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What Are Business Days? Understanding the Workweek

Last updated: October 21, 2019
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Entrepreneurs looking to participate in the business world need a good understanding of how that world works. Part of that is understanding how the world of business keeps time.

Business days are the way the working world tracks delivery dates, contract times, deal closings, and the like. For any business situation where a time needs to be agreed on, it’s important to understand business days.

In this article, we’ll give you a guide to business days, their history, and how they’re used. We’ll also look at business days elsewhere in the world, and highlight some recent experiments to change the number of business days in a given workweek. Finally, we’ll get to some frequently asked questions.

What Are Business Days?  

A business day is classified as an official workday during the week. It can also be called a working day, and many people just know it as a “weekday.” Official working days are typically Monday through Friday in the United States and most of the Western Hemisphere, such as in the European Union. The exception is public holidays.

But different parts of the world have different customs. Some cultures observe a Friday and Saturday weekend, while others only have one day a week that is considered a non-business day. (We’ll get to those in the next section.)

Business days are helpful to know for several reasons. In financial markets, business days are usually the way contract times are settled on. Same in the real estate world — contracts are often determined to have a certain window of business days to close on a sale, get inspections done, etc.

If you’ve ever ordered a package, you may also note that business days are used to denote the shipping time. If a package is promised in three business days and you order it on Friday, it won’t arrive on Monday, but rather will arrive the following Wednesday, as a weekend day does not count as a business day. This is why it’s also helpful to understand these days if you work as a delivery driver.

How Many Business Days Are in a Year?  

agenda calendar

While there are 365 calendar days in a year (with the exception of leap years), there are typically around 260 working days in a given year. In 2019, for example, there will be 261 working days. This factors in both weekends and public holidays.

The number of business days varies annually and depends on whether or not the start or end date of the year falls on a weekend. There is also an exception for leap year, which eliminates a day of the year every four years, via the current configuration of the Gregorian Calendar.

The calendar year we’re discussing here is all based on the Gregorian Calendar, the standard calendar used by most cultures in the world. There are still cultures that follow their own calendar, but most workers will be going off the 365-day annual calendar.

Some businesses build their calendar around the fiscal year, which is an accounting designation meant to figure out how a business performed in the previous year. Fiscal years can run on the standard calendar year, January to December, or whatever a business or industry decides.

How Long Are Business Days?  

Business hours vary widely by region, industry, company, and more. In the United States and most of the West, the accepted norm for a business day is the eight-hour day. For financial markets and other industries, standard business hours often run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., as part of the 24-hour day defined by Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

That being said, some businesses run a workday with 10 work hours, and many people work alternate hours like night shifts. There is no real standard business day. For the purposes of scheduling, however, many industries use “business day” as shorthand for a standard, 9-to-5 day, with 5 p.m. acting as the cut-off time for the end of a business day.

In the finance sector in the United States, a business day tends to refer to when the New York Stock Exchange is open — from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time. For people in Central time, Atlantic time, Mountain time, or Pacific Time, it depends on the industry. Many businesses will keep a standard 9-to-5 schedule no matter where they are, but for people in financial markets, they may just adhere to the 9-to-5 Eastern time schedule to work when the stock market is open.

For financial workers who trade in foreign exchange markets, their business day can often correspond to wherever they are trading: Whenever the market is open in Beijing, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, New Delhi, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, or St. Petersburg, these workers will be online.

Do Business Days Vary in Different Parts of the World?  

What Are Business Days: clocks for 4 common time zones

Business days and workweeks have very different definitions across the globe.

These variations can be the result of labor practices in that country, traditions, religious observances, and more. For example, the United States and much of Europe embraced a Saturday to Sunday weekend because the Christian day of rest and religious observation is on Sunday. In the Jewish tradition, however, the day of the rest — the Sabbath — is observed on Saturday. Because of this, in Israel they have a Friday to Saturday weekend, and return to work on Sunday.

That being said, it took some time to get to a two-day weekend. Up until the 19th century, most people worked every day of the week except the day of worship, which was Sunday in the Christian tradition. It was only with the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the labor class that the two-day weekend became popularized. In the United States, one of the first major companies to embrace the five-day workweek was Henry Ford, who moved to a 40-hour workweek in 1926.

The one-day weekend is still alive and well, however. Nepal observes only a Saturday weekend, while Djibouti, Iran, Palestine, and Somali all only have a day off on Friday.

What About a Four-Day Workweek?

A debate that has sprung up recently is about the number of days that should be in a workweek. Some businesses have begun experimenting with a four-day workweek, arguing that people get more done, more efficiently, in that span of time.

In 2018, a New Zealand accounting firm, Perpetual Guardian, reduced its workweek from 40 hours to 32 hours, with employees only coming in four days a week. They had two researchers study the effects on its 240 employees.

The researchers found that productivity actually went up in the firm during the time of the shorter workweeks, and said employees reported a 24% life in work-life balance.

A similar study in Sweden had an entire city change a workday from eight hours down to six and found that people got the same amount of work done in that time — and possibly even more work done. This idea isn’t totally new, either: In France, they moved a business week down to 35 hours all the way back in 2000.

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve covered business days, workweeks, working hours, and how those can vary all over the globe. Let’s get to some common questions on the topic.

1. Are public holidays considered workdays?

No. Public holidays do not count as business days in most cultures. What gets interesting is what classifies something as a public holiday. In the United States, there are 11 observed federal holidays or “bank holidays,” which are official holidays Federal Reserve.

Other industries can define holidays differently, and many people have to work on federal holidays. But for official scheduling purposes, in the United States at least, federal holidays do not count as business days.

2. What federal holidays are observed in the United States?

Below is the list of federal holidays:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day
  • Washington’s Birthday
  • Memorial Day
  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Veterans Day
  • Thanksgiving
  • Christmas

3. If I order something at 7 p.m. on a weekday and it’s promised the next business day, will I receive it the next day?

Most likely not. The definition of business day usually has one ending at 5 p.m. — this can vary by time zone, but usually in the United States it refers to Eastern Time. If you order something at 7 p.m., that will not count toward that current day. The next business day will likely be two days away, in that instance.

Understanding Business Days

Business days are how employers and employees keep time. After reading this article, you should have a good understanding of business days, how they work, and how they vary around the world. You’ve got your dates set — now go take on the business world.

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