Cognitive Daily

I don’t know what I expected to see when I posted yesterday’s poll about people’s work schedules, but I didn’t expect to find this. With over 250 responses, fewer than half of our respondents said they work a standard 8-5 Monday-Friday schedule.

It’s possible that Cognitive Daily’s readership isn’t representative of the population at large (we’ve got a disproportionate number of students), but based on our sample, 52 percent of people don’t work 8-5 every day. Using the poll results, it’s easy to calculate how many people we expect to see out and about during the workweek. At any given time during “official” working hours, 29 percent of CogDaily readers aren’t actually working.

That’s not even counting a variety of other reasons people might not be in a cubicle, office, or other work location. We asked respondents not to count lunch and other breaks. People also might be out of the office on a business trip or to meet a client. They might be on vacation. They might be on the way to a doctor’s appointment. And, of course, students or faculty (or other workers) might be doing actual work in a coffee shop.

When you add up all these factors, I wouldn’t be surprised if the portion of people able to be out and about during regular working hours exceeded 40 percent. And since many people are working during the weekends and evenings, it’s possible that half as many people are able to be out and about during official working hours compared to non-working hours.

Thinking about it this way, the question isn’t so much “why are so many people out and about during the workday?” as “why aren’t there more people out and about during the workday?” If movie houses are packed to the gills on weekends, why are there just a few lonely souls populating the seats during a weekday matinee? Why are coffee shops mostly empty at 3:30 in the afternoon?

I think it comes down to availability. Even though Bob gets Tuesdays off, Cindy might take every other Monday. But both of them are free for at least part of the weekend, so that’s when they get together for dinner and a movie. While perhaps 40 percent of us might be available at any given time during the workday, 80 percent are free during the weekend, so it’s much easier to find time to spend together.

But given that people now have so much free time during the workweek, maybe they should start thinking about using it socially. Perhaps as workweeks become even more flexible, we’ll see more and more people at the Tuesday matinee, or there’ll be Wednesday morning softball leagues, or a Monday brunch tradition. I can think of worse things than a mimosa at 2:30 on a Monday afternoon….

Comments

  1. #1 Janne
    May 24, 2007

    First, as far as I have experienced, the time slot of 8-17 just isn’t the “standard” for office work either in Sweden nor Japan (the two societies I have most experience in). Both have 9-18, and flex time is common. In addition, of course, the _actual_ time spent in the office here in Japan is probably more like 9-19 or 9-20 for many workers. Considering how impractical 8-17 is in many ways, I would be surprised if that still is the standard in the US either.

    Second, your sample here is probably rather heavily skewed towards professional academics – people who have accepted a career of relatively high uncertainty and low pay specifically to gain the freedom not to work to the clock every day.

  2. #2 Dave Munger
    May 24, 2007

    Considering how impractical 8-17 is in many ways, I would be surprised if that still is the standard in the US either.

    Hmmm… hard to say, I guess. The only place in the US I’ve ever worked when the starting time was as late as 9 was New York. In the rest of the country it’s 8 to 5, in my experience. I haven’t noticed a trend to the workday getting later myself, but I’m just one person. A brief search online didn’t reveal much either.

    Anyone else want to weigh in on this?

  3. #3 christopher
    May 24, 2007

    i work in the visualfx industry and i work 10-7p m-f. up until about a year ago i worked a swing shift, 2-11p. many of the folks in my industry work odd shifts – and in most of the companies i’ve worked for in the tech/creative industries (i also worked for a music software development company and rode the dot com boom with a web developer company), many people (including myself) didn’t start work until 10a.

  4. #4 Tony Jeremiah
    May 24, 2007

    Along with each category in the poll, it may have been profitable to ask poll participants their age as well as whether they are single or married. The poll seems similar to research by sociologists focusing on trends in leisure activity. Their research has revealed a U-shaped distribution in leisure time (defined as time not taken up by work or required activities such as eating and sleeping). Leisure time decreases linearly for the following age categories: early childhood (6-12), teen years (13-19), years of parenthood (20-50)–with the parents having the least amount of leisure time; and begins to increase linearly after parenthood (50-70) to late adulthood (70+), which would essentially be the retirement years.

    Another possible factor that could explain why more persons are not working the traditional work week might be for economic reasons. Sociologists report that shortening the work week is one way to increase employment. Germany, for example, has a 35 hour work week with Friday afternoons usually off. Additionally, Germany’s car company, Volkswagen is one of the first global corporations to introduce a 30-hour work week. These trends are different in Canada, U.S. and Japan. In terms of average work hours per year, Canadians spend 2036, Americans, 1948, and Japanese, 2120 (Henslin, 2004).

  5. #5 acm
    May 24, 2007

    The only place in the US I’ve ever worked when the starting time was as late as 9 was New York. In the rest of the country it’s 8 to 5, in my experience.

    well, it’s worth pointing out that *25 years ago* there was a hit country-crossover song called “9 to 5″ that was a bemoaning of the “average gal’s” workaday world. so I’m guessin’ that is/was pretty common. my current office claims 8:30-4:45 as its hours, and that’s the earliest I’ve ever been expected to show up (and, three years in, I’m back to 9-9:30 arrival). I always figured the early arrivers were trying to beat the rush hour(s)…

  6. #6 Paul Ivanov
    May 24, 2007

    I just took the bus across the bay to San Francisco, to sit at a coffee shop and work (Berkeley’s pretty dead during the summer)…don’t tell my advisor, though…

  7. #7 roseindigo
    May 24, 2007

    There are many people who work flexible hours these days. With computers at home it’s not that hard to do. There are also many industries/companies that work in shifts, such as hospitals. I used to work four 10-hour days on the swing shift, two of those being Saturday and Sunday, and I’d have three weekdays off to do whatever I wanted, when traffic is lighter and children are in school. Companies are much more willing to give their employees a choice as far as when they work.

  8. #8 Jenny
    May 25, 2007

    “It’s possible that Cognitive Daily’s readership isn’t representative of the population at large…”

    It’s possible?! It’s nearly certain! I’m not sure how useful your analysis is when you make such a fundamentally flawed assumption.

  9. #9 Dave Munger
    May 25, 2007

    It’s possible?! It’s nearly certain! I’m not sure how useful your analysis is when you make such a fundamentally flawed assumption.

    Point well taken. But actually, based on previous Casual Fridays, our readership isn’t as biased towards students/academics as you might think. Yes, it doesn’t represent the population at large, but the vast majority of our readers hold “standard” jobs.

    Also, in response to the commenters who suggest that 9-5 is a more common workweek than 8-5, I just recalculated the numbers assuming all respondents who said they worked 1-2 hours less than 8-5 per day were actually working a full 9-5 workweek. It diminished the total by just 2 percent, from 29 to 27 percent of the CogDaily readership available to be out and about at at any given time.

  10. #10 Matthias
    May 25, 2007

    What did you want to find out? The standard workweek in the US? World-wide? In your town? Whatever the answer, you either end up with data points from 250 people that are possibly distributed across the world to make assumptions on the workweek in the US or your state or whatever or you try to use this data to make assumptions on “the world” even though you have no statistical evidence that your sample is even border-line evenly distributed across all countries. That is unscientific to say the least.

  11. #11 Dave Munger
    May 25, 2007

    you try to use this data to make assumptions on “the world” even though you have no statistical evidence that your sample is even border-line evenly distributed across all countries

    I am very clear in the post in saying that the generalization only applies to readers of Cognitive Daily. That said, I do know from Casual Fridays results that about 85 percent of our readers are from the US.

  12. #12 Matthias
    May 25, 2007

    Dave, IIRC your original question was “why do so many people hang out in coffee shops during the day – aren’t they supposed to work?”. Your hypothesis was that many people just don’t work full-time anymore. So your web-based sample has no connection (that I can see) with the statistical population you want to learn about. You want to know things about people sitting in cafes and go ask people sitting in front of a computer – possibly in their office, maybe on the ISS. You should at least make clear why you think that your sample is useful. Interestingly, in your post you say that it’s not. Your argument goes like this: “Maybe our data is bad, but you can still see that the result is …”. Your argument should have been “Maybe our data is bad, so until I can come up with evidence that it isn’t, I won’t make any comment on it.”

  13. #13 Dave Munger
    May 25, 2007

    Matthias:

    No, the original question was “If we get enough responses, we should have a good sense of how many people are free to sit in the park, grab a cup of coffee, or catch a movie while everyone else is working in a cubicle.”

    The idea was never to be scientifically precise, and of course everyone involved realizes that this is an online poll and not meant to be scientific.

    That said, it’s a whole lot more scientific than the original article, which simply involved wandering around asking people why they weren’t at work. At least our sample includes both people who are and are not at work.

  14. #14 outlier
    May 25, 2007

    The standard workday in many places (yes, including New York) is 9-6. It would have been good to include that as an equivalent to 8-5.

  15. #15 Jason Weeks
    January 23, 2009

    I know i work a full 8 hour week but for sure i have free time as well i just need to get out there and be more social like you were mentioning.

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