ATUS 2012: America’s Personal Productivity Stats

“The American work ethic is something to be admired. Our workforce, regardless of position, works hard to produce the best product and serve customers to the best of their ability.” — Leonard Boswell, U.S. Representative for Iowa’s Third District.

“On days that they worked, employed persons spent an average of 7.6 hours working. More hours were worked, on average, on weekdays than on weekend days—8.0 hours compared with 5.7 hours.” — Citation from the 2011 American Time Use Study.

American Time Use StudyExecutive Summary: This year’s ATUS data paints a picture of a nation working harder than ever, significantly exceeding the “traditional” 40-hour week and working nearly as hard on weekends as on weekdays. The workers among the survey population were clearly not slacking, any more than they were in 2010. In fact, American workers worked an average of 77 more minutes per week in 2011 than they did in 2010. Keep in mind that working longer hours doesn’t guarantee increased workplace productivity. A fearful employee is a productive employee; no one wants to lose their job in a down economy where it’s not certain you’ll find another one. So more employers are, once again, managing to squeeze a little more work out of their employees. It’ll be interesting to see whether this trend continues next year.

The Details
Every year since 2003, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has compiled an annual survey documenting how Americans over the age of 15 use their daily time. The American Time Use Survey (ATUS) offers a valuable glimpse into everything we do: from how much we sleep to how we rest and relax, as well as the number of hours we work on the average day. The 2011 results come from interviews and surveys with 12,500 individuals and was released on June 22, 2012.

For the first time, it collected statistics on time devoted to “eldercare”—i.e., the amount of time spent caring for elderly individuals. In so doing, it continues its mission of fine-tuning our understanding of American time use.

For business purposes, the category associated with work and related activities provide the most interesting data. While nearly all the other categories remained essentially the same since the last ATUS, the average number of hours put in daily by people who worked increased somewhat—reversing a trend observed last year.

Working Hard

One point worth emphasizing before moving forward is that ATUS includes a representative sample of all individuals aged 15 or older—whether they had jobs or not. So when the Bureau reports that the average number of hours worked each weekday totaled just 4.04 (a bit over four hours), that includes everyone averaged together: the unemployed, the part-time employed, and the full-time employed alike. The statistic exceeds last year’s average of three hours and 58 minutes by more than four minutes per day (about half an hour per week). Americans clearly worked longer hours in 2011, since the percentage of surveyed individuals working on an average day was almost identical from 2010 to 2011 (44.7% vs. 44.6%).

Tellingly, the number of hours spent on work and work-related activities by the employed came to almost precisely eight hours per day, including weekends, up 11 minutes from 2010’s seven hours, 49 minutes. (Keep in mind that this figure includes both full-time and part-time workers.) All told, the average American worker spent 56 hours per week on work and work-related activities.

As before, 82% of all workers worked on the average weekday, with 35% working on weekends and holidays. The total significantly exceeds 100%, since many of us work on both weekends and weekdays.

Men worked significantly longer than women, at an average of 8.4 vs. 7.5 hours daily (8.2 vs. 7.4 hours in 2010), for a total of 47 minutes a day. Women are more likely to work part-time and take a more active role in family care and housework.

Taking It Easy

In 2011, Americans got an average of 2.4 more minutes of sleep per night, racking up 8.71 hours as opposed to 2010’s 8.67 hours. As before, women tended to sleep slightly longer than men (8.8 hours vs. 8.62 hours)—possibly to compensate for the extra household activities they engage in. The breakdown by gender of those who did housework remained basically the same: 19% for men and 48% for women, with men averaging 2.1 hours of general household activities, while women averaged 2.6 hours daily—a full half hour more than the average man.

Leisure activity hasn’t changed much either, edging up from 5.18 hours to 5.21 hours (still down from 2009’s 5.25 hours). Just like in 2010, men took more leisure than women, at an average of 5.55 hours vs. 4.8 hours, with precisely the same time-gap as in 2010: three-quarters of an hour. TV watching (the all-time leisure hog) went up 72 seconds in 2011, from 2.73 hours to 2.75 hours.

Almost all other categories, from meal-taking to educational activities and attending religious services, remained essentially the same between the two annual ATUS snapshots—with one exception. “Other Activities, Not Elsewhere Classified” dropped from 0.35 to 0.29 hours, explaining where some of the extra work, sleep, and leisure time came from.