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How Many Hours Do You Really Work?

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Do you ever wonder about those people who say they work insane amounts of hours each week? It turns out they're probably exaggerating.

At Quartz, our sister publication focusing on global business, Daniel Yanofsky writes about a Bureau of Labor Statistics study detailing the differences that emerge when people are asked how much they've recently worked and when they're asked to fill out diaries detailing how they really spent their time.

The study shows there's a significant gap between the two figures, and it gets bigger the more hours people claim to work:

Responding to questions of the type “How many hours do you usually work (or did you work last week)?” workers within the range of 35- to 45-hour work weeks tend to report relatively similar work hours when filling out time diaries and when answering questions asked with the time-estimate approach, but the higher the respondent’s estimated number of hours per workweek, the larger is the gap between the estimates obtained with the two approaches. Workers estimating 50- to 80-hour workweeks had progressively greater gaps between this estimate and what they reported in their diaries.

Indeed, according to data gathered for BLS' American Time Use Survey, people who claim to work 75 hours a week actually work more like 50 hours. The gap has gotten larger over time, too. In 1965, the overall average discrepancy between estimated work hours diary-recorded hours was 1.3 hours. It grew as high as 3.7 hours for the 1998-2001 time period before settling down to 2.4 hours for the 2003-2007 period.

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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