Greater Worker Connectivity Brings Tradeoffs
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A new study on workplace Internet use reports employees are more reliant on online access and more likely to bring work home -- the latter likely coming as welcome news to employers. The downside, however, is that the increased flexibility is increasing employee stress and extending work hours past productive levels.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project's "Networked Workers" survey released Wednesday reported that 62 percent of employees are now 'networked,' with workers using both email and Internet access at work, and that 56 percent of such employees conduct some work at home. The biggest 'online' employee group are those working for government agencies, with 72 percent reporting they use the Internet several times a day.
While 80 percent polled say information and communications technology (ICT) are improving their ability to do their jobs, and 73 percent cite ICT as improving job collaboration, 46 percent say it's extending work hours and 49 percent said its increasing job stress levels.
Nearly half (49 percent of those polled) said technology makes it harder than ever to disconnect from work once the workday ends.
The study, conducted for the Pew Research Center by Princeton Survey Research, polled 2,134 adults on online activities at work and home, as well as mobile device use.
"It's a whole new landscape in terms of email use compared to a few years ago, and I am struck by the tradeoffs all the connectivity is bringing into play," Mary Madden, senior research specialist at the Pew Research Center, told InternetNews.com. "There's increased flexibility and better collaboration, but people are more tethered to work and we're seeing some negative effects," said Madden.
The increasing stress levels and longer workdays are even higher among employees using mobile devices on the job. Of those who own BlackBerries, and other personal digital assistants, 63 percent said the devices have created a longer workday.
The study states that Half of "networked" employees check work email at least once during a weekend, and 22 percent admit to checking work email often during off time, compared to 16 percent of employees polled in 2002.
Workers are more compelled to check email even when ill, with 46 percent reporting email check-in on sick days and 34 percent admitting to checking email while on vacation days.
"That represents another big shift as people are more likely to work outside of work and working while sick is quite common," said Madden, adding that such trends may be prompting employers to review work day requirements.
"Employers have to give employees a clear expectation of what is reasonable in terms of doing work away from work," said Madden. While many employees like having technology to stay on top of work tasks, that flexibility requires maintaining some boundaries, she added.