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  • Government Employees Work Less Than Private-Sector Employees

    A new Heritage Foundation study shows that government employees work around three hours less per week and roughly one month less per year than private-sector workers.

    Substantial differences in work time persist even after controlling for occupational and skill differences between sectors. The “underworked” government employee should obviously be of concern to taxpayers, who expect private-sector levels of work in the public sector in exchange for private-sector levels of compensation. (continues below chart)

    The Heritage study uses the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), a “time diary” dataset sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that catalogues in detail each survey respondent’s activities, including work time, during a full 24-hour period.

    The ATUS has far more objectivity and precision than any other large-scale, nationally representative dataset used to estimate work time. Unlike “contract hours”—the time when employees are officially supposed to be at work—the ATUS counts all work whenever and wherever it takes place.

    And unlike general survey data—which includes questions such as “How many hours do you usually work per week?”—ATUS respondents describe all of their specific activities throughout the day, leaving much less room for exaggeration of their total work time.

    The Heritage study has provoked responses from public-sector advocates, some of which are collected in an article from Government Executive magazine. The individuals quoted seem to think the study used contract hours, even though not using contract hours (and using time-diary data instead) is the main contribution of the study.

    Nonetheless, the article quotes government employees talking about the accuracy of their time sheets, whether they use their whole vacation allowance, how often they work from home, etc. One federal manager says, “My staff routinely works 40+ hours per week. None of this is captured in the official records because we’re only allowed to charge 40 hours per week.”

    The manager is right that the official record may not accurately reflect work time, which is why the Heritage study uses actual hours of work reported in the ATUS, not official records or contract hours of any kind. The main benefit of the ATUS—made very clear in the study—is that work time is tracked for each respondent throughout the day without regard to official contract hours. The Heritage study explicitly dismisses contract hours as “insufficient” in the first “Key Point” listed on page one.

    Based on the most objective comparison possible, government employees do not work as much as private-sector employees. One would hope that would-be critics would have at least a basic understanding of how the analysis was conducted before trying to dispute that fact.

    Read the full report here.

    Posted in Featured [slideshow_deploy]

    3 Responses to Government Employees Work Less Than Private-Sector Employees

    1. Andrew says:

      I don't think Heritage should be measuring how many hours are worked by government employees. Instead, it should be measuring what is actually being done during those hours. A quality, not quantity measure is needed here.

    2. Mark E. Galloway says:

      Not a surprising report at all. As a former Federal employee that had a supervisory authority, my subordinates routinely filed injury reports and used "phantom" ailments, backaches, etc… to get additional time off (they would easily use up their earned 200+ hours of annual leave each year). Getting concurrence and support from a physician was never a problem. Employees also received early dismissal if the weather got too hot or snow started falling. I was so disappointed with the amount of overpaid, underworked Federal employees with the agency I worked for, even more frustrated that there was little I could do, as a supervisor, with no support or backbone from line supervisors, to correct my subordinates' abuse of the system, I left to join the private sector. I could not be happier with that decision!

    3. Theresa says:

      I'm a city employee, and I can see both sides. As a 911 operator, I work insane hours, and frequent mandatory overtime.My pay rate is hourly, and not the super high pay everyone accuses govt workers of rcvng. I only earn in the $30's, which varies of course on the overtime (last year putting me around $41. I also earn 8hrs of vacation time a month, and get 40hrs of sick leave a year. On paper that may look pretty generous, but when you're in an extremely stressful line of work, working days, nights, and holidays, and you never know how long you'll actually be there when you go in (16hrs shifts not uncommon, 12hrs shifts all the time) you kind of need to be able to earn, and use the vac. time. It's part of my compensation, and I earn it.

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