job loss or failure to be promoted.[28][29] Medical residents in the United States routinely work long hours as part of their training.

Workweek policies are not uniform in the U.S. Many compensation arrangements are legal, and three of the most common are wage, commission, and salary payment schemes. Wage earners are compensated on a per-hour basis, whereas salaried workers are compensated on a per-week or per-job basis, and commission workers get paid according to how much they produce or sell.

Under most circumstances, wage earners and lower-level employees may be legally required by an employer to work more than forty hours in a week; however, they are paid extra for the additional work. Many salaried workers and commission-paid sales staff are not covered by overtime laws. These are generally called "exempt" positions, because they are exempt from federal and state laws that mandate extra pay for extra time worked.[30] The rules are complex, but generally exempt workers are executives, professionals, or sales staff.[31] For example, school teachers are not paid extra for working extra hours. Business owners and independent contractors are considered self-employed, and none of these laws apply to them.

Generally, workers are paid time-and-a-half, or 1.5 times the worker's base wage, for each hour of work past forty. California also applies this rule to work in excess of eight hours per day.[32]

In some states, firms are required to pay double-time, or twice the base rate, for each hour of work past 60, or each hour of work past 12 in one day in California.[32] This provides an incentive for companies to limit working time, but makes these additional hours more desirable for the worker. It is not uncommon for overtime hours to be accepted voluntarily by wage-earning workers. Unions often treat overtime as a desirable commodity when negotiating how these opportunities shall be partitioned among union members.

Other countries

The Kapauku people of Papua think it is bad luck to work two consecutive days. The !Kung Bushmen work just two-and-a-half days per week, rarely more than six hours per day.[33]

The work week in Samoa is approximately 30 hours,[34] and though average annual Samoan cash income is relatively low, by some measures, the Samoan standard of living is quite good.

In India at the managerial level, particularly in smaller Indian companies, a person generally works for 11 hours a day and 6 days a week. A typical office will open at 09:00 or 09:30 and officially end the work day at about 19:00. However, many workers and especially managers will stay later in the office due to additional work load. However, large Indian companies and MNC offices located in India tend to follow a 5-day, 8-9h-hour per day working schedule. The Government of India in some of its offices also follows a 5-day week schedule[citation needed].

Nigeria has public servants work 35 hours per week.

The work time in Brazil is 8 hours per day, on duty jobs are 6 hours per day.

Recent trends

Many modern workplaces are experimenting with accommodating changes in the workforce and the basic structure of scheduled work. Flextime allows office workers to shift their working time away from rush-hour traffic; for example, arriving at 10:00 am and leaving at 6:00 pm. Telecommuting permits employees to work from their homes or in satellite locations (not owned by the employer),eliminating or reducing long commute times in heavily-populated areas. Zero-hour contracts establish work contracts without minimum-hour guarantees; workers are paid only for the hours they work.

See also

Syndicalism.svg Organized labour portal


  1. ^ a b c Hans-Joachim Voth (2000) Time and work in England 1750-1830, Chapter 5, Comparisons and conclusions pp.242-5
  2. ^ a b Farb, Peter (1968). Man's Rise to Civilization As Shown by the Indians of North America from Primeval Times to the Coming of the Industrial State. New York City: E. P. Dutton. p. 28. LCC E77.F36. "Most people assume that the members of the Shoshone band worked ceaselessly in an unremitting search for sustenance. Such a dramatic picture might appear confirmed by an erroneous theory almost everyone recalls from schooldays: A high culture emerges only when the people have the leisure to build pyramids or to create art. The fact is that high civilization is hectic, and that primitive hunters and collectors of wild food, like the Shoshone, are among the most leisured people on earth." 
  3. ^ Cohen, Yehudi (1974). Man in Adaptation: the cultural present. Aldine Transaction. pp. 94–95. ISBN 0202011097. "In all, the adults of the Dobe camp worked about two and a half days a week. Since the average working day was about six hours long, the fact emerges that !Kung Bushmen of Dobe, despite their harsh environment, devote from twelve to nineteen hours a week to getting food. Even the hardest working individual in the camp, a man named =oma who went out hunting on sixteen of the 28 days, spent a maximum of 32 hours a week in the food quest." 
  4. ^ Juliet Schor (1991) The Overworked American, pp.43-seq, excerpt: Pre-industrial workers had a shorter workweek than today's
  5. ^ "Business: On the Way to a Four-Day Week". Time. 1971-03-01.,9171,878936-1,00.html. 
  6. ^ Janice Peterson - DAILY HERALD (2008-06-09). "Study finds four-day work week optimal". Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ "h2g2 - POETS Day". BBC. Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ "In land of longest hours, workers get a break". 2001-08-21. Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Working time limits (the 48-hour week) : Directgov - Employment". 2009-08-01. Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  15. ^ Bittman, Michael & Rice, James Mahmud. (2002). "The spectre of overwork: An analysis of trends between 1974 and 1997 using Australian time-use diaries". Labour and Industry 12 (3), 5–25. (3.4 MB PDF file)
  16. ^ "PM - Australians work longest hours in the developed world". 2004-11-19. Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  17. ^ California Assembly Concurrent Resolution 11, Cal. Resolutions 1946, Ch. 19
  18. ^ "NSC-68, Beginning Section VI". Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  19. ^ "Harry S. Truman: Annual Message to the Congress: The President's Economic Report". Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  20. ^ (CIA FACTBOOK)
  21. ^ a b c A century of change: the U.S. labor force, 1950–2050. Monthly Labor Review. May 2002. Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  22. ^ "Productivity and the Workweek". Retrieved 2011-02-17. 
  23. ^ "An economic mystery: Why do the poor seem to have more free time than the rich? - By Steven E. Landsburg - Slate Magazine". Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  24. ^ ""The meaning of time for reduced-load workers and their families" by Stephen C Smith". Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  25. ^ "ProQuest Login - ProQuest". Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  26. ^ "American Time Use Survey Summary". 2010-06-22. Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  27. ^ "Table 4. Average paid holidays and days of paid holiday and paid sick leave, full-time employees, 1997". Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  28. ^ Kuckes, Niki. "Legal Affairs". Legal Affairs. Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  29. ^ California Bar Journal[dead link]
  30. ^ "What do the terms exempt and nonexempt mean?". Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  31. ^ "elaws - Fair Labor Standards Act Advisor". Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  32. ^ a b "Overtime in California FAQ". Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  33. ^ Robert Levine (1997). "A Geography of Time". Basic Books. ISBN 0465028926. Retrieved 2007-11-17. 
  34. ^ Pitt, David (1970). Tradition and economic progress in Samoa: A case study of the role of traditional social institutions in economic development. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198231563. "(...) findings generally agree on an average of about 28-30 hours work per week for an adult male village worker." 

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