Something like ELI5 (Explain Like I'm 5-years old): Pretend I'm a young adult in highschool/primary school or university and haven't tried any full-time jobs, say in summer breaks or for internships.

I understood work hours (anywhere in the world) to be around 40 hours a week excluding lunch break. I've even heard of standard work hours to be 45 hours such as in Chris Croft's Teamwork Foundations in lynda/linkedin, yet I heard in the following songs that work hours could be 40 hours including lunch breaks.

From Barry Manilow's Copacabana

Across the crowded floor, they worked from eight til four

From Michael Jackson's Off The Wall

So tonight, gotta leave that nine to five upon the shelf

And just enjoy yourself

Is either referring to 6 day workweeks? Or are there some jobs that really are just 35-37.5 hours a week (because lunch break is counted or something)?

Additional: The All-American Rejects' Gives You Hell

And you're still probably working At a nine to five pace

Additional: Michael Jackson's The Way You Make Me Feel

Oh I'll be workin' from nine to five

  • @user25730 ayt thanks. so if you heard something similar to what was stated in the songs, then well you wouldn't really know for sure because it really varies by job and state?
    – BCLC
    Jul 20, 2020 at 3:29
  • @Kayndarr if a song were a good guide, then would i be asking this question? it's not like i'm saying 'i heard these songs. why aren't these the standard?' i'm more like just asking what is the standard in society that these songs happen to reflect or something, not decree. of course these songs are not edicts. also, i mentioned Chris Croft's Teamwork Foundations. does that count for anything?
    – BCLC
    Jul 20, 2020 at 17:47
  • 3
    There were similar question in the past: What is it that defines a “working day” in the US? Jul 21, 2020 at 11:41
  • @BernhardDöbler thanks!
    – BCLC
    Jul 22, 2020 at 4:53
  • 5
    It is not wise to ask people to upvote a question.
    – Joe W
    Nov 23, 2020 at 16:34

3 Answers 3


Wikipedia has a page about the work week around the world, with example of typical duration. This varies from 35 hours (in France), to 50 hours (in Burundi/Cameroon). Typical hours worked per day vary from 5 or 6 (during Ramadan for predominately Muslim countries) to 10.

In terms of the specific examples -

  • Copacabana is referring to a night-club setting (i.e. the hours are 20:00-04:00). Employees here would not be expected to work a standard week, and may indeed only work those hours for a couple of nights (e.g. Friday and Saturday night).

  • Nine to Five is a traditional expression of workplace opening hours. In different industries it may refer to different things, for instance in a blue-collar job this may be the day-shift, in a retail position it may be the store opening hours, and in a white-collar job this may be what are now often called 'core-hours' (i.e. the time your manager expects you to be at your desk). The actual time worked can vary as lunch and breaks may or may not be counted, and there may be an expectation for a degree of flexibility (i.e. 9-5 is the core, but you need to work 40 hours, so 08:30-17:00, or 09:00-17:30, etc.)

  • 4
    It may be useful for a non-native english reader to explain what is meant by blue/white collar-jobs.
    – breversa
    Jul 20, 2020 at 9:07
  • 3
    @breversa: Good point. The terms are reasonably common, so I think they can stay. I linked to Wikipedia for anyone unfamiliar.
    – sleske
    Jul 20, 2020 at 9:28
  • 1
    oh 8pm-4am makes more sense than 8am-4pm actually. lol. thanks!!
    – BCLC
    Jul 20, 2020 at 17:20
  • wait something's up with the maths. did you mean like '(i.e. 9-5 is the core, but you need to work 40 hours, so 08:30-17:30, or 08:00-17:00, or 09:00-18:00, etc.)' ? or you assume 0.5 hrs lunch break?
    – BCLC
    Aug 1, 2020 at 9:45
  • 1
    Half hour break is assumed. Aug 1, 2020 at 10:14

There are indeed quite a few 37.5 hour jobs (I'm working one, albeit 8-4 by my own choosing, not 9-5). Especially Scandinavian countries are experimenting with shorter work weeks (down to 30 hours), though other western countries are moving down from 40 hours as well.

Lunch is in most western countries not included in the work hours, no matter the hours you work, unless you do work at the same time - e.g. meeting a customer for lunch to talk about business stuff - which is usually a case-by-case thing and defaults to not counting into your worked hours.
Most western countries include in their laws a mandatory break after a certain number of hours worked, so you generally can't work 8 hours without taking at least 30 minutes of break at some point. For example, in Germany you need to take an at least 30 minute break after working for 6 hours, so you can't work 8 hours without any breaks. Those breaks still don't count for your work hours. Work lunches don't count for those laws.
In case you are a smoker, stepping outside for a cigarette is usually seen as a break which doesn't count towards your worked hours, while going for a coffee from the coffee machine does count. That is mostly a company culture thing.

Most contracts have core hours, meaning time you need to be available for meetings and such, and flexible time around it. The core hours are usually shorter than the work hours, so you might arrive early and leave at the end of the core hours or arrive at the start of the core hours and work longer afterwards or any mixture of those. As an example, your core hours might be 9 to 5, so you could arrive 8:30 and leave at 5, with a 30 minute lunch in the middle, or arrive at 9 and leave at 5:30.

Travel to and from work is usually not included into your work hours, so the commute does not count into it. If you need two hours to get to work, you still have to work the full 8 hours (assuming 40 hour week) afterwards. Travel that is explicitly for work, e.g. travelling to an event or to a customer, usually does count towards your hours worked, though that can depend on your country and contract as well.

It gets really complicated once you start to talk about overtime. In general, for worked overtime you are entitled to the same amount of paid time off from work or (monetary) compensation for the extra time worked. Whether you can take time off during core hours or even take a full day off for 8 hours of overtime depends on the country and contract. Some contracts include phrases like "Overtime up to X hours a month is already included in the salary," which means you don't get that time off or compensation for those X hours of overtime, but you also don't have to work that overtime. Depending on the country and company, you might still be forced to work such uncompensated overtime through pressure from above (i.e. the boss forcing you to work that time).

  • thanks! 8-4 is 35 hrs though, not 37.5 hrs? or your lunch break is only 30 min?
    – BCLC
    Jul 20, 2020 at 17:20
  • oh wait re travel, it wasn't commute, but rather as you mentioned 'Travel that is explicitly for work'. i'll edit. thanks
    – BCLC
    Jul 20, 2020 at 17:47
  • 1
    @BCLC Yes, my breaks are usually 30 minutes
    – Morfildur
    Jul 20, 2020 at 19:16
  • Thanks Morfildur!
    – BCLC
    Jul 21, 2020 at 6:20
  • sucks for you though. 30 is so low.
    – BCLC
    Jul 25, 2020 at 7:09

To answer the specific question about 37.5 hours that's because they are deducting 30 minutes for lunch everyday five days a week.

So your typical work hours will be 9-5 with a 30 minute lunch break some countries call this a 40 hour work week others call it a 37.5 hour work week as you aren't "working" the 30 minutes lunch each day. This is specifically for a 9-5 job.

There is an exception in that some countries (US is a big one here) call a 9-5.30 job a 9-5 and even with a 30 minute break you actually are "working" 40 hours.

  • 30 is so low. eh. sucks for them. thanks!
    – BCLC
    Jul 20, 2020 at 17:21
  • 1
    @BCLC the reasonableness of 30 vs 60 minutes comes down to how people are eating. If you bring your meal with you, or there is an onsite cafeteria with ready to serve food 30m can be enough. It would make leaving the worksite to eat elsewhere nearly impossible though. Aug 1, 2020 at 15:57
  • Some workgroups may have paid lunch even when working 37 hours a week. Aug 4, 2020 at 11:55
  • @DanIsFiddlingByFirelight Oh ok i just remembered those cafeterias when i was university. thanks.
    – BCLC
    Aug 6, 2020 at 11:16

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