Dear Straight Dope:
When I lived in Chicago, I worked 9 to 5, and enjoyed the benefits of the 35-hour work week. After a foray to San Francisco, and finally to Seattle, I find that most firms in those cities have 8 to 5 schedules, for a 40-hour week. My question, your magnificence, is why is there this five-hour discrepancy in work weeks? I want my hour of sleep back!
Karl Sponberg, Seattle, WA
First I’ve got a question for you. Where’d you find this cushy 9-to-5 job in Chicago? Straight Dope World HQ is in Chicago, and I can tell you a 35-hour work week there sure isn’t the norm. Not that working 80 hour weeks for Cecil is anything less than a blast, of course.
The short answer to your question is that each company sets its own work week, and the most common standard work week in the U.S. is 40 hours. There isn’t any legal restriction other than the federal requirement for overtime for nonexempt workers (usually those paid by the hour) after 40 hours in a week.
In 1997 the Bureau of National Affairs surveyed 431 employers about the length of their work week and published the results in Personnel Policies Forum Survey No. 152, “Staffing and Scheduling Strategies.” Here’s an excerpt:
“The 40-hour work week remains the norm for most full-time employees. Seventy-four percent of survey respondents require their full-time employees to put in 40 hours per week, excluding unpaid break periods and overtime. (For the survey, employers were asked to report average weekly paid hours for full-time employees whose total work hours vary from week to week.) Full-time work weeks at respondents’ firms vary from 32 hours to 48 hours. A work week of 39 or fewer hours is reported by 18 percent of the employers; one exceeding 40 hours is reported by just 3 percent of the companies. The second most common full-time schedule, reported by 11 percent of employers, is 37.5 hours a week.”
In our research, we came across several other sources that indicated somewhere between 70-80% of U.S. employers have a 40 hour work week. We didn’t find any variation by industry or region.
Hope this helps. Regards.
Send questions to Cecil via firstname.lastname@example.org.
STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.