Work, E-Mail and the Death of Downtime

Work, E-Mail and the Death of Downtime

Forget the 99 percent — the new figure is 98 percent, or the number of Americans who work nights and weekends, answering e-mails after the workday ends and making the case to reconsider traditional work schedules.

According to “The @Work State of Mind,” a recent study by Forbes Insights, only two percent of employees, from managers to CEOs, said they never work weekends or nights.

These continually connected and working employees don’t just occasionally step-up to pitch in after hours. Of the overwhelming majority who did respond they work weekends and nights, nearly half — 44 percent — said they do so regularly.

The ease and convenience of smartphones and tablets empower people to do almost anything from reading, researching, and communicating in almost every kind of environment, from the dinner table to the baseball field to the bedroom. And because we can, we increasingly are.

These findings underscore employees are able and willing to dispense with the notion of standard working hours, which begs the question: will employers also?

Late last year, headset maker Plantronics revamped its office, making it telecommuter-friendly, to create a more comfortable, flexible workplace outfitted with wall-mounted TV screens, video conferencing facilities, and rows of desks available for employees who stop in once or twice a week.

Since studies show a growing number of employees want workplace flexibility, the ability to work from home for at least part of the week is rapidly becoming a priority for job-seekers, as the lines between work and outside work continues to blur.

“You have to change the concept of workspace,” said Patricia Wadors, senior vice president of human resources at the Santa Cruz, Calif.-based company. “You have to create an environment where people want to work. We wanted to be more open to smarter working, anywhere anytime.”

The facility’s other features include more natural light with glass walls, collaborative meeting places and focus rooms equipped with teleconferencing equipment. Meeting room walls double as whiteboards, and personal touches like colorful furniture and product-themed artwork are designed by employees.

Both workers and employers need to be aware of potential drawbacks to these emerging employment realities. Constant availability of work, enabled by the omnipresence of smartphones and other mobile devices, can create stress and skew work-life balance, especially for mobile-based workers, who must remain vigilant about keeping the lines between home and work separate.

But the Forbes study found those who felt more in control of constant work-related information and communications were more likely than those who didn’t report they were better able to strike a balance between work and personal time, even when working the same number of hours.

The idea that work never ends doesn’t have to create an environment of worker burnout and turnover. If employees and employers can use this information to rethink the whole notion of work, and the working day, everyone can win.

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