Did e-mail and the Internet kill the 9-5 workday?

A recent survey indicates workers no longer know when to disconnect and walk away.

Have you checked your work e-mail today? If you're like most employees in the United States and United Kingdom, the answer is yes despite the fact that it is not only the weekend, but an extended holiday weekend for most workers in the US. A day off is becoming an increasingly foreign concept as workers stay connected virtually 24/7.

The concepts of the workday and the weekend are engrained in pop culture. Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton starred in the movie "9 to 5", named for the then-standard workday hours. In 1981, the rock group Loverboy had a hit with the song "Working for the Weekend". The phrase "thank god it's Friday" and its acronym equivalent "TGIF" are virtually ubiquitous celebrations of the impending weekend.

Unfortunately, pop culture trivia may be the only place left where the workday and weekend have any meaning. A survey conducted by Harris Interactive in the United States and Opinion Matters in the United Kingdom on behalf of Xobni, found that the 9-5 workday is a myth, and that there is no such thing as a real day off any more.

Xobni reports that 72 percent of Americans, and 68 percent of Brits check work e-mail outside of regular business hours. Half of the Americans surveyed check e-mail while on vacation. Just over a quarter of the British respondents, and 42 percent of the Americans admitted checking e-mail even while out on sick days. Many even check e-mail while in bed before going to sleep or getting up in the morning.

So, what is driving the e-mail obsession? Are workers anxiously waiting for something in particular? Do they simply love their jobs so much they don't know when to quit? Well, not quite. It seems to be more a mix between job preservation, and simply trying to manage the tremendous burden over a broader stretch of time. The rise of mobile e-mail on smartphones and tablet devices doesn't hurt any either.

In an era where job cuts and layoffs are the norm, those who still have jobs are likely to work twice as hard for two reasons. First, they want to be an asset to the company and demonstrate value to avoid being one of the unemployed. Second, someone still has to do all of the work previously done by those who were let go--so the workers who are left are simply expected to do more.

It's not all bad news, though. The advent of the Internet and e-mail have also opened the door and leveled the playing field for freelance workers. "Businesses are leveraging online talent as a core strategy to get work done and are finding that there is a significant supply of highly qualified professionals who prefer the online work model. Freelancers are finding satisfaction in controlling their own schedules and following their passions and are opting for a cloud commute in record numbers," said Ellen Pack, Vice President of Marketing at Elance.

While it's easy to assume that "freelance" is simply a polite way of saying "unemployed and taking odd jobs where possible" a survey of freelancers conducted by Elance found "the economic downturn is not the primary driver for professionals turning to freelance careers. Only 4 percent of those surveyed are working as a freelancer until they can find a full-time job and less than a quarter (24 percent) transitioned to freelance careers after a layoff. More than half (56 percent) began freelancing to be their own boss and work on projects they love.

There is still a relationship between the down economy and the rise of freelancing, though. As companies reduce their internal workforce, the opportunities for hiring outside talent on a project by project basis helps get the job done without all of the overhead associated with hiring a full-time employee.

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Tags internetsoftwareemailapplicationse-mailinstant messagingweb mailharrisInternet-based applications and servicesHarris Interactive

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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