America's Ideal Work Schedule

America's Ideal Work schedule header

People have long been skeptical of the eight-hour workday and the way the modern workweek is structured. Some research suggests our suspicions may indeed be founded on truth and that we are not currently operating at peak productivity (or happiness).

To find out how the average U.S. worker feels about their current workload and work-life balance, as well as what the ideal work schedule looks like, we asked over 1,000 people to share their thoughts on their life as a member of the nation’s workforce.

Read on to discover the complex relationship we sometimes have with the activity that accounts for the bulk of our waking hours – work.

You might be interested in: The Key To Productivity and Happiness: Sleep

Work Hard, Work Harder?

Percentage considering themselves overworked by industry graph

In our “live to work” culture, feeling overworked is a chronic issue for employees in many sectors. A staggering 50 percent of education professionals suffered from this reality: Living proof of the teacher burnout epidemic that sees American teachers putting in 30 percent more classroom hours than their international peers.

Arts, entertainment, and recreation professionals were not far behind at 49 percent, followed by those in the marketing and advertising industry – also notorious for employee burnout – at 47.6 percent.

Meanwhile, people working in government and public administration, a sector known for more generous vacation time and stable work hours, reported the lowest incidence of overworking at just 20.4 percent.

Wasted Times

average hours worked and wated per week by industry comparison

Face it – we’re all guilty of the occasional foray into Facebook or YouTube while on the clock. But which industry do the idlest workers populate? While the average number of hours spent at work per week was fairly range-bound (between 43 and 51), the amount of wasted time varied quite a bit by sector.

Employees in the legal industry worked the second-highest number of weekly hours overall, but they also accounted for the highest volume of lost time, with an average of 47.6 percent of their work hours being wasted.

Modern industries like technology and information services occupied two of the top five slots, with 42.4 and 41.6 percent of their workers’ weeks being wasted, respectively. Meanwhile, at the very bottom, movers and shakers in the hotel, food service, and hospitality industry wasted just 24.2 percent of the roughly 46 hours they worked each week.

If you’re looking to hit a productivity high, here are a few tips and tricks for banishing procrastination and making the most of your workday.

The People’s Schedule

Ideal American Workweek schedule

According to our survey, working Americans are waking up and arriving at work one hour earlier than their ideal timeline, and another hour would ideally be shaved off on the back end of their workday as well.

While the average respondent rolled out of bed at 6:30 a.m., most people listed 7:30 a.m. as their ideal wake-up time. The same pattern emerged when it came to clock-in times, with the average employee listing 9 a.m. as their preferred arrival time, compared to their 8 a.m. reality.

Finally, most people were on board with the idea of departing work at 4 p.m. as opposed to the traditional 5 p.m. punch out. In short, Americans are just two hours away (one in the morning and one at night) from their ideal work schedules.

Even if you can’t control your schedule from daybreak to sundown, there are ways to make sure you’re feeling your best and getting proper rest – we recommend setting a sleep schedule and sticking to it.


The science behind the benefits of working from home is clear, so it’s no wonder American workers are gunning for 45 work-from-home days per year.

In Need of Sleep …


We all need different amounts of sleep depending on our age, but some industries revealed to be populated by employees who were particularly groggy. While professionals in real estate and leasing would ideally wake among the latest of risers, they were also in need of the most extra sleep, to the tune of one hour and 23 minutes on average.

Meanwhile, workers in the transportation and warehousing industry felt they needed an extra hour and a quarter of sleep; however, their ideal wake-up time was a full 45 minutes earlier than their peers in real estate.

Telecommunications professionals were the only ones who felt they could actually do with a few minutes less sleep before their alarm went off: five, to be exact, with an average ideal wake-up time of 7:30 a.m.

Money Motive


Life is all about the give and take – and while many of our respondents expressed a desire to alter their work schedule in some way, only 30.3 percent were willing to take a pay cut to land their ideal workweek.

Of the employees who were willing to make the cut for more downtime, the average employee was willing to weather a $4,326 pay cut, with government workers leading the way at $7,423. Real estate professionals were willing to take the second-highest hit at $6,750.

Some employees were willing to slash their salary for a better schedule but by much less: Telecommunications workers were willing to lose $2,063, and manufacturing workers felt a $2,097 cut was fair play.

While taking a step down salary-wise sounds outrageous, there are actually quite a few reasons to consider doing so if all of the other stars align.

Living the American Dream

According to our findings, a large chunk of the American workforce isn’t exactly living the dream when it comes to their job. Not only were large portions of employees in certain industries chronically overworked but also many of those working hours were spent counting floor tiles waiting for five o’clock.

Americans also reported general dissatisfaction with their wake-up and clock-out times, with the average worker dreaming of an extra hour of sleep in the morning and another hour to themselves in the evening. This lack of leeway also translated into a desperate desire for more sleep, with some people wishing for well over an hour of extra snooze time.


For this study, we surveyed 1,018 full-time employed Americans through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The respondents were 46 percent female and 54 percent male. Each industry had to meet a minimum sample size of 15 employees to be included in this study.

Fair Use Statement

Do you think your readers are fed up with their workweek? Let them know they’re not alone by sharing our study for any noncommercial use. Just be sure to provide a link back to this page and credit our contributors for their findings.