Whence the 35-hour work week?
September 13, 2007 5:56 AM   Subscribe

New York City and Boston both have standard work weeks of 35 hours. It's 9-5pm but your lunch is included in there. Texas, California, North Carolina have a standard work week of 40 hours, so it's 9-6 to accomodate your lunch hour. I realize that it has to do with your job somewhat, but it is overwhelmingly consistent (even blue/white collar, salaried/hourly). Why?

Is this a state by state thing, or a NYC/Boston/city thing? And if so, is it law and/or unions and/or some vestige? Is it based on the govt employee standard in each area (even though it is not just them)? What is the history of it?

I don't have enough data points to put anything coherent together. I tried to locate labor statutes, but I'm not sure if I should be looking at state or local govt.
posted by unknowncommand to Work & Money (50 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm curious about this, too, as I work in DC in a company based in CA, and we're 9-6, while most of my friends, and everyone else in the building I work (or at least on the floors I visit) is gone by 5. Hm.
posted by atayah at 6:08 AM on September 13, 2007

Having worked with a lot of companies in both Boston and New York...your assumptions are incorrect. Most offices are pretty full at both 8:30am and 5:30pm. At some firms, the same is true at 7am and 7pm. 9 to 5 may be the "core hours" where everyone is expected to be at the office, but it does not define each person's work week.

I do know some hourly folks who work 9-5, but they are generally paid for 37.5 hours per week. I also know a lot of salaried people who make extensive use of flex time, showing up at 6 in the morning to avoid the worst of the traffic (and, in theory at least, leaving mid-afternoon). I don't know anybody who takes an hour for lunch unless it's a working lunch.
posted by backupjesus at 6:13 AM on September 13, 2007

...aaand out here in Colorado, the standard business day is 8-5. That was the standard in the Midwest (Ohio) where I come from as well.

There are a few companies which adhere to a 35-hour week; most of them are divisions of larger companies which have home offices on the East Coast.

Maybe someone smarter could chime in and confirm this is a regional thing?

which reminds me, I should get dressed and head to work.
posted by lonefrontranger at 6:13 AM on September 13, 2007

I've only heard of these 9 AM starting times in big cities, I presume due to the commute. Where I work the nominal hours are 8-5, but a lot of people start earlier and leave around 4. We have flex time, with core hours of 9-3 or so, but you are expected to work at least 8 hours a day. This is also in the Midwest (Michigan).
posted by rfs at 6:23 AM on September 13, 2007

I work in Boston. My hours are 8:30 - 5:00 with a 30 minute lunch. There's some flexibility there but the standard is 40 hours for everyone.
posted by bondcliff at 6:30 AM on September 13, 2007

I've only gotten the paid lunch when I've had a job that was either union or had been union in the past. So I think that's part of it.

This could also tie into the age of the business, although I don't have any evidence to back this up. Older businesses, having set their rules quite a while ago, may be more likely to offer the paid lunch.

Perhaps that would help explain why you see more of this on the East coast, the businesses are older or are influenced by older businesses.
posted by iwhitney at 6:34 AM on September 13, 2007

My last two jobs (Pennsylvania, NJ) were 37.5 hrs/week: 8 hrs/day (8-4 or 9-5) minus .5 hrs for lunch.
posted by datacenter refugee at 6:36 AM on September 13, 2007

I've worked at three law firms in Rochester, NY, each with different hour setups:

8:30-5:15 with an hour lunch (37.5 hours a week)
8:30-5:30 with an hour lunch (40 hours a week)
9:00-5:00 with an hour lunch (35 hours a week, though I was able to adjust it to 8:30-4:30)

Now I work part-time, but the hours of the firm where I am now are 9-5, hour lunch.
posted by Lucinda at 6:37 AM on September 13, 2007

Mine (Milwaukee) is 8:30 to 5 with 30 minutes of unpaid lunch.
posted by drezdn at 6:38 AM on September 13, 2007

I work right outside Boston and we're (salaried) 40 hours with paid 1 hour lunch included. It's assumed your hours will include 10-4. No union involved. 9-5 is when our receptionist is here to answer the phone.

Other places I've worked have all been different, so I don't think there's actually a Boston standard
posted by jdl at 6:43 AM on September 13, 2007

I've never heard of a 9-5 work week in NYC, and I live here. Most people work 8:30-5 or 9-5:30 or 6.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:47 AM on September 13, 2007

9-5 is when our receptionist is here to answer the phone.

Yeah, this is always how the work day was described to me in NYC (and now Toronto). That's when clients can expect not to get the voicemail system. I've also never had anyone define how long my lunch should be (white collar, construction industry) either in writing or verbally, although like everyone else convention means I have rarely taken more than an hour, and usually a lot less. I would love to work defined hours!
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:55 AM on September 13, 2007

Well, I have no idea then. Literally everyone that I know here (who has a "real job") works 35 hours a week. My friend is looking for work in Boston, and all of his prospective positions are 35hour. Maybe I just know lucky people? Is this not a standard (if only tacit) in any industry? At my work, the professionals all have 35 hour weeks, and the administrative positions technically have 40, but their union agreement gives them 35.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:57 AM on September 13, 2007

When I worked at Hewlett-Packard in California. You had to work 8 hours, and take a 30 minute lunch.

You had a 2 hour window during your shift in which you could come in. Some managers would extend this even further. (Oh how I miss the in at 5, home at 1:30 shift)

Then, they took the actual hours worked for the 2 weeks, threw them away and paid you 87 hours plus any overtime.
We basically got an extra paycheck a year with the default 87 hour pay-period.
posted by whoda at 7:00 AM on September 13, 2007

Every job I worked in NYC was 9-6 with an hour for lunch. Many people I know in NY have dramatically different schedules. If you're looking for labor laws mandating a 35 hour work week, France has them, but you're not going to find them in the U.S. I think you're either looking at too small a sample size or suffering from selection bias, specifically confirmation bias.
posted by decathecting at 7:01 AM on September 13, 2007

Wow, ya'll all sound lucky. We always work 40 if not 50 hours each week. My boyfriend can pretty routinely put in 70-80 hour weeks.

I thought that 40 hours was a pretty standard workweek all across America. I have known company's that had "summer hours" and would drop to 35 for a couple of months.
posted by stormygrey at 7:06 AM on September 13, 2007

9-5 with an hour for lunch (35hrs) may be more common in the non-profit world. I've worked for 2 different organization in NYC, and have friend at other non-profits, and this seems pretty standard, with the exception of those making use of flextime (which is also very common in the non-profit world). T
posted by kimdog at 7:09 AM on September 13, 2007

I thought 40 was standard. We do a lot of government contracting, so even salaried folks have to bill 8 hours a week. This is in Boston.
posted by olinerd at 7:23 AM on September 13, 2007

I work as a legal assistant for a Chicago law firm, and I've always done a 35-hour work week no matter what size company I've worked for. I also had the same hours at an advertising agency I briefly temped for about 10 years ago. Perhaps I've been lucky with choice of fields, but the timing of commuters I've witnessed seems to correspond to a "9-5 w/1-hr lunch" 35-hour work week for most of Chicago.
posted by WCityMike at 7:31 AM on September 13, 2007

New York City and Boston both have standard work weeks of 35 hours.

I do not believe this to be true. I know several people working in NYC who are working 40 hr weeks. There tends to be a lot of flexibility in starting times etc. due to the brutal commuting conditions though. There is no free lunch. I work in NJ and at my location pretty much only the support staff have regular hours. Some work a 37.5 hr weeks and some 40 hrs, with attendant differences in pay.
posted by caddis at 7:34 AM on September 13, 2007

I always worked 40-hour weeks in Boston, usually 9-6 with an hour lunch. I agree that nonprofits (including universities) seem to lean toward the 35-hour workweek a bit more.
posted by occhiblu at 7:36 AM on September 13, 2007

In my experience, this hasn't really been that consistent. I work for a university in Boston, and for my salary I am expected to work 35 hours a week, 9 - 5 minus an hour for lunch. However, a majority of the people I know who work in the private sector work 9 to 6 or equivalent hours, at the least. It has always seemed to me to have more to do with your job and who you work for.
posted by dreadpiratesully at 7:39 AM on September 13, 2007

When I worked in publishing in NYC, the standard hours were 10 - 6 on the editorial side and 9 - 5 on the business side. Editorial often stayed late; I suspect that business was more likely to come in early.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:47 AM on September 13, 2007

I'm in a law firm in Boston, and I have a 35 hour week. I'm under the impression that the 35 hour work week is done more for businesses to be competitive and attract better talent. Maybe it's also because there are so many colleges in the area for which 35 hours is standard, so other businesses in the area match that to remain in the running as "good places to work."
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 8:01 AM on September 13, 2007

Yep, I think it's job related. I'm in Boston, and when I worked at a university in a union job I had a 35 hour workweek like the one you describe. Most of my friends who have professional jobs (finance, law firms, etc.) work more like 50 hours a week.

I think hours depend on the type of job and whether or not it's union, more than on location.
posted by emd3737 at 8:06 AM on September 13, 2007

I'm in Santa Fe, on a construction jobsite. All of us in the office are 7-5 and the labor force is 7-3:30. 9-5? I wish.
posted by moosedogtoo at 8:08 AM on September 13, 2007

all my tech jobs in CA over the last 8 years have pretty much been 9-5 with an hour for lunch (if you take it), but realistically, no one bolts for the door when 5 comes around, and usually we would be there until 6-7 each day, or as late as it took if there was a deadline.* I've always thought that only wage-workers actually arrived and left 'on time'.

I've been working what seem like (to me) long days lately (12 hour days -- get in at 9, sit down, eat at my desk, leave at 9pm), and I've been really curious about people who claim to work 80 hour work weeks (famously, lawyers) -- are these people seriously at the office 80 hours a week? That's a 16 hour work day in a 5 day week, or a 12-13 hour work day 6 days a week. Are they exaggerating? Am I sleeping too much? I can see doing that for a one-week crunch, but week-in, week-out?

* The first one was formally 8-5, but the first day I showed up at 8 and no-one came to unlock the door until 9. I was told by my friends that worked there to stop making everyone else look stupid.
posted by fishfucker at 8:09 AM on September 13, 2007

Let's clarify: by hours per week you mean "hours officially scheduled," right? Because hours actually worked here in NYC are usually a lot more than 40, at least for salaried positions.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:10 AM on September 13, 2007

Oh, and not to mention the Dolly Parton song "9 to 5" and the Weakerthans song "Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist" where he sings, "10-6 or 9-5 trying, dying to survive." Only kind of kidding.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:19 AM on September 13, 2007

Everyone I know in NYC including myself works 9-6 or shifted thereabouts by 1/2 hour.
posted by yeti at 8:19 AM on September 13, 2007

Oh, yeah, like Mo Nickels, I'm assuming you mean "official hours" not "actual hours." In white collar industries, I've never had an exempt (from overtime, per labor law) salaried position where anyone worked merely the 35 or 40 hours a week required of them. If there is work to be done, you do it, even if it's before 9 am or after 6 pm or a Saturday or whenever. The more prestigious and better paid the job, the longer the hours. And you negotiate your compensation and whatnot based on the understanding that you'll accomplish the tasks assigned to you no matter how long they take, so people who work longer hours make more money or have a better title or something, but everyone works as long as it takes to get their work done.
posted by decathecting at 8:25 AM on September 13, 2007

Also in NYC, publishing, hours are 9-6 but everyone knows it really means 9-7/7:30
posted by rmless at 8:32 AM on September 13, 2007

So my new conclusion is that 35 hours tends to be more likely in the nonprofit, legal, publishing, university, and tech fields (or combos of these). And that more of these people live in NYC (and Boston perhaps, esp. re:universities) than, say, San Antonio, TX. And also that unions (which are more of a force here) influence whether this carries over to blue/pink collar positions. And that I am of the age where I know more of these people. And that Dolly Parton, John Samson, and I share a friend-base, which I had not considered, but which is awesome.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:43 AM on September 13, 2007

This is crazy. Are we talking only about government-sector/union-based jobs? Who in New York City works 35 hours a week? Everyone I knew works more like 70.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 8:46 AM on September 13, 2007

Wow, this is a scary thread. I'm in Toronto and I don't know anyone that works more than 9-5, including high level managers/CMAs. The lunch hour is unpaid so we are paid 35 hours a week but at least we are out the door having a life at 5.05 pm. Unions are more common here but even non-union jobs are 9-5 in my experience.
posted by saucysault at 9:13 AM on September 13, 2007

All of my jobs have been at nonprofits in NYC and DC. It has been my experience that nonprofit workers often work longer hours because they care about the work they are doing, and thus want to put in more time in order to advance the cause. I love my work, and I would hate to get pushed out the door at the end of the day just because some arbitrary clock says I should leave.
posted by decathecting at 9:20 AM on September 13, 2007

unknowncommand, you might want to wait for the West Coast people to arrive at work and respond before drawing any conclusions. ;)
posted by oneirodynia at 9:34 AM on September 13, 2007

Wage and hour law differs from state to state, and determines the hours and meal and rest periods that employees are required to be provided. There may also be cultural differences accounting for different work hours for exempt employees. The legal profession, for example, requires far more than 35 hours a week from its exempt folks, no matter where you are.
posted by The World Famous at 10:53 AM on September 13, 2007

I've been really curious about people who claim to work 80 hour work weeks (famously, lawyers)

Work-weeks among lawyers are like cock-measuring contests. People famously brag about their Herculean work-weeks, but rarely does anyone really slap their salami on the table to prove it --- the braggadocio is never backed up by real hours worked. Even big firm lawyers in major cities usually are putting in sixty hours a week, max, except in the middle of unusual projects or jury trials.
posted by jayder at 11:48 AM on September 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, in the industry I worked in in New York, workdays are generally 9or 9:30 in the morning until... well, until the day ended. Sometimes this means 6:30, sometimes 7:30, sometimes, depending on the deadlines involved, much, much later. Also, weekend work is not at all uncommon.

Lunch? It's mostly something you run out to pick up and eat at your desk while working. Work weeks in excess of 60 - 70 hours were not (and are not) at all uncommon.
posted by dersins at 1:37 PM on September 13, 2007

Here in Louisiana, I've had both. My current job is 8-4, lunch is in there.

But now that I think about it, most of the jobs where the day was longer were national corporations, not local companies.
posted by pyjammy at 1:55 PM on September 13, 2007

When I was working (Richmond VA BUT I'm originally from Boston...) as a Java Developer working for a consulting firm (other companies would hire us on to complete projects, we would bill by the project or hourly depending) I did everything in my power to spend only 8 hours a day at work (including lunch). There were a number of times when we were billing hourly and the project required extra hours (which showed up in my paycheck later) and I would stay later during those periods, but I have always assumed that most everybody only stayed at work from 9-5 (8-4, 10-6, whatever 8 hour period) and took a 30-1 hour lunch every day. This thread kind of blew my mind, if I was hired on to a company and they told me to hours were 9-6 with an unpaid hour of lunch, I would be furious, but then again I quit my job and haven't worked for 4 months and am about to head to South America for the foreseeable future, so I'm probably a statistical outlier.
posted by youthenrage at 2:09 PM on September 13, 2007

I work in California and pretty much everyone I know is (supposed to be) working 8-5 or 9-6, if not more.
posted by rezaman at 2:20 PM on September 13, 2007

I live in New York and I have had the 35 hour/week jobs almost the whole time, except when I worked from home. Now my hours are still 10-6, though I often work 9whatever to 6whatever, depending on other things. Every place I have ever worked has also had summer hours, which means you leave early Friday, usually between noon and three.
posted by dame at 2:31 PM on September 13, 2007

Regarding the regional start-time-customs, my assumption-based-on-little-evidence,-even-anectodal, was that for Chicago vs NYC, anyway, Chicagoans start closer to 8 and New Yorkers start closer to 9 because of the time zones. So people who work in these huge cities that aren't that wildly far apart are still in the office around the same time.

I do specifically remember that on 9/11, it was widely reported that the World Trade Center didn't have far more people in the buildings when they were hit because it was before 9am. At the time, 9am sounded quite late to me, as I've generally been required to start by 8:30. So that kind of alerted me to the fact/idea that NYC people generally start later than we do in Chicago.

I don't know how any of this would apply to the other two time zones in the continental US, or how it applies to the 35-hour week. ;) I also assumed that New Yorkers stayed an hour later.

BUT, back to 30/40: my jobs in Chicago have usually been 8:30-5 with 30 minutes for lunch, but I've never had a job where our lunches were timed, or where we had to take lunch at any set time, etc. I eat at my desk 95% of the time so I take the liberty to have 2 hour lunches occasionally, etc. :)
posted by iguanapolitico at 4:21 PM on September 13, 2007

(I should say that my hours have been 8:30-5, that is, if the work is finished by 5. I actually no longer work full time because day to day, my last FT company couldn't even tell me if I could make dinner plans for that evening because one never knew when a client would crack their whip. I ain't ever going back to that crap.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 4:24 PM on September 13, 2007

union job: 37.5 hrs
non-union job: 35 hours salaried, but you're not supposed to complain if you occasionally stay past 5.
posted by chelseagirl at 11:10 PM on September 13, 2007

Similar to me in Connecticut, chelseagirl. Hourly unionized jobs with my employer are 37.5 hours, 8:30-5. Salaried jobs are theoretically the same hours, lunch and end-of-day depending on projects.

I did work at a place here that had summer hours. It was a non-profit with a lot of overtime and odd hours expected during the year, so for about 6 slow weeks in summer we closed up the office at 1pm every Friday. (Usual hours were 9-5:30 there.)
posted by bassjump at 4:42 AM on September 14, 2007

At my last software company in DC, I was working 50-60/week. During the development pushes, it could be more (up to 70), but once I got out of Engineering, that stopped.

Which is why I work for a nonprofit based out of NYC now and I'm working 35-45 a week.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 5:28 AM on September 14, 2007

FWIW: I work for the Federal government. I work from 8:30-5 with a 30 minute lunch. Two 15 minute breaks are included in the workday (and are a part of the actual work time).

This is the base schedule for employees. Depending on which agency you work for you can move that time around a bit but we work 40 hours/week. You can also work a flexible schedule where you work more hours per day and work less days per pay period. There's one choice where you work 10 hour days, four days a week. I know people who do that but that would be pretty hard for me; on my days off I'd be a zombie.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:50 AM on September 14, 2007

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