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How Many Of Your Co-Workers Are Hungover?

Argument — much like karaoke and online shopping — is at its best when done with friends and a drink. And so, here’s “Bar Fights With Walt,” a column devoted to solving the only questions that truly matter: the dumb arguments about life and pop culture developed and hashed out in barroom rants. We’ll use data and research to take these arguments to their logical statistical conclusion. If you’d like to submit a question or conundrum, corner the author at one of his typical haunts and pick a fight.

I’m writing this in a windowless room and have a headache that can only be described as tumultuous. I’ve tried to remedy the situation with a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. I am eating extra-strength ibuprofen caplets like they’re M&M’s. The previous night was the FiveThirtyEight holiday party, the antecedent to the unauthorized FiveThirtyEight after-party at One Star. So, it’s the perfect moment to tackle our next bar fight:

How many Americans are hungover at work on any given day?

I’ve thought about this relatively often, because my career path — from the restaurant business to journalism — has been dominated by occupations where some people roll into work with shades and water bottles.

There’s a bit of data on this. One survey found that half of respondents reported they have been hungover at work. But this was conducted by a company that sells a hangover cure, so I’m skeptical. And when I say I’m skeptical, I mean that I consider this number to be entirely untrustworthy, as it was probably derived to get headlines and sell a brand of aspirin and caffeine tablets.

To find out how often people go to work hungover, I asked SurveyMonkey Audience to run a poll of 1,000 respondents on Dec. 11. Of the 1,000 respondents, 571 said they worked full time. The survey asked how many times per month respondents estimated they go into work with a hangover. Of those 571 full-timers, 74 percent said they never go into work hungover, and 20 percent said they go in hungover less than once per month.

hickey-datalab-hungover

For the most part, Americans are arriving at work unencumbered.

We’ve got to be careful about drawing conclusions from the remaining group of people — the 6 percent I refer to as “champs” — because the sample size is very small. We’ll only use those people to get a ballpark estimate, and take that estimate with a grain of salt.

That big caveat aside, that group’s breakdown makes sense: 2 percent of respondents said they go to work hungover once per month, 1.3 percent twice, 0.9 percent three and four times, and so on with decreasing frequency.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are 119.4 million Americans employed full time. If we suppose the rates we observed in the sample are roughly consistent across the full-time working population, that means 23,665,080 people go in hungover less than once per month, 2,340,240 go in hungover once per month, 1,492,500 twice per month and so on. Let’s assume that the people who reported going to work hungover “less than once per month” did so four times per year.

The average American worker did 1,758 hours of work in 2011. If we break that down into eight-hour shifts, that’s about 220 work days per year, or about 18.3 per month. So, we can estimate a person who said he was hungover once per month is hungover on 5.5 percent of the days worked.

If we do this for each frequency group, we can estimate the probability a person from each group is hungover on a given day. We can multiply those probabilities by our estimates for the number of people in each group. When we add them up, the estimated number of hungover workers on a given day is 1,946,677 people — roughly 2 million. That’s 1.6 percent of the full-time workforce. (I’d imagine that number is lower at the beginning of the week and higher at the end.)

So, this holiday season, if you find yourself punching in desiccated and bleary-eyed after a night of wassailing, take pride that you’re in the 1.6 percent.

Walt Hickey was FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.

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