Work Hours and Denominators

I was talking to a few folks about work recently, and an interesting issue came up that I’d never particularly thought about before. I’ve mentioned in the past the power of denominators to radically change what we’re looking at, how averages might be lying to you, and how often people misreport “hours worked”…..but I don’t know that I’d ever put all 3 together.

When answering the question “how many hours do you work per day”, most full time workers generally name a number between 8 and 10 hours a day. Taken literally though, it occurred to me that the answer is really somewhere between 6 and 7 hours on average, as most people aren’t working on the weekends. So basically when asked “average hours per day” we assume “average hours per working day” and answer accordingly.

This is a minor thing, but it actually is part of why the actual “hours worked” numbers and the reported “hours worked” numbers don’t always add up. When people try to figure out how much the average American is working, they take things like vacation/holiday weeks in to account. The rest of us don’t tend to do that, and instead report on how much we worked when we worked full weeks. A slight shift in denominator, but it can end up shifting the results by a decent amount.

Not the most groundbreaking insight ever, but I always get a little interested when I realize we’ve all been assuming a denominator that’s not explicitly clarified.