Americans Too Connected to Work?

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Turning off the smart phone and leaving work behind during weekends and vacations is a rare thing for most working Americans, and contrary to popular belief, most say staying connected is good for their productivity and balance. These were among the results of a survey released today by the American Psychological Association's Center for Organizational Excellence. 

More than half of employed adults said they check work messages at least once a day over the weekend (53 percent), before or after work during the week (52 percent) and even when they are home sick (54 percent). More than four-in-ten workers (44 percent) reported doing the same while on vacation. The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Psychological Association, took a look at how people are using work-related communication technology (including email, text messaging and voice mail) and its implications for work and well-being.

The prevailing belief is that our society is too connected and that this is having a detrimental effect on work and health. But a majority of working Americans said communication technology has a different effect—it allows them to be more productive (said 56 percent) and provides more flexibility (53 percent).

"People are often given the advice to unplug if you want to achieve work-life balance and recharge," said David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, assistant executive director for organizational excellence at the American Psychological Association. "While there's no question that people need downtime to recover from work stress and avoid burnout, that doesn't necessarily require a complete 'digital detox.' For many people, the ability to stay connected adds value to their work and personal lives. We're learning that not everyone wants to power down, and that's OK."

In addition to enhanced productivity and flexibility, working adults reported that communication technology makes it easier for them to get their work done (56 percent) and nearly half indicated that it has a positive impact on their relationships with coworkers (49 percent). Most working adults said they have control over whether or not they do work outside of normal hours (71 percent) and that their jobs fit well with other aspects of their lives (69 percent).

But being plugged in 24/7 is not without its challenges. More than one-third of employed Americans said communication technology increases their workload (36 percent) and makes it more difficult to stop thinking about work (34 percent) and take a break from work (35 percent).

Additional findings from the survey include:

>>Men were more likely than women to say they check work-related messages at least daily over the weekend (59 percent vs. 45 percent), while on vacation (49 percent vs. 37 percent) and on sick days (59 percent vs. 48 percent).

>>Men were slightly more likely than women to say that these tools give them more work flexibility (56 percent vs. 50 percent) and positively affect their work relationships (51 percent vs. 46 percent).

>>Men were also more likely to report certain negative effects of work-related communication technology, including work-life conflict (26 percent vs. 20 percent) and a negative impact on their relationships outside of work (20 percent vs. 14 percent).

>>Younger employees were more likely to check their work-related messages at least once each day, compared to those in older age groups. Roughly six out of ten employees age 18-34 said they check their messages at least daily during non-work hours (60 percent), over the weekend (62 percent) and on sick days (64 percent), compared to just 43 percent of employees age 45-54. Similarly, almost half of employees age 18-34 (49 percent) said they check their work messages at least once each day while on vacation, compared to just 38 percent of workers age 55 and older.

>>More than six out of 10 employees age 18-34 said that work-related communication technology makes them more productive (63 percent) and makes it easier to get work done (64 percent), compared to just 46 percent and 52 percent, respectively, for employees age 55 and older.

>>Although younger workers were more likely to report positive aspects of communication technology, they also cited more negatives than their older counterparts. Compared to working Americans age 55 and older, almost three times as many employees age 18-34 said that work-related communication technology forces them to work faster (32 percent vs.12 percent) and negatively affects their relationships outside of work (25 percent vs. 9 percent). Employees age 18-34 and 35-44 were also much more likely than those 55 and older to say that communication technology causes work-life conflict (28 percent for both 18-34 and 35-44 year olds vs. 14 percent).

"Communication technology enhances our lives when it connects us to others and helps us be healthier, happier and more productive," said Ballard. "The benefits are only sustainable, however, when these tools are used in ways that are a good fit for each individual's needs, skills and preferences," he added. "Let technology be a tool that works for you, rather than the other way around."