Here’s How Many Hours Workers Are Actually Productive (And What They’re Doing Instead)

By Kathy Morris
Jan. 23, 2023
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The typical American workday might be 8 hours, but are workers actually productive for a full 8 hours?

We didn’t need to survey workers to tell you “no.” Anyone who’s worked in a conventional office can tell you that small talk, coffee breaks, and internet distractions add up.

But exactly how many hours at work are spent actually working? To quantify the average hours of productivity, we surveyed 1,000 hard-working (or hardly working…) workers.

The results? During an 8-hour workday, the average worker only spends 4 hours and 12 minutes actively working. Keep reading to see what employees are doing instead of working. Here are other top findings:

  • 47% of workers admit to surfing the internet at work, making it the most common off-task behavior.

  • 78% of respondents reported not needing 8 hours to complete their daily work.

  • Employees spend an average of 1 hour and 5 minutes reading news websites during the work day.

  • Employees consider 71% of time spent in meetings as unproductive.

  • Between 25 to 90 minutes is the optimal amount of time to focus on intellectual, attention-heavy work.

What Do Workers Do Instead of Work?

Overall, the majority of workers are distracted by online temptations. 47% of respondents admitted to regularly surfing the net and 45% are checking social media.

In a time where so many jobs are done by computer, it is unsurprising so many workers cannot resist checking the news or their Facebook during work hours. Texting is another common way to kill time, with 44% admitting to breaking out their cell phone during work hours.

However, not all ways of killing time rely on screens. 39% of workers take extra bathroom breaks to kill time.

Others find the office environment itself a distraction. 27% waste time by socializing or chit-chatting with coworkers. Another 25% say coworkers’ noise and other office distractions break their focus.

While we did not break up our responses by the work environment, it is also clear some remote workers are taking mental breaks in the form of household chores(14%) or household distractions like TV (14%).

Common Responses- Why Are You Not Busier At Work?

  • Lulls/break in tasks

  • Waiting for others to finish their job

  • All my work is completed

  • Unengaged/unmotivated

  • Distracted by personal situations

  • Environment not ideal

The vast majority of respondents claimed to be satisfactorily completing their job – no 8 hours needed. In fact, many directly called out the lack of available work or other blockers that prevented them from being more productive.

Methodology, a career resource website, conducted a study of 1,000 full-time workers to better understand workplace productivity.

Each respondent was asked a series of questions about their time during the workday and productivity.

How Many Hours Are Workers Productive FAQ

  1. How many productive hours are in a workday?

    There are only 3-6 productive hours in a workday. The average worker only spends 4 hours and 12 minutes actively working during an 8-hour shift, which begins to highlight some of the issues with longer shifts. In fact, the maximum productive hours seem to cap out at 6, meaning that even the most productive workers are wasting 2 hours during a typical workday.

  2. How long is the average workday?

    Average hours worked for a full-time worker in the US is 8.53 hours per weekday and 5.89 hours per weekend. For part-time workers, these numbers reduce to 5.62 hours on weekdays and 4.76 hours on the weekend.

    Part-time or full-time, one could argue that working 8+ hours per day is detrimental, as workers will waste more time and be less productive than if they worked 4 hours with no distractions.

  3. What is a good productivity percentage?

    A good productivity percentage is somewhere between 70-75%. This means that employees spend 70% or more of their time working, and 25% or less of their time taking breaks. This allows for maximum profit without risking burnout, or a poor work-life balance.

    As you may have noticed though, this isn’t the norm. In fact, most Americans are only productive for a maximum of 60% of the time, with office workers down to only 31% of the time, while freelance workers are productive for a staggering 87% of the time.

Do We Even Need An 8 Hour Workday?

The 8-hour workday has its origins in the Industrial Revolution and workplace reform. However, over 100 years later, many office workers are still clocking in for 8-hour shifts, much like their factory worker ancestors even though their job descriptions couldn’t be more different.

For many professional jobs, there are natural lulls in the workday. There is no assembly line or constant work to keep busy.

In fact, studies suggest frequent breaks can actually improve office productivity. Workers aren’t machines and need time between focusing to work optimally.

It begs the question, are we measuring productivity in work accomplished or time in seat? Perhaps more importantly, it also asks, “Why do we need to spend 8 hours in the office anyways?”

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Kathy Morris

Kathy is the head of content at Zippia with a knack for engaging audiences. Prior to joining Zippia, Kathy worked at Gateway Blend growing audiences across diverse brands. She graduated from Troy University with a degree in Social Science Education.

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Topics: Study