back to article Survey: Tech has FREED modern workers – to work longer hours

Americans think technology has made them more productive at work, but it also has many of them working longer hours, according to a new report. The study, which was conducted by the nonprofit Pew Research Center using data gathered from 535 people in September 2014, reveals that 46 per cent of US workers believe that the …

  1. Robert Helpmann??
    Childcatcher

    No Surprise

    In another head-scratcher of a twist, however, 61 per cent of those surveyed said email was "very important" – more than gave that distinction to the internet itself.

    I don't see this as much of a surprise having been through both e-mail and internet access outages. While people get upset they cannot get to YouTube and other internet sites, they really lose it when cut off from e-mail and go straight into DTs if forced to do without for just a few short minutes. What is shocking to me is that there are significant numbers of employers who reportedly do not block at least some web sites.

    I would like to see what online services or sites make employees feel more productive. Having ruled out social media, my guess is on search.

    1. P. Lee
      Windows

      Re: No Surprise

      Email documents the transfer of responsibilities from "my problem" to "your problem."

      Nothing is more important than that!

      Outlook: teflon for the office.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: No Surprise

      Translation:

      Internet = web

      Email = Email

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: No Surprise

        Internet = web

        Email = Email

        The vast majority of my work email is internal. If I worked at one of the corporate offices rather than from home (and thus depend on the Internet for my connection to the corporate network), then I could certainly experience Internet outages that didn't significantly affect email (or affect access to internal websites, remote login to other internal machines, etc). And temporary loss of Internet access would almost always be significantly less disruptive to my work than loss of access to the internal network.

    3. AndrueC Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: No Surprise

      Email is down.

  2. Captain DaFt

    But of course!

    '54 per cent of respondents said the internet was "very important" to doing their jobs'

    If most office workers didn't have the Internet to distract them from the tedium, they would've risen up in revolt, long ago!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    head scratcher

    "Internet" is IE... for an embarrassing number of Americans. The ones who answer surveys, anyway. I shit you not.

    1. yoganmahew

      Internet is IE...

      Indeed and internet is probably company intranet where everything that used to be an application is now some bloated internal site written by a diseased gibbon with the usability of a rotten mackrel.

    2. fandom

      Re: head scratcher

      Or, like a neighbour once told me "Google doesn't work"

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    Surprise?

    All that's happening is that we are all increasingly "on-call." That doesn't bother me; it has always been ever thus here. C'mon, you really didn't have a life before, did ya?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      Re: C'mon, you really didn't have a life before, did ya?

      Yes... I do...And if my boss wants me to be "on-call." 24 hours a day he'd better pay me 24 hours a day !

      1. DropBear
        Unhappy

        Re: C'mon, you really didn't have a life before, did ya?

        I'm sure he thinks he's already paying for all 24 hours of it...

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Surprise?

      we are all increasingly "on-call."

      Not all. I check email when I want to check email. Some of my co-workers have my mobile phone number, and in rare cases (maybe a couple of times a year) they use it; and if I'm in the mood, I answer it. (I don't keep my phone near the bed, so if I'm asleep, they're out of luck.)

      Set boundaries you're comfortable with, and make yourself sufficiently valuable to the organization that you can get away with it.

      On a related point, though, I'll note that for a while in the 90's I was part of a small development team here that also acted as second- or third-line support for one of our products. Since it was something customers deployed in critical production apps, we had 24/7 support, and so there was a rotating on-call position. But whoever carried the pager for the week was compensated for it; I don't remember how much, but it wasn't insignificant.

  5. Florida1920
    Coat

    Constant Internet connectivity is only a habit

    Like any habit, it can be broken. I know, I give it up several times a day.

    One with the smartphone in the pocket.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There is an 'OFF' switch/button

    I wish more people would use it more often.

    Company Phone? Office Hours only unless I'm doing some planned out of hours work for which I get TOIL

    Company Email? Not on any of my devices. Corporate Noose (sorry laptop) working only during office hours or {see phone above}

    I am regarded by some as not a team player. I am now at an age where I really don't give a shit anymore.

    I do my job, get lots of praise from the customers and get paid for it. That's all folks.

    anon just in case the PHB reads this.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: There is an 'OFF' switch/button

      I fully agree with your approach.

      However, anonymity will not save you if the PHB is eventually required to downsize and chooses to keep the willing slaves team players.

      But then, sanity and health are ultimately more important.

  7. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    WTF?

    Internet is a necessity

    5% urgent research for design issues.

    95% mental doodling; saves wear and tear on biros.

    The work computer stays at work and if I stay longer, they pay.

    It's not difficult - it's just that so many think that once you're employed you're employed 24/7 - and that's not just the bosses. Weren't we going to have too much leisure time to deal with?

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Re: Internet is a necessity

      Quote "Weren't we going to have too much leisure time to deal with?"

      Yes , but thats a small subset of the population, and they are called "unemployed"

      The rest of us have 2 choices, either work all the hours the boss says to work, or like me, only work the hours the boss pays you to work.

      And as for those who spend hours time wasting just to be present at your desks from 8am to 7pm.... dont whine about it

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Internet is a necessity

        "The rest of us have 2 choices, either work all the hours the boss says to work, or like me, only work the hours the boss pays you to work."

        The third option is freelance. All the hours worked are billed.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Internet is a necessity

          But as I've found out billing and getting paid are two different things. Companies only pay if the amount owed is less than the cost and hassle of not paying. And with large contract lawyers and endless hassle are expected.

  8. bikeboatski

    "Internet, email make you more productive" Don't know about other fields but in my field of medicine (family practice) adoption of electronic medical records have actually increased the time requirement! The government has mandated it (with penalties for non-compliance) and software vendors have lobbied politicians, hospital administrators, and government administration with systems that are not yet fully vetted or perfected. The result is unpredictible shutdowns, slower input of information, mass layoffs of medical transcriptionists (the ones who typed the dictated records for the former ((superior)) system) and care providers having to pay more attention to computer screens than to their patients!

    All in the hope that a new system would facilitate easier access of patient records among different physicians (it hasn't)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "...with systems that are not yet fully vetted or perfected."

      And for those on the receiving end, prescriptions that were supposed to be sent to the pharmacy that mysteriously can't be found, appointments made in advance where it's the practitioner in questions day off (complete with SMS confirmation); personal phone number in which a digit mysteriously changes regularly (and you are tetchily accused of the error by the receptionist) even though they've been phoning you on that number for years; repeat medication requests rejected of which no one has any knowledge; patient records that bear no resemblance to information you gave in earlier appointments; slavish adherence to blood test requests for annual blood tests you've already done or to test medications you are no longer prescribed; "its not on our system" given talismanic status as "it never happened".

      And so on.

  9. The Dark Newt

    The Mighty Micro

    In 1979 Christopher Evans wrote the Mighty Micro a sort of prediction/guess on the future and effects of computers in Society. He predicted a shorter working week as computers enabled us to do more and free ourselves.... What he hadn't figured was that by doing more we could work the same hours and use less people.. I cannot be certain but I seem to remember him saying that he had failed to take into account the greed of employers, which I think is a little naieve. I don't believe it is down to pure greed just simple mechanics of society why employ more people to do a job than one person.

    I do believe that there is increasing pressure to work out of hours, however I believe this is not just the fault of the employer but several factors:

    1. The persons attitude (type A's just need to know whats happening)

    2. The culture of the organisation (there's just an expectation round here)

    3. The employer (closely linked to above)

    4. The type of service... especially in IT there is a tendency to put forward web based services that are available 24hrs a day.. this builds an expectation of 24/7 support... with guess what no provision for out of hours support.

    5. The conscientious worker.. similar to number 1, this person takes great pride in how they do their job and the service they give.. this means they keep an eye on things!

    As an engineer and a manager I could list a lot more contributing factors, the upshot is we just can't leave the emails alone.. I am sitting here knowing that over Christmas I have listed 18 work related items I need to do.. I have done 11 of them so far... Perhaps I need to change.

  10. chivo243 Silver badge

    America thinks

    535 people have the answers? No, really, 535 people is not a very large pool of respondents. I would also doubt there are any El Reg types answering this type of survey, I sure they would answer technology has increased their work load.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: America thinks

      My thoughts exactly. A sample size of 535 out of a population of 320,000,000 doesn't sound like something even the most creative of statisticians could reliably extrapolate from. There's probably more that 535 distinct industries/services/producers.

  11. Dan Paul

    Inaccurate Statistics (Agreed chivo243)

    Typical BS from another "Survey Company". We must all be insane because we keep doing the same thing and expect different results

    Why is it that these "surveys' think they actually have any kind of representative sample to base their results on? Using the USA as an example, 535 divided by 310 MILLION is 0.000001726.

    Cold spit in the breeze has more significance. Pointless numbers that mean less than nothing and yet the public still believes them.

    The survey companies themselves choose what areas to survey and thus choose the results of the poll before it even is completed.

    Cell phone only respondents will be heavily weighted in favor of internet junkies.

    So will online respondents, and any respondent from an area code or exchange located in a college town will have a much greater likelihood of responding the way the survey companys true customer wants the survey to come out.

    Want a survey positive on the importance of the internet? Then only choose from a narrow pool that are 90% more likely to respond more positively about it.

    1. DugEBug

      Re: Inaccurate Statistics (Agreed chivo243)

      Agree. As they say, there's lies, damned lies, and statistics...

      How much of the increase in productivity is due to software applications rather than the internet?

      In my line of work (digital design), my productivity has increased immensely from my early days of drawing NAND gates on a sheet of paper. Most of that increase has to do with offline software and more powerful computers, not the Internet.

      I'll give the Internet a little credit for 'allowing' me to take my work home with me and for allowing me to stay up late at night to have WebEx meetings with co-workers and angry customers overseas.

    2. chivo243 Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Inaccurate Statistics (Agreed chivo243)

      @Dan Paul

      Cold spit reminds me of the Weather Rock... Lots of raw data, locally located only accessed for misleading surveys.

      Maybe I should work for one of these crap mills, only stupid people that deserve what they believe will buy it and pay my salary.

      Would this make me a flim-flam man? I refuse to con people, but if they have already drank the kool-aid, are they fair game?

      Survey Says:

      Ask The Dude

      I'm sure he's ordering a White Russian

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Inaccurate Statistics (Agreed chivo243)

      Using the USA as an example, 535 divided by 310 MILLION is 0.000001726.

      It's a survey of workers, so your denominator should be more like 147 million. If you're going to bitch about their methodology, you might at least try to get the numbers vaguely right.

      And, of course, even that number is wrong, because what the survey is actually studying is perceived productivity and work habits of salaried white-collar workers. Non-ag wage and salary employment is around 136M. Part-timers account for around 19% of that, so now we're down to ~110M. I haven't found a handy breakdown of those remaining 100M workers, but clearly you were off by more than a factor of 3.

      More importantly, if certain conditions hold, the required sample size to achieve a given margin of error and confidence level doesn't grow with the population size. Once the population grows beyond around 20000, a sample size of about 400 remains sufficient for a 5% margin of error and a 95% confidence level (p<0.05).

      Now, those conditions may be difficult to achieve in many situations, and many statisticians are dubious about this sort of polling in particular. The necessary conditions include a homogeneous population for the conditions you're testing for, and a selection process that chooses an unbiased-random sample from the entire population you're claiming to examine. And then polls of this sort suffer from all sorts of other methodological problems: self-reporting, subjective questions, and so on.

      But - and this may come as a shock to many Reg readers - there are actually some people who have put some thought into these problems. Your cunning and trenchant critiques are not novel! I know the Reg Brain Trust considers itself on the forefront of every field of intellectual inquiry, but on the rare occasion specialists have gotten there first.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wonder how many of these 'connected' workers that now appear to be on call 24/7/365 are actually being paid to be on call 24/7/365? Very few I would imagine.

    So we now have workers being paid for a set numbers of working hours per week but most of them are donating a very large amount of free hours to the company - not good working practice for the worker but excellent for the company.

    I expect my people to leave their work phones at work when they leave in the evening unless they are on call, in which case they get paid for being on call even if they don't get a call. Why, oh why, won't other companies respect their workers as we do?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "I wonder how many of these 'connected' workers that now appear to be on call 24/7/365 are actually being paid to be on call 24/7/365? Very few I would imagine."

      If you're paid salary, you ARE basically on call because you're paid to do the job, not to be present at work (IOW, it's NOT time-based).

      "So we now have workers being paid for a set numbers of working hours per week but most of them are donating a very large amount of free hours to the company - not good working practice for the worker but excellent for the company."

      Because there's a worker glut. Meaning one has to answer the boss or risk being replaced.

      You toe the line or you don't get tapped.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        If you're paid salary, you ARE basically on call because you're paid to do the job, not to be present at work

        If you are on a salary then you should have contract of work which SHOULD spell out what you actually have to do to fulfil that contract. If the contract says, in so many words, that you have to work 24/7 then I would hope you were being paid to do that.

        As an aside, total up the number of hours you worked for a month then divide your monthly salary by that to get the hourly rate and you will most probably find you are not making the minimum wage. I, as owner of my company can work for less than the minimum wage those I employ can not and as long as I own the company will not.

  13. Hargrove

    Define Productivity

    There is a natural tendency for people to equate putting in hours of effort with productivity,

    They are not the same thing. People can put forth dedicated effort with the best intentions, and still be unproductive or even counter-productive (e.g. much of what has been done in implementing the US FISMA legislation) There are also activities that are necessary to maintain productivity, but do, per se, produce any direct output.

    This is not new or unique to the information age. But the way we design and employ technology exacerbates it. And it is getting worse.

    I find it takes an inordinate amount of time simply to get the technology to work. Constant updates and patches make configuration management (at least as I knew it "back in the day") virtually impossible.

    Documentation and support have degraded. My impression, confirmed by some of the folks I talk to in industry, is that most user documentation is generated from the software design documentation system. It tells you in exquisite detail what the program can do, but not what the user needs to do to make it happen

    Support for many consumer products is generally off-loaded to "Communities" of users. . . unless you want to pay for it. Searching for solutions to any virtually any problem will generate a bewildering array of results. 99% are not relevant to the problem at hand. Feedback indicates that the 1% that are (all of which require changes to the registry) worked only for the person submitting the idea.

    The resulting loss in productivity is enormous.

    Age is doubtless a factor in personal productivity. But looking back through my corporate records I find that two decades ago we routinely generated analyses and products in quantity and quality that simply cannot be achieved today. (The technology does other things that we could not have begun to do back in the day. But the ability to generate hard, actionable knowledge has degraded dramatically.)

    And putting everything in the cloud and assuming that big data analytics will generate "the" right answer is not going to help one bit.

  14. DropBear

    ...the internet, email, and mobile phones have upped their productivity

    Well, yes, sure as long as "productivity" is defined as "pestering someone else about something that needs to be done (but not by you. obviously.)"...

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In some ways, I miss the olden days

    As the connections get better, I seem to spend less face time with the customers. No, not Apple Face Time, but real, actual, being there with them; the time that gets things done. These days, I work on multiple projects at once, and everything takes an age to finish. Of course, I don't miss the wonders of getting the squits, in India, or the typical African office toilet (bring your own bog roll) but... Being out there, getting things done and feeling like I'm achieving something.

  16. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Many think technology has changed the way they work ?

    What the hell do the others do ?

    Sit around flinging dung and wondering how to bang rocks together ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Many think technology has changed the way they work ?

      Maybe fall by the wayside and disappear, which is why you don't see them much anymore?

  17. Gannon (J.) Dick
    Thumb Up

    "Incidentally, however, only 4 per cent of survey participants said social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter were essential to their jobs."

    Well next time only ask Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter Boards of Directors and nobody else.

    Obviously 95% Investors and a few stray dogs includes too many dogs for accurate results. Do it right and sky's the limit 5%, 7% maybe even 8% who knows.

  18. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    You should see a place without it...

    There's plenty of tech on the floor, but no phones. During breaks and lunch the hardest core phone addicts will (usually!) beat the cigarette smokers to the door and are texting or messaging (judging from the frantic tapping, beeps and dings) the whole time.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have to agree that technology has encroached on a workers "off duty" time. While there are circumstances that do need to be treated as "urgent" matters and merit immediate response, my personal experience has shown that most every e-mail or texts after hours is for routine items that could be handled during the next working day. I receive e-mail and texts as early as 3:45AM and late into the night. Yea, there is an "off" button however, if you don't respond quickly it is often interpreted that you are remise in your duties. Before this technology we had "time off" from your job. Now it is as if you are owned" not "hired".

    Boundries must be set.

  20. Bobcat4424

    Technology? Or other causes?

    The blame for longer hours may be less for technology and more for other causes. A primary cause of longer hours overall is the decline of unions and other advocates for the worker. Another cause is the Bush Depression which caused huge job insecurity --- an insecurity that many employers took advantage of.

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