Survey reveals the ideal American work schedule

35 hours a week would be ideal, say over 1,000 Americans surveyed. Just how overworked are we, really?

  • A new survey reveals how American feel about workdays.
  • Many of Americans say they put in too many hours—educators feel the most overworked, while government and public administration workers are mostly fine with their workloads.
  • Which jobs waste employee hours the most? Legal work, apparently, with 47.6% of their work time wasted.
  • 41.2% of people would rather have more time than more money—but there's a catch when it comes to reality.

The 40-hour workweek goes back to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, aimed at factory workers who, at the time, were working an average of 53 hours each week. Futurists look forward to a time when robots will take over the 4D jobs—for "dull, dirty, dangerous, and dear"—and we'll have more leisure time for other important parts of our lives. New Zealand recently experimented with a four-day, 32-hour work week and found that it led to more productivity rather than less. This will come as no surprise to those of us on the 40-hour treadmill. Truth is, for 49% of us, that 40 hours is just the baseline—we work more than that.

Mattress company The Sleep Judge recently conducted an online poll of 1,018 U.S. full-timers to learn more about their job realities, and has put together America's Ideal Workweek, infographics than visualize what our work days are really like.

All infographics in this article are by The Sleep Judge.

Working hard, or hardly working?

For most careers, it's working hard, especially educators, 50% of whom report being overworked. This under-appreciated segment of our culture on average puts in long hours. The category includes teachers at all levels, though our hearts especially go out to public-school elementary teachers who—to get the desired results—regularly invest extra time and their own money for supplies and guidance for their young charges.

At the other end of the scale? Government and public administration workers. 79.6% are just fine with their workload, which you can ponder next time you're stuck in line at the DMV.


Killing time. Dead.

Here's an interesting contrast. The Sleep Judge also asked people how much time is wasted during a typical workday. We asked them to get more granular as to whether this was time wasted by each worker, or time that others waste—unfortunately the survey doesn't differentiate.

At the top of the list was people in the legal industry, who reckon almost half of their time each 50-hour week goes to waste. Is this because they bill by the hour and are impatient with non-billable tasks? Certainly surfing the web for them is just throwing income away, so we suspect this is a complaint against others. As for other industries, we can only surmise based on our image of the people involved. The 42.4% wasted by technology workers, for example—yeah, maybe it's Facebook and Instagram. People who work in hospitality, though, are kept jumping, and they report the least wasted time.

Reshaping the workday

88% of The Sleep Judge's respondents said they'd rather work 10-hour days but only four of them a week, providing them more refreshing breaks between. That notwithstanding, they'd rather just put in 35 hours a week.

The survey inquired of people when they'd prefer to wake up, get to work, and get out of work each day. They're just about an hour off, too early in the AM, too late in the PM.


So, here's an amusing one: You're not the only sleepyhead here. People in all of the polled industries except one reported wake-up times that were just too early. People in real estate, rentals, and leasing were the groggiest, arising an hour and 23 minutes earlier than they'd like. People in telecommunications were the single exception: They thought they should be waking up 5 minutes earlier than they do. (Dude, your alarm is adjustable.)

What would you give up to change your hours?

While the survey found that 41.2% of people would rather have more time than more money, only 30.3% were actually willing to give up money they're currently making in exchange for a better sched.

The people most willing to take a salary cut are those in government and public administration, which rings a bell… oh, yeah: They're the ones who also report being the least overworked. In-teresting. Of the rest of respondents who would accept a pay cut, real estate/rental/leasing, technology and scientific come out at being willing to give up at least $5k. Overworked teachers are next.

Making it work for you

As we noted, New Zealand's been looking at shorter weeks, and most industrialized nations offer more generous paid leave time—another way to address workers' time needs. At the same time, people in lots of other countries work longer days, and our 40+ weeks are pretty average internationally. It's also worth noting that some people so enjoy their work that they're basically at it whenever they're awake—certainly our connected devices encourage us to stay on top of things 24/7/365.

On a personal level, the best strategy, of course, is to do meaningful work that makes all that time feel worthwhile even beyond meeting financial needs. This isn't always possible, but it's always a sensible objective in moving from job to job. Enjoying the people you work with also makes all that time put in not so bad at all.

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

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  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.