Work, holiday blend at edge

Many people shop at office, do tasks for job on days off

November 25, 2005|By STACEY HIRSH | STACEY HIRSH,SUN REPORTER

Hollis Minor zipped off to the grocery store during work hours for some pre-holiday shopping this week, but she will almost certainly make up the time at her office today (and tomorrow and Sunday).

Talk about a long holiday weekend.

In an effort to shuffle their hectic holiday errands with growing responsibilities at the office, a majority of workers expect to further blend their work and personal time during the holiday season.

Though time-squeezed workers have long lugged their laptops on vacation, experts say flexible job schedules and technological advances have blurred the line between home and office even more.

And in coming weeks, many workers will be juggling both duties as they do their holiday shopping from their desks or sneak into their office e-mail on their days off.

Today, for instance, many employees will probably work from home instead of taking the whole day off, said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., an international outplacement company in Chicago.

"It might very well be one of the biggest -- maybe the biggest -- telecommuting day of the year," he said.

Forty-nine percent of workers plan to work on their days off this holiday season, and 59 percent said they will mix work and personal time, according to a survey by Russell Research of nearly 400 workers released this month.

And 39 percent of workers plan to work from home, while 41 percent said they will shop online for gifts at work during the holiday season.

The online survey, commissioned by the Colorado-based conferencing company Raindance Communications Inc., also found that 15 percent of workers plan to run errands during conference calls over the holiday season. The survey had a margin of error of about 5 percent.

Dan Buan says it will be business as usual at his company this holiday season. While many businesses are quiet during the holidays, Buan said, he will use that time for planning and meetings.

This week, Buan is with family in California. But he had all calls forwarded to his cell phone and planned to wake up at 4 a.m. West Coast time yesterday to get in a few hours of work.

"I want to make sure there's not a fire to put out," said Buan, adding that his employees are not working over the holiday weekend and aren't expected to.

But with fewer workers sharing more work these days, experts say some feel they can't afford to take time off. A recent unscientific poll of 24,319 people on Monster.com found that 24 percent of workers don't use all of their vacation time because there's too much work to do at the office.

"I think that there is a feeling of guilt if somebody's taking time that is due to them," said Dan Miller, vice president of learning and development for Monster. "People may not feel comfortable doing that because they know that Jack or Susie has to pick up the slack."

Minor, chief executive of an Annapolis consulting firm, the Minor Group, said she planned to work from home yesterday before heading to dinner at her parents' house. She expects to be in the office today, tomorrow and part of Sunday to work on a project with an early December deadline.

Just as her work will seep into her holiday time, Minor has been doing some of her personal holiday errands from work. She has been ordering holiday gifts online from the office, usually during her lunch hour.

"It gives me a nice break from hectic business duties," she said in an e-mail message. And Wednesday morning, she left work to search for a few ingredients for dishes she planned to take to Thanksgiving dinner.

"I actually enjoy working evenings, weekends and holidays because there are fewer distractions (phones ringing, e-mail flooding in, employees asking for help, clients calling for last-minute projects, etc.), so I can actually focus better and work more productively," she said in her e-mail.

Dennis O'Shea agrees. "In some ways you can be more effective sitting in here by yourself on a day that nobody else is around," he said.

O'Shea, executive director of communications and public affairs for the Johns Hopkins University, hasn't shopped online from the office, but he planned to work today to finish a few projects.

Flexible schedules that allow workers to dart out during the workday to, say, pick up a turkey or buy a quick gift, are a key benefit for many employees. They and their bosses have an understanding that they will make up the time elsewhere.

Sixty percent of workers said time and flexibility were important factors in retention, according to a 2005 survey of 500 workers conducted on behalf of the Florida recruitment agency Spherion Corp. The survey had a 4 percent margin of error.

"What is very, very important for workers is work-life balance, that they're able to balance their professional lives with those things that are important to them personally," said Richard Lamond, Spherion's chief human resources officer.

Experts say many companies are happy to oblige if employees don't take advantage. Many supervisors are focused on the end product, not watching their workers all day. And work is no longer strictly 9-to-5.

Miller of Monster said working on the holiday is not always for the best. A productive employee needs time to recharge and step away from work for a few days, he said. But technology makes it so easy to stay connected to the office that experts said more workers will be checking in regardless.

Steve Werner, an associate professor of management at the University of Houston's C.T. Bauer College of Business, said he expected to check e-mails yesterday, "only because I can."

"It used to be you leave and you were gone," he said. "Now you leave and you still have access to everything."

stacey.hirsh@baltsun.com

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