The majority of employees heading out at the end of the traditional work day are taking the office with them, a survey conducted by London, Ontario-based Info-Tech Research Group says. A whopping 81 per cent of employees feel obligated - at least to some degree - to be available to their employers 24/7. Only 19 per cent of respondents said they feel no obligation whatsoever to be available for work all the time.

"So when you look around you at people on the beach this summer, probably only one-fifth of them are free to think about nothing but beach volleyball ... the rest are feeling obligated to keep tabs on the office," said Carmi Levy, senior research analyst at Info-Tech. "Suddenly our free time doesn't seem so free anymore."

The survey asked respondents to define if they feel no obligation, somewhat obligated, obligated or absolutely obligated to be available to their employer virtually 24x7. The largest category - 44 per cent - said they feel somewhat obligated, while 22 per cent feel obligated and 15 per cent are absolutely obligated to be always-on for work. Survey participants responded to the question on Info-Tech's Web site visited primarily by employees in Information Technology roles.

The trend of being in touch with the office 24x7 will accelerate rapidly as a result of booming sales of mobile phones, laptops, and personal communications devices like RIM's Blackberry, Levy said. Sales of cell phones worldwide exceeded 800 million units in 2005, and double-digit growth is expected until at least 2010.

"This is the dark side of mobile communications," said Levy. "The reality is that the lines are totally blurred between personal and private time because we now have the technology to virtually take the office on vacation with us," Levy said. "And no one wants to hear Donald Trump's classic phrase 'you're fired' because they took their eyes off email to go to a baseball game."

Employers need to recognize the trend for employees to be 'always-on' and expectations must be more clearly defined to avoid employee burnout and Human Resources issues, Info-Tech says.

"It's a very real challenge to employee well-being. Along with spelling out salary, benefits and vacation time, management should define extended work obligations so employees know what they're getting into," Levy said.

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