Most US Workers Online at Work, 50% Check Work Email on Weekends

September 29, 2008

This article is included in these additional categories:

Email | Social Media

Fully 72% of employed adults in the US use the internet and email at least sometimes while they are at work, and 50% of those email users say they check their email on weekends, according to a report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life project.

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The number of workers who report playing online games or working on their own journal or blog while at work is negligible. One in 10 workers say they contribute writing, files, or other content to their employer’s website; 6% say they use instant message applications.?

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Despite widespread and growing internet and email use at work, US workers say they have mixed views about the impact of technology on their lives, according to Pew. On the one hand, they cite benefits of increased connectivity and flexibility that the internet and all of their various gadgets afford them at work. On the other hand, many say those tools have added stress and new demands to their lives.

A Love-Hate Relationship

Among those who work, 96% use the internet or?email or have a cell phone for some purpose in their lives, even if it is not specifically tied to work. Pew calls this group “Wired and Ready Workers.” When members of this group are asked about the impact of these technologies on their work lives:

  • 80% say these technologies have improved their ability to do their job.
  • 73% say these technologies have improved their ability to share ideas with coworkers.
  • 58% say these tools have allowed them more flexibility in the hours they work.

At the same time, Wired and Ready Workers cite various negative impacts of the same information and communications technologies:

  • 49% say these technologies increase the level of stress in their job.
  • 49% say these technologies make it harder for them to disconnect from their work when they are at home and on the weekends.
  • 46% say these tools increase demands that they work more hours.

“American workers have a love-hate relationship with technology,” said Mary Madden, senior research specialist with the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and coauthor of the report. “Along with the benefits of increased connectivity comes a host of new issues into workers’ lives. How do you strike a work-life balance when you are always reachable by the boss? What counts as overtime work when you are ‘on the clock’ at all hours? How much personal online browsing can you do while you are sitting in your cubicle?”

Tethered to Email

Some 22% of employed email users say they are expected to read and respond to work-related emails, even when they are not at work. Blackberry and PDA owners are more than twice as likely to report that their employer expects that they will stay tuned in to email outside of the office. Fully 48% say they are required to read and respond to email when they are away from work.

  • 50% of employed email users say they check their work-related email on the weekends.
  • 22% of employed email users say they check their work email accounts “often” during weekend hours, compared with 16% who reported the same in 2002.
  • 46% of employed email users say they check email when they have to take a sick day; 25% say they do so “often.”
  • 34% of employed email users say they will at least occasionally check their email while on vacation; 11% say they do so “often.”

“Email is still the primary artery of workplace communications in many professions, and it has clearly started to spill over into personal life,” said Sydney Jones, coauthor and research assistant for the Pew Internet Project. “Over time, workers have become more likely to check their email outside of normal working hours, and many are expected to do so by their employer.”

Working at Home

One of the major impacts of the internet and cell phones is that they have enabled more people to do work at least occasionally from home, Pew said. Some 45% of employed Americans report doing at least some work from home and 18% say they do job-related tasks at home almost daily.

Those who are most tethered to work are more likely to say that their gadgets and connectivity have some negative impact:

  • 59% of Wired and Ready Workers who hold professional and managerial positions say communications technologies have increased demands that they work more hours, as do 56% of those who already work more than 40 hours per week.
  • 63% of those who own Blackberries and PDAs feel as though gadgets and connectivity increase demands that they work more hours, and 30% feel as though these demands have increased “a lot.”

About the study: The “Networked Workers” data comes from a national sample of 2,134 adults age 18 and older, fielded between March 27 and April 14, 2008. Some 1,482 respondents in the survey were internet users.

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