smart phoneMore than half of the employed adults surveyed recently by the American Psychological Association (APA) said they regularly check work messages during non-work hours, and four in 10 said they did it while on vacation.

Surprisingly, most said the ability to stay connected through digital technology yields positive results such as increased productivity (56 percent) and greater flexibility (53 percent).

The survey, by the APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence, 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.

Not everyone wants to power down

“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 APA. “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 co-workers (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 versus 45 percent), while on vacation (49 percent versus 37 percent) and on sick days (59 percent versus 48 percent).
  • Men were slightly more likely than women to say that these tools give them more work flexibility (56 percent versus 50 percent) and positively affect their work relationships (51 percent versus 46 percent).
  • Men were also more likely to report certain negative effects of work-related communication technology, including work-life conflict (26 percent versus 20 percent) and a negative impact on their relationships outside of work (20 percent versus 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 6 out of 10 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 6 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.

Differences between younger, older workers

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 versus 12 percent) and negatively affects their relationships outside of work (25 percent versus 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 ages 18-34 and 35-44 versus 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.”