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​Working Too Hard? The US States with the Most Amount of Free Time

​Working Too Hard? The US States with the Most Amount of Free Time

Check our nation-wide report to see which states rank as having the most amount of free time, leading employees to maintain a healthier work-life balance.

How much do you value your free time?


Considering Americans spend an average of over 90,000 hours at work over their lifetimes, our guess is not a lot. In our ‘always on’ culture, it’s become the norm to prioritise your career over life outside of work.


Many don’t seem to think of commuting as part of their working day but given that the average American spends over four hours a week getting to and from their workplace, this should really be factored into the equation.


As a growing number of scientific studies keeps telling us, making time to do the things you enjoy away from the stresses of commuting and work is essential to maintaining good overall health. With this in mind, we set out to discover which states have the most amount of free time, to make not only a state-by-state comparison but to see whether there’s also a correlation between spare time and remuneration.


Why is free time important?


Spending too much time travelling to and being at work can take its toll on both your physical and mental wellbeing. Stress and working to the point of burnout have been linked to health issues such as hypertension and heart problems as well as depression and anxiety.[1]


Overworking can increase tiredness, lower concentration and decrease productivity, making working for longer hours counterproductive. Tasks that would usually take half an hour can take twice the time, more mistakes are made, and you spend more time fixing the errors.


On the flip side, spending time away from work doing the things you enjoy is good not only for your sense of happiness and fulfilment but gives your mind and body time to readjust and recharge.


These feelings can only be achieved by spending a reasonable amount of time both inside and outside work. You need to put in the hours to achieve your career goals but still feel like you’re getting the time you need to de-stress and refresh.


Taking this into account, surely the states and industries with the best work-life balance are those that allow for an adequate amount of downtime. So, we put the US to the test to see which states offer the most spare time. To calculate this, we took the average hours worked weekly, added it to the average commute time over the week and subtracted this figure from the total amount of hours in a week, like so:


Hours in a week - (hours at work + commute time) = average free time per US state



When we look for a new job, industry and salary are often at the top of our search criteria. Not many of us really stop to consider the length of the commute or whether the company expects us to do overtime. But a higher income won’t get back the time spent at work and commuting. Considering this fact, we looked at the average salary and top industry within each state to see if there was a correlation and ranked the states in order of most to least amount of free time.


The four worst states in which workers have the least amount of free time are Alaska, Washington, Virginia and Maryland. Interestingly, the average earnings for these states are all in the top 10 of the best wages. The top 10 states that have the most amount of free time have an average salary of $47,531. This is lower than the average US salary of $49,577, potentially supporting the idea that that longer work equals higher pay.


Rhode Island is the only state in the top 10 for both free time and income, making it the best for a good work-life balance and an above-average paycheck. 


Workers in Utah have the most amount of free time. The World Population Review announced earlier this year that Utah was the 2nd happiest state in the country. While we can’t say this correlation is conclusive, it could certainly be an indicator that more free time has an effect on mood.


Based on our research, workers in Alaska has the least amount of free time; however, those in Utah spend more time commuting a week than those in Alaska. This means it takes the people of Utah longer to get to work, but they’re spending less time there once they arrive. The amount of time Alaska spends at work could be reflective of the leading industry in that state ­– oil and gas extraction; mining and quarrying, which tends towards long shifts.


Workers in New York have the longest commuting time at 5.62 hours and those in South Dakota have the shortest at 2.88 hours.


The key findings here are reflective of myriad factors:

  • Some states are a hub for specific industries that allow for more free time
  • The transport infrastructure could be better suited to faster commutes
  • The pay in some states may be higher because the cost of living is more


The list goes on.


While we’re not going to tell you to uproot your life and move to a different state or completely change the industry you work in, there are some things you can do to gain more precious free time.


How to achieve a better work-life balance


When you’re looking for a new role, it’s easy to be blinkered by salary. We get that more money is enticing, but time is also your most precious commodity.


In light of this, we suggest thinking about these things when looking for a new role:

  • The working hours
  • The commute time
  • The company perks, including flexible hours
  • The long-term career possibilities
  • The responsibilities and pressures of the role


 Adjusting your priorities when weighing up the pros and cons of a particular role can give a better indication of the impact it will have on your quality of life, hopefully prompting you to put yourself first and live a healthier lifestyle.




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Bart Turczynski
Editor-in-chief at Zety since 2016. His career advice and commentary has been published by the Financial Times, Hewlett-Packard, CareerBuilder, and Glassdoor, among others. With a strong passion for statistics and a background in psychology, Bart makes sure all the advice published on Zety is data-driven.
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