How to Calculate Breaks for Working Hours

How to calculate working breaks

It's a generally accepted norm that full-time employees work 8 hours a day, making 40 hours a week, with or without breaks. However, people often lose track of their time and either work less than they're supposed to or overwork. 

There are several important reasons to take breaks during working hours. It does not only help the employees to be more productive during their workday but also reduces stress and the possibility of burnout. How do you administer breaks correctly, and who is entitled to calculate and keep track of that time?

Undoubtedly, working hours and breaks should be carefully calculated to avoid misunderstanding or inaccurate time cards. Unfortunately, a manager's days are often filled with routine tasks. One of the most challenging tasks managers often postpone is calculating time.

Below you will find a comprehensive guide to calculating working hours and breaks. It will cover the most frequently asked questions about working hours for an organization and a step-by-step calculator of the hours worked, and time calculation for breaks for a hypothetical employee. 

What are work hours?

According to the United States Department Of Labor, work hours are when employees must be on duty, on the employer's premises, or at any prescribed workplace. What is important to remember is that employee time tracking is essential for legality purposes. Time records can be used in legal proceedings or demanded and referenced by the IRS to ensure compliance with local, state, and federal labor laws. Learn more about how long employers should keep employee time cards here

Understanding an employee’s status can be used as a guide for calculating breaks. Below, we will highlight what defines a full-time and part-time hourly employee. 

Full-time hourly employees

At the beginning of the 20th century, employers had the advantage of setting regular working hours for their employees at any number they chose. Employees could be in situations where they were working anywhere from 50 to 70 hours a week.

Luckily, since 1938, the number of working hours per week has been limited by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Since then, hourly employees can not require more than 40 working hours per week from their employees without proper compensation. 

Some businesses have adopted the models with lower numbers like 36, 32, and even 30 hours per week as full-time. Nevertheless, in 2021, about 127.19 million people were employed in the United States full-time.

Part-time hourly employees

In contrast to the legal limit on working hours legally, there are no limitations concerning part-time work. As the FLSA sets the upper limit for worked hours, being a part-time employee depends on how the employer defines a full-time position.

Generally, managers usually hold part-time work hours at half of the full-time hours, anywhere from 20 hours to 29 hours per week. In April 2022, around 26.63 million people were employed on a part-time basis in the United States.

Employees working overtime

With the limitations set by the FLSA, all the working hours above the 40 hours limit are counted as overtime. In the modern workplace, employers are required to cover all those hours with extra financial compensation. The standard overtime compensation rate is 1.5 times the employee’s regular hourly wage, known as “time-and-a-half.” The compensation amount may vary in specific states, counties, and cities. 

The costs of paying overtime rates add up and significantly impact all aspects of your business. According to some estimates, companies are believed to budget 10% to 15% of their annual budget for overtime. 

Working overtime causes additional stress to employees and increases the chances of burnout. According to a recent study, 32 percent of respondents found excessive overtime or after-hours work to be a driving force behind burnout, both in the physical workplace and remote teams.

It's worth noting that accurate tracking of the overtime hours is a must.

Now that you know the critical differences between significant working hours models and understand the importance of efficient record keeping, let’s proceed to the matter of breaks and accurate break calculation. 

What counts as a workday break?

In the US, short breaks (rest breaks), lasting between 5 and 20 minutes, are not requested or regulated by federal law. However, if the company allows, employees are free to use rest breaks for coffee, snacks, etc., and they are paid.

Longer breaks, dedicated to meals, lasting at least half an hour, are often regarded as non-paid meal breaks. However, the regulations regarding longer breaks vary by state

Employees are entitled to breaks but according to recent research, 38% of respondents reported having meal breaks that are less than 30 minutes, 35% said they eat their meals at their desks, while 22% said they take zero work breaks. 

According to Robert Pozen, the author of Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours, an employee should take a break every 75 and 90 minutes. This is a maximum period when an employee can stay concentrated and work effectively. 

Luckily, both for the employees and the employers, many regulations and policies help organize the working process in the best possible way. These rules also regulate the matter of requirement and calculation in terms of breaks.

How to calculate breaks at work? 

Below are examples of how breaks may reflect on a time card. To help calculate breaks for working hours, we provided the math to explain the math for the break examples.

Calculating breaks from minutes to decimals

Example 1: Employee punches out at 12:00 PM and punches back in at 12:33 PM

  • Time of break: 33 minutes (:00 + :33)
  • Decimal conversion: .55 

Math to calculate minutes to decimals:

  • 33 (minutes) divided by 60 (minutes in an hour) = .55

Example 2: Employee punches out at 9:15 AM and punches back in at 10:23 AM

  • Time of break: 1 hour and 8 minutes
  • Decimal conversion: 1.13

Math to calculate minutes to decimals:

  • Update the hour on the left of the decimal to reflect any time over 60 minutes. Then divide the remaining minutes by 60 to reflect the decimal amount on the right side

Calculating breaks from decimals to minutes

Example 1: An employee’s time card reads their break being .62 hours

  • Amount of minutes that are equal to decimal: 37 minutes

Math to calculate decimals to minutes:

  • 60 (minutes in an hour) multiplied by the decimal amount (.62) = 37 minutes or 0:37

Example 2: An employee’s time card reads their break being 1.45 hours

  • Time reflecting in hours and minutes: 1:27 (one hour and twenty-seven minutes)

Math to calculate decimals to minutes:

  • Update the hour to the left of the colon to reflect any time over 60 minutes. Then convert the decimal into minutes by multiplying 60 (minutes in an hour) by the number on the right of the decimal (.45) to equal 1:27

There are multiple ways to keep track of employees' breaks during their working hours. However, using manual calculations or numerous Google Sheets to keep track of each employee requires too much time and effort. Luckily, modern time tracking software takes this tedious task off the managers` table once and for all. 

How to organize your 8-hour workday to be most productive?

Nowadays, everyone is raving about working smarter rather than working harder. Still, when it comes to doing so, many people do not know how to organize their day efficiently. 

Here are several productivity tips that help to overcome procrastination yet remain energetic all day long without additional cognitive performance enhancers:

  • Adequate nutrition and hydration
  • Set clear, achievable goals
  • Be clear about your expectations
  • Monitor and analyze daily performance at work
  • Limit distractions
  • Try to preserve a balance between working and taking breaks

Having an opportunity to track and analyze the working hours will boost productivity and improve overall performance. 

The future of the 8-hour workday

With the growing popularity of freelancing and hybrid types of working, employees wish to be more flexible to cover more options of the modern world. According to a CNBC article, 48% of workers believe their team productivity to be higher in a work-from-home setting. 

Wired suggests people are most productive if they work for only 5 hours per day. At the same time, some other experiments claim that a 40-hour workweek decreases workers' productivity. Thus, we are witnessing businesses experimenting with a 4-day workweek.


All in all, even some research suggests that an 8-hour working day may be too much. Therefore, it is critical to work on the optimal regime and time tracking means to make the work more efficient and the schedule less tense for employees. 

Unfortunately, accurate time tracking can`t save us from overworking and burnout. However, it can help us to use the full potential of the working time yet preserve some time to put our minds at rest. 

Once you make a habit of tracking your employees` daily working hours and work breaks, you will notice a productivity increase and a positive mental state of your staff.

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