Summary:

Thanks to email and instant messaging and smartphones and iPads, virtually any time is work time — and that includes family-oriented holidays like Thanksgiving, according to a recent survey. Almost 60 percent of people said they checked their work mail while they were on holiday.

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If there’s one thing that seems to define work in the digital age, it’s the blurring of boundaries between our work lives and our personal lives. As we all know, work expands to fill the time available, and thanks to the ubiquity of email and instant messaging and smartphones and iPads, virtually any time is work time — and that includes family-oriented holidays like Thanksgiving, according to a recent survey from Xobni and Harris Interactive. The email service found almost 60 percent of people check their work email during the holidays, and almost 30 percent of that group check their mail multiple times a day during their time off at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Of those who checked email of any kind during the holidays — work or personal — 79 percent said they’ve gotten a work-related email from either a colleague or a client. And more than 40 percent of that group said that they were either annoyed, frustrated or resentful at getting work-related mail while on holiday. Interestingly enough, those in the 18 to 34 age range felt the strongest about this, with 56 percent saying they felt annoyed or resentful at this intrusion into their personal lives. Only 30 percent of those aged 45 to 54 said they felt this way.

So why do people check their work email? One reason seems to be that they know if they don’t, they’ll end up with a ton of email when they return, and will have to spend hours wading through it or dealing with the fallout from not having responded. The Xobni-Harris survey found 42 percent of those who said they check work email while on holiday believe doing so eases the workload when they return. This is something I can personally identify with, but it creates a kind of Catch-22 at the same time: Checking mail might reduce the volume after the holidays, but it can also suck you into a vortex of work that leads to even more emails.

Another interesting statistic from the survey( the full version of which is here): Almost 20 percent of those who received work-related email during their holidays said they were thankful for having gotten the messages, because it was a distraction from the family holiday. There’s a boatload of material in that kind of response for psychologists to plow through, but it seems to suggest that just as family time can provide a welcome relief from work stress, work can also sometimes provide a relief from family.

If you’re interested in issues like work-life balance, and how both workers and companies are handling the future of work in a digital age — including a look at what we like to call the “human cloud” — please join us for Net:Work in San Francisco on Dec. 9 at the Mission Bay Conference Center. We’ve got a great lineup, including John Seely Brown, former director of Xerox’s PARC research center, and Brad Horowitz of Google. There’s a description of the event and a full schedule of speakers here, and you can register here.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Ed Siasoco

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