Sam Holstein

Why You Should Stop Padding Your Hours

In India, bribery is a part of life. More than 92% of Indians have paid a bribe to a public official to get something done. 43% of Indian Government regulators and 45% of Indian police force members share in these bribes.

This fact astonishes Americans who learn about this culture of bribery for the first time. How are Indians okay with this? How is this a part of their regular life?

But in America, we have our own unethical practices. Like padding our hours.

‘Padding hours’ is a polite way to say ‘lying about the number of hours you worked.’ Some people do this by making up hours out of thin air, but that’s less common. Most people pad their hours through white lies and half-truths, such as:

In America, almost all contractual workers do these things. It is so common that contractors speak to each other as if doing these things was the default. In fact, it is so common that clients expect us to do these things and plan around it.

At the beginning of my career, I signed a client for 20 hours a week at $15 an hour. However, their workload only ended up being seven to ten hours a week, so I billed them for seven to ten hours a week.

My client gave me a talking-to about this.

We signed you on to work twenty hours a week at $15 an hour. We expected to pay. If you finished your deliverables, bill us for the entire time.

My client

It boggled my mind.

This advice is common in the world of contract work. “You shouldn’t be so worried about tracking the exact amount of time you work. Instead, you should bill according to how much of the project goals you’ve met, compared to how many hours you are billed out for.”

That’s screwed up.

For a few reasons:

“What should we freelancers do instead?”

Well, first of all, you should ask yourself if you want to base the contract on the delivered value or hourly labor. If you’re looking to provide a fixed amount of value, perhaps a fixed-bid contract (with a couple of hourly clauses in case of scope creep) is the most appropriate for you.

If you do sign an hourly engagement, then please, be honest about the number of hours you work.

But what if we aren’t getting paid what we deserve?

Then you should ask for a raise.

What if the client doesn’t?

Then you should market yourself at a higher rate and find a client who will.

What if you can’t find a client who will?

Then you should ask yourself why.

What if the client thinks I’m not putting in enough hours?

Then you need to have a frank discussion with the client about the value you add. If you are adding all the value the client is looking for, and the client still wants more hours, ask them why.

If it’s the first, negotiate the added work.

If it’s the second, then perhaps a more in-depth discussion about their vision for your engagement is necessary.


Ultimately, it comes down to this: padding your hours is a lie. Even if it’s a culturally accepted lie, even if you feel that you won’t be paid fairly without the lie, it’s a lie.

The following should go without saying. Don’t lie to your clients. Not only is it wrong, it never pays off in the end.