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57 percent of Americans plan to work during the holidays

Working during Christmas holidays
Shannon Fagan | Stone | Getty Images

Ah, the holidays. Time for rest and relaxation with family and friends. Or is that just the Hallmark version?

Some 57 percent of full-time employees say they plan to work at some point over their purported holiday break, according to a new survey, mostly checking or answering emails. Almost half of them expect to spend two hours or more a day, on average, and some said they expect to spend seven or eight hours a day catching up on work. (The survey of 1,033 full-time workers was conducted this month by the online market research firm uSamp.)

Employees aren't just checking in over the holidays: they do it all the time. Some 43 percent of the survey respondents said they work for over an hour at night after leaving the office.

"I know I do it. I'm constantly checking my phone," said Rick Spurr, chief executive of Zix Corporation, an email data protection company that sponsored the survey. Even so, he said, "I didn't know it was so widespread across a multiplicity of industries and work environments."

Americans have been working long hours for some time: A study by Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, found that the average workweek increased 10.7 percent between 1979 and 2007. The Zix survey, for its part, found that two-thirds of full-time employees typically work outside their normal office hours. The data on holiday work, though, suggests that almost the same percentage will be logging in during what is supposed to be a nearly nationwide annual stretch of downtime.

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Tired and unproductive?

Working very long hours may actually backfire on employees. A study of British workers published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that those who worked 55 hours per week scored lower on tests of vocabulary, reasoning and cognitive function than those working 40 hours per week.

And data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development suggests that workers in countries where people work fewer hours have higher productivity per hour.

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Spurr does see a positive in all the after-hours check-ins. "We're not chained to the desk with a time clock any more," he said. "We're able to work and play in an integrated fashion." He will be taking a ski trip in January, he said, and while 15 years ago skiing would put him out of reach all day, "Now you've got a cell phone in your pocket. Every once in a while I pull it out on the ski hill."

Memo to the holiday skiers out there: Watch out for people uphill staring at little screens. If they run into you, they might impede your ability to stay in touch with the office.

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