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Working hours

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Working hours

Working time is the period of time that an individual spends at paid occupational labor. Unpaid labors such as personal housework or caring for children/pets 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. Working time may vary from person to person often depending on location, culture, lifestyle choice, and the profitability of the individuals livelihood. For example someone who is supporting children and paying a large mortgage will need to work more hours to meet a basic cost of living than someone without children of the same earning power. As fewer people than ever are having children[1] choosing part time is becoming more popular.[2]

Standard working hours (or normal working hours) refers to the legislation to limit the working hours per day, per week, per month or per year. If an employee needs to work overtime, the employer will need to pay overtime payments to employees as required in the law. Generally speaking, standard working hours of countries worldwide are around 40 to 44 hours per week, and the additional overtime payments are around 25% to 50% to the normal hourly payments. Maximum working hours refers to the maximum working hours of an employee. The employee cannot work more than the level specified in the maximum working hours law.

Some economists have recommended moving to a 21 hour standard work week to address problems with unemployment, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, overworking, family care, and the general lack of free time.[3][4][5] Actual work week lengths have been falling in the developed world.[6]


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;[7][8] For instance, one camp of !Kung Bushmen was estimated to work two-and-a-half days per week, at around 6 hours a day.[9] Aggregated comparisons show that on average the working day was less than five hours.[7]

Subsequent studies in the 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.[7] Popular perception is still aligned with the old academic consensus.[8]


The industrial revolution made it possible for a larger segment of the population to work year-round, because 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.[10] 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 long 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.

Recent articles[11][12] supporting a four-day week have argued that reduced work hours would increase consumption and invigorate the economy. However, other articles actually state that consumption would decrease.[13][14] Other arguments for the four-day week include improvements to worker's level of education (due to having extra time to take classes and courses) and improvements to 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 (though this is not widely practiced). 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.[15] 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.

In the mid 2000s, the Netherlands was the first country to achieve an overall average working week of less than 30 hours.[16][contradictory]

Gradual decrease in working hours

Most countries in the developed world have seen average hours worked decrease greatly. For example in the U.S in the late 19th century it was estimated that the average work week was over 60 hours per week.[17] Today the average hours worked in the U.S is around 33,[18] with the average man employed full-time for 8.4 hours per work day, and the average woman employed full-time for 7.7 hours per work day.[19] The front runners for lowest average weekly work hours are the Netherlands with 27 hours,[20] and France with 30 hours.[21] At current rates the Netherlands is set to become the first country to reach an average work week under 21 hours.[22]

The New Economics Foundation has recommended moving to a 21 hour standard work week to address problems with unemployment, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, overworking, family care, and the general lack of free time.[3][4][5] Actual work week lengths have been falling in the developed world.[6]

Factors that have contributed to lowering average work hours and increasing standard of living have been:


For other uses, see day job and 9 to 5 (disambiguation).

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 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 composing 40 hours in total. The actual time 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 to take orders from the bosses, hence the relationship between this phrase and subordination. Workplace hours have become more flexible, but even still the phrase is commonly used.

Main article: Workweek

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.

Differences among countries and regions

South Korea and Japan

South Korea has the fastest declining working time in the OECD,[23] which is the result of the government's proactive move to lower working hours at all levels to increase leisure and relaxation time, which introduced the mandatory forty-hour, five-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 inclusion to all workers nationwide in July 2011.[24] The government has continuously increased public holidays to 16 days in 2013, more than the 10 days of the United States and double that of Britain's 8 days.[25]

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.Japan enacts an 8-hour work day and 40-hour work week (44 hours in specified workplace). The overtime hour limits are: 15hours in a week, 27 hours in two weeks, 43 hours in four weeks, 45 hours in a month, 81 hours in two months and 120 hours in three months. They get around this by working several hours a day without 'clocking in' whether physically or metaphorically. [26] The overtime allowance should not be lower than 125% and not more than 150% of normal hourly rate.[27]

European Union

In most European Union countries, working time is gradually decreasing.[28] The European Union's working time directive imposes a 48 hour maximum working week that applies to every member state except the United Kingdom and Malta (which have 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).[29] France has enacted a 35-hour workweek by law, and similar results have been produced in other countries such as Germany through collective bargaining. A major reason for the low annual hours worked in Europe is a relatively high amount of paid annual leave.[30] Fixed employment comes with four to six weeks of holiday as standard. For example, in the UK, full time employees are entitled to 28 days paid leave a year. [31]


Mexican laws mandate a maximum of 48 hours of work per week, but they are rarely observed or enforced due to loopholes in the law, the volatility of labor rights in Mexico, and its underdevelopment relative to other members countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Indeed, private sector employees often work overtime without receiving overtime compensation. Fear of unemployment and threats by employers explain in part why the 48-hour work week is disregarded.


Articles 161 to 167 of the Substantive Work Code in Colombia provides for a maximum of 48 hours of work a week [1].


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.[32]

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.[33]

From January 1, 2010, Australia enacted the new maximum weekly hour regulation under a new system created by the Fair Work Act 2009. Unless the additional hours are reasonable, the maximum weekly hours of work of a full-time employee is 38 hours.[34]

United States

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.[19] 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 (10 business days) of sick leave and two weeks (10 business days) of paid holiday time, with some workers receiving additional time after several years.[35] Because of the pressure of working, time is increasingly viewed as a commodity.[36]

Recent history

By 1946 the United States government had inaugurated the 40-hour work week for all federal employees.[37] Beginning in 1950, under the Truman Administration, 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 Report 68 (NSC-68)[38] 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. In his 1951 Annual Message to the Congress, President Truman 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.[39]

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average non-farm private sector employee worked 34.5 hours per week as of June 2012.[40]

As President Truman’s 1951 message had 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 during the 1970s.[41] According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report issued May 2002, "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.”[41] The inclusion of women in the work force can be seen as symbolic of social progress as well as of increasing American productivity and hours worked.

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.” Using the data provided by the United State Bureau of Labor Statistics, Erik Rauch has estimated productivity to have increased by nearly 400%.[42] According to 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.”

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.[43] This effect is sometimes called the "leisure gap".

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.[44][45] 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.[46] The rules are complex, but generally exempt workers are executives, professionals, or sales staff.[47] 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.[48]

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.[48] 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.


China enacts a 44-hour normal working week, 150% overtime payment with reference to the normal hourly pay, and a maximum of 48 hours of work per week.[49]

But in reality the law is rarely, if ever, enforced. Most people in China work much more than 44 hours per week, and when they work on weekends or on national holidays, they typically don't get any overtime payment.

Hong Kong

Until now, Hong Kong has no legislations regarding maximum and normal working hours. The average weekly working hours of full-time employees in Hong Kong is 49 hours.[50] According to the Price and Earnings Report 2012 conducted by UBS, while the global and regional average were 1,915 and 2,154 hours per year respectively, the average working hours in Hong Kong is 2,296 hours per year, which ranked the fifth longest yearly working hours among 72 countries under study.[51] In addition, from the survey conducted by the Public Opinion Study Group of the University of Hong Kong, 79% of the respondents agree that the problem of overtime work in Hong Kong is “severe”, and 65% of the respondents support the legislation on the maximum working hours.[52] In Hong Kong, 70% of surveyed do not receive any overtime remuneration.[53] These show that people in Hong Kong concerns the working time issues. As Hong Kong implemented the minimum wage law in May 2011, the Chief Executive, Donald Tsang, of the Special Administrative Region pledged that the government will standardize working hours in Hong Kong.[54]

On 26 November 2012, the Labour Department of the HKSAR released the “Report of the policy study on standard working hours”. The report covers three major areas, including: (1) the regimes and experience of other places in regulating working hours, (2)latest working time situations of employees in different sectors, and (3) estimation of the possible impact of introducing standard working hour in Hong Kong.[55] Under the selected parameters, from most loosen to most stringent, the estimated increase in labour cost vary from 1.1 billion to 55 billion HKD, and affect 957,100 (36.7% of total employees)to 2,378,900 (91.1%of total) employees.[50]

Various sectors of the community show concerns about the standard working hours in Hong Kong. The points are summarized as below:


Singapore enacts an 8-hour normal work day, a 44-hour normal working week, and a maximum 48-hour work week. It is to note that if the employee works no more than five days a week, the employee’s normal working day is 9-hour and the working week is 44 hours. Also, if the number of hours worked of the worker is less than 44 hours every alternate week, the 44-hour weekly limit may be exceeded in the other week. Yet, this is subjected to the pre-specification in the service contract and the maximum should not exceed 48 hours per week or 88 hours in any consecutive two week time. In addition, a shift worker can work up to 12 hours a day, provided that the average working hours per week do not exceed 44 over a consecutive 3-week time. The overtime allowance per overtime hour must not be less than 1.5 times of the employee’s hour basic rates.[75]

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.[76]

The work week in Samoa is approximately 30 hours,[77] 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 companies, someone 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- to 9-hour per day working schedule. The Government of India in some of its offices also follows a 5-day week schedule.

Nigeria has public servants work 35 hours per week.

The work time in Brazil is 44 hours per week, usually 8 hours per day and 4 hours on Saturday or 8.8 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.

Points in favor of and against standard working hours

Points in favor of standard working hours [50] Points against standard working hours[50]
  • If people work more, they can get a higher pay
    • As people who work overtime can get an overtime pay, their income may increase
  • Promote work-life balance
    • Enjoy family life
    • Increase time for leisure and rest
    • Beneficial to health
    • Can have more time to pursue further studies
  • Increase costs of running businesses
    • Employers may use various measures to offset the cost increase, such as lower usual pay, replace full-time employee with part-time employees, lower or cancel year-end bonus, etc.[71]
    • Under the situation that replace full-time employee with part-time employees, workers may need to find more jobs to remain his/her income level.[71]
  • Lower production output
  • Extend retirement age, the lifelong work hour may not change[73]
  • Standard working hour is not a good measure to achieve work-life balance.
  • Makes employees to be more willing to work overtime
  • Hard to compromise an appropriate level of standard working hours that is applicable for different industries which have different situations
    • Professionals such as barrister, accountant may have long work time, and hard to define their work time.
    • May need different exclusions
  • Problem in calculating work time may cause dispute between employers and employees.

See also

Organized labour portal


Further reading

  • Deirdre McCann (2005), Working Time Laws: A global perspective, ILO, ISBN 92-2-117323-2
  • Sangheon Lee, Deirdre McCann and Jon C. Messenger, Working Time Around the World'. Trends in working hours, laws and policies in a global comparative perspective. London: ILO/Routledge, 2007.
  • Madeleine Bunting (2004), Willing Slaves: How the Overwork Culture is Ruling Our Lives, HarperCollins
  • John de Graaf (2003), Take Back Your Time, Berrett-Koehler, ISBN 1-57675-245-3
  • Eugene J. McCarthy and William McGaughey (1989), "Nonfinancial Economics: The Case for Shorter Hours of Work", Praeger
  • Heejung Chung, Marcel Kerkhofs and Peter Ester "Working Time Flexibility in European Companies", European Foundation.
  • Colette Fagan, Ariane Hegewisch and Jane Pillinger "Out of Time: why Britain needs a new approach to working time flexibility", TUC
  • Ute Klammer, Ton Wilthagen, Heejung Chung, Anke Thiel (2008) "Take it or leave it: flexible working-time arrangements and the synchronization of business cycle and life cycle" (as part of the European Foundation project "Flexibility and Security over the lifecourse")
  • Thirsk, Joan (1967) (editor) The agrarian history of England and Wales vol. IV
  • Center for Economic and Policy Research, February 2013
  • OCLC 317650570, 50016270 and 163149563

External links

Template:EB1922 Poster

  • Hours of Work in U.S. History from EH.NET by Robert Whaples
  • "Work until you drop: how the long-hours culture is killing us" (UK focus)
  • Evans, J., D. Lippoldt and P. Marianna(2001), Trends in Working Hours in OECD Countries, OECD Labour Market and Social Policy Occasional Papers n° 45, OECD, Paris.
  • Hart, Bob 'Working time and employment' Routledge Revivals, 2010.
  • Explanation of Working Time Limits (48 hour week) in the UK and how the opt-out works
  • Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) resources on the UK Working Time Regulations
  • OECD Average annual hours actually worked per worker
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