September 24, 2008

Networked Workers

Internet and Email Use for Work

Whether at home or work, more internet users are going online more often.

Widespread adoption of the internet has made it a go-to resource for nearly all Americans, whether they are at work, in school, or at play. There are still notable differences in internet use among age groups and other segments of the population, but those who are employed are more alike than different—despite the diversity of the working population.

First, a look at the general situation with internet adoption: According to the current survey, 73% of the population uses the internet at least occasionally, up from 63% in the spring of 2004. Furthermore, on an average day, 72% of internet users go online, an increase from just 53% in spring 2004 and 69% last spring. Among all internet users, 93% use the internet from home and 52% use the internet from work.1

While the differences are slightly less substantial than those seen among the American population as a whole, age, education, and income are also significantly related to internet use by employed Americans. Unlike what we see with the general population, race is not significantly related to internet use among employed Americans.

The differences between employed internet users and total internet users is most marked when it comes to age and education. Employed Americans ages 65 and older are considerably more likely to be online when compared with the national average for that age group. Fully 60% of employed seniors are online, while just 38% of the general population of seniors uses the internet.2 The relative youthfulness of employed Americans ages 65 and older may account for some of this difference when viewed alongside the general population. Similarly, employed Americans with lower levels of education are much more likely to be online than the national average of those with the same education. While just 40% of all Americans with less than a high school education use the internet, 62% of employed Americans with the same education are online.3 In addition, 63% of all high school graduates are online, while fully three-fourths (75%) of employed high school graduates are online.

Employment by Age
Internet Use Among the Employed by Age
Employment by Education
Internet Use Among the Employed by Education

With workplace internet use, Americans tend to be always on or always off.

These data suggest that in the workplace internet users tend to either use the internet every day or not at all. Large numbers of workers can be found at either end of the spectrum – using the internet at work every day (60%) or never (28%). By contrast, few (5%) use the internet just once every few days at work and only 6% use it occasionally, but even less often than that.

Internet Use at Home and Work

Americans are also significantly more likely to use the internet “constantly” at work than at home. At work, 18% of the total population and 27% of employed Americans use the internet constantly. In comparison, only 13% of all Americans and 14% of employed Americans are constantly online at home. Instead, at home, internet users are more likely to go online several times a day, once a day or every few days.

The frequency of internet use at work varies by company type and profession.

Considering the diversity of the American workforce, it is notable that the jobs in which Americans are employed can be some indicator as to whether or how much they use the internet at work. Among different company types, sizes and between different fields of work, there are statistically significant and distinct differences concerning internet use at work.

Portrait of Working Americans and their Workplace Internet Use

An employee’s pattern of internet use is correlated with her work environment.

What people do on a typical day at work – whether they work long hours, work from home, supervise others, or work on teams – may play into the amount of time they spend on the internet at work.

For example, people who work overtime (more than the usual 40 hours a week) are much more likely to use the internet constantly while at work. Fully 43% of those who work over 50 hours a week and 41% of those who work between 41 and 50 hours a week use the internet constantly at work, significantly more than employed internet users who work 40 hours or less each week.

Similarly, over two-thirds of those who frequently or sometimes work from home are likely to be online constantly or log on several times a day, significantly more than those who never work at home.

Work Environments Associated with Internet Use

Employed Americans who have more interaction with their coworkers tend to use the internet more frequently at work. Fully 61% of supervisors use the internet at work constantly or several times a day. Those who have worked with a range of different teams in the past month also use the internet very often at work; 71% of those who have worked with five or more groups and 61% of those who have worked with two to four groups use the internet either constantly or several times a day at work.

Employed Americans in the top earning brackets are the most wired workers.

Looking more closely at demographics, employed internet users ages 30-49,  those with at least some college education, and those making $75,000 or more in annual income are among the most likely to use the internet at work. Those least likely to use the internet at work include 18-29-year-olds, those with less than a college education, and those making under $30,000 income. However, there are no significant differences in internet use at work according to one’s race or gender.

One in three employed internet users ages 30-49 uses the internet constantly while at work. In addition, 72% of these workers use the internet from both home and work. In both cases they are using the internet significantly more than any other age group.

The “Always On” Population at Work

Education is also strongly associated with internet use at work. College graduates are significantly more likely than those with just some college, and especially more likely than high school or less than high school graduates, to use the internet at work. Fully 41% of employed college graduates use the internet constantly at work, significantly more than those with less education. In addition, employed American internet users with some college education are significantly more likely to use the internet constantly at work (27%) than those with no college education (11%).

Income is also a factor in internet use at work. Employed Americans with higher incomes are significantly more likely to be using the internet at work. In particular, nine out of ten Americans making over $75,000 a year use the internet at work, while only about half (55%) of those making less than $30,000 a year do so.

Americans making less than $30,000 a year are significantly more likely to work in the service industry and significantly less likely to be professionals, managers or executives, or government employees than the general working population. Because they are much less likely to be managers or professionals (the two groups most likely to use the internet at work) and more likely to be service workers (one of the groups that is least likely to use the internet at work), it seems that profession might be a reason why so few people who make less than $30,000 a year use the internet at work.

They are also much more likely to work only part-time, which might also play into their lower likelihood of using the internet at work. The finding that they are actually about equally likely as the total employed population to work in most sizes or types of companies (with the exception being the government) suggests that the size/type of a company has less of a role to play in internet use at work, at least among those making less than $30,000 a year.

Gadget ownership continues to increase, with higher levels in certain areas of the workforce.

Gadget ownership, and particularly cell phone ownership, continues to rise dramatically among all Americans. Well over three-fourths (78%) of all Americans now own cell phones, up from 65% in 2004 and 73% in 2006. Among those who are working, fully 89% own a cell phone, up from 82% in 2006.

Personal digital assistants (PDAs), such as Blackberries, are also becoming more common among working Americans. Overall, 13% of Americans and 19% of those who are working own a PDA or Blackberry (up from 14% of workers in 2006). Most PDA owners (69%) say their PDAs double as cell phones. This trend is also rapidly increasing; in 2006 only 26% used their PDAs as cell phones.

Laptops are gaining ground in American households and workplaces. Laptop ownership has increased to 39% from 30% in 2006, while at the same time ownership of desktop computers has decreased slightly, from 68% in 2006 to 65% in the current survey. Half of those who are currently working own a laptop, up from 38% in 2006.

Employed Americans own more gadgets for working on the go.

In all gadget counts, employed Americans own more devices. Employed Americans own more gadgets than the non-working population, with the starkest differences emerging among those who own a laptop, Blackberry or PDA. There is a type of hierarchy to gadgets; while even the majority (65%) of non-working Americans own cell phones, fewer Americans own desktops, only one in four own laptops, and about one in twenty own a Blackberry or PDA.

Gadgets Overview

Professionals and executives own more gadgets.

In a trend similar to internet use at work, professionals, managers and executives are most likely to own gadgets, especially higher-end gadgets such as laptops and PDAs. Fully 30% of people in these professions own PDAs, more than twice as many as the national average of 13%. Furthermore, two out of three professionals, managers and executives own laptops, significantly more than employed Americans in any other field of work.

The semi-skilled workers can be found on the other side of the gadget ownership spectrum. They are significantly less likely than professionals, clerical workers and managers to own any of the gadgets (13% do not own any type of computer or gadget, including cell phones). Additionally, only 7% of semi-skilled workers own PDAs, compared with 19% of employed Americans who own PDAs. Only 76% of Americans working in semi-skilled trades own cell phones, while 89% of all employed Americans own cell phones.

However, while gadget ownership varies by profession, it does not differ by the size or type of company a person works for. Those employed in medium (51%) and small businesses (51%), governments (53%), schools (52%) and non-profits (50%) are all about equally likely to own laptops. Similarly, there are no statistically significant differences among those who own PDAs or desktop computers.

Gadget Ownership and Profession

Those who work longer hours, work from home or supervise others own more gadgets.

Americans working longer hours are significantly more likely to own laptops and PDAs. Thirty-two percent of employed Americans working over 50 hours a week own PDAs, compared with 20% of Americans working between 41 and 50 hours a week. Part-time workers are significantly less likely than those who work overtime to own laptops and PDAs.

These data also suggest that those who frequently or sometimes work from home are more likely to own laptops and PDAs than those who never work from home. Those who work from home some of the time (but not frequently) are also significantly more likely to own cell phones and desktop computers than those who never work at home.

Workers who supervise others and who work with more teams are more likely to own gadgets when compared with those who do not. This trend is particularly significant in comparing laptop and PDA ownership among supervisors, team-workers, and those who work independently. Three in ten people who have recently worked with five or more teams own PDAs and 68% of the same group own laptops. Similarly, one in four supervisors owns a PDA and 57% own laptops.

Gadget Ownership and Work Environment

Americans juggle work and email accounts as the lines between personal and professional communication continue to blur.

Eight in ten working adults maintain either a personal or work-related email account. More than half of working adults (53%) have both personal and work accounts. One in five (22%) say they only maintain personal email accounts and just 5% of working adults say that their email use is limited to a work account.

Employed Americans generally maintain one personal email account and one work account—a trend that has been consistent over time.4 Nearly half of working Americans (45%) say they have just one personal email account, while 18% say they maintain two and 13% keep tabs on three or more personal accounts. Likewise, 45% of working Americans have just one email account for work, while 9% maintain two and 5% manage three or more work accounts.

Young working adults are the most likely to maintain multiple personal addresses; 20% report having three or more personal accounts, compared with just 13% of those ages 30-49. However, younger workers are no more likely to maintain multiple work accounts. In fact, more working 30-49 year olds report having work email accounts overall; 65% say they have accounts for work, while just 49% of working young adults report the same.

Personal and Work Email Accounts Among the Employed

Most employees who have personal email accounts check them while on the job.

Overall, 54% of employees with personal email accounts say they at least occasionally check their personal inboxes while at work. Most do soon a daily basis; 39% of all personal emailers say they check their personal accounts at least once a day at work, while 15% report checking in less often than that. Just 7% admit to refreshing their personal inboxes at work constantly, and 4% say they check in several times an hour.

Some of the same groups who report the most frequent checking of work-related email are also the most likely to report frequent tending to their personal accounts while at work: higher-income workers and those tethered to a desk. Fully 66% of those in jobs earning $75,000 per year or more say they check their personal accounts at work, compared with just 45% of those in jobs earning less than $30,000 annually. Likewise, those in professional, managerial and clerical positions are more tuned into their personal email at work when compared with those working in the service industry, skilled and semi-skilled jobs.

Personal email spills over to the cell phone and Blackberry, too.

While most email activity is still channeled through the desktop or laptop computer, the growing presence of Blackberries and other communications devices has made email increasingly mobile.

As mentioned previously, 89% of workers have a cell phone and 19% have a Blackberry, Palm or other personal digital assistant. Of those employed respondents who own a cell phone or Blackberry or PDA, 25% use that device for email. Most report using these gadgets for at least some personal email use.

Looking more closely at employed respondents who actively use their cell phone or Blackberry for email, 44% say that most or all of the messages they send and receive are personal, while 32% say that most or all of the messages are work-related. Another 25% say their email use is equally split; about half of the messages they send and receive are personal, while the other half are work-related.

Messages Sent or Received by Mobile Email Users

Text messaging is mostly personal.

Among workers who own a cell phone or Blackberry or PDA, 59% use that device for text messaging. As is the case with email, text messages sent throughout the day are more likely to be personal than work-related. Nearly half of these employed gadget users (47%) say that all or most of their text messaging is personal, while a meager 2% say that all or most is work-related. Another 9% say that their text messaging is evenly split between work-related and personal exchanges.

Young adults who are gadget owners are far more likely to report text messaging overall (81%), but are no more likely to report work-related messaging. However, fully 66% of those ages 30-49 use text messaging and 15% say that at least half of their exchanges throughout the day are work-related.

Of course, due to the mobile nature of cell phones and PDAs, work-related and personal text messaging can happen anywhere. However, even when looking at text messaging that happens specifically at work, most of the use reported is personal in nature. Among employed text messaging users, 28% say they exchange text messages with friends and family at least once a day while at work, while just 17% exchange messages with colleagues.

Those who use email at work are now more closely glued to their inboxes.

When they are at work, 37% of those with work email accounts check them constantly, up from 22% in 2002. Men and women tend to their work email with equal frequency. Workers ages 30 to 49 years old are the power emailers when it comes to managing work email. For instance, 40% of 30-49 year olds with work email accounts check those accounts constantly while at work, compared with 30% of those ages 50-64.

Higher paying jobs require more attention to email.

The more money an employee earns, the more closely he or she monitors work email accounts. While 27% of those earning less than $30,000 per year say they keep constant tabs on their work email, 46% of those earning $75,000 or more report that level of monitoring. Fully 78% of work emailers in the top earning bracket say they check their email accounts at least as often as several times per day.

Those who work for large corporations are far more likely than those who work for small businesses to be glued to their inboxes. Half of work emailers who are currently employed at large corporations check their email constantly, compared with just 32% of those who work for small businesses.

Mirroring the findings with overall internet use at work, those in different job types report varying patterns of email use; those in managerial, professional and clerical positions are more closely tuned into their email than those in the service industry, and skilled or semi-skilled jobs. Indeed, there is a considerable amount of overlap in the patterns seen here with wages and job types; as mentioned previously, many of those who earn less than $30,000 work in the service industry, skilled and semi-skilled jobs—professions that are not associated with high levels of internet or email use.

In recent years, workers have become more likely to check their email outside of normal working hours.

Since 2002, working Americans have become more likely to check their work-related email on weekends, on vacation and before and after they go to work for the day.5

Overall, half of employed email users say they check their work-related email on the weekends. Fully 22% say that they check their work email accounts “often” during the weekend, compared with just 16% who reported doing this in 2002.

Those earning higher incomes are more closely tethered to their email on the weekends when compared with those in lower paying jobs. One in three (34%) employed email users in jobs earning $75,000 or more say they check their work email often on the weekends, while just 17% of those earning under $50,000 do so.

Even more frequent is the practice of checking email when employees are sick and cannot go to work. One in four employed email users (25%) say they check email “often” even when they have taken a sick day, compared with 17% who say they often check their inboxes before they go to work for the day, and 19% who frequently check their email after leaving work for the day.

Vacations no longer offer respite for many job-holders from work communications, either. Overall, 34% of employed email users say they will at least occasionally check their email on vacations; 11% say they do so often, 14% say they sometimes check in and 9% rarely log in to their email while taking a vacation day.

In addition, there is also a contingent of workers who manage their work email while they are on the go, such as commuting or shopping. Just 18% of employed email users report some level of on-the-go emailing for work, and just 7% say they check in frequently while on the go.

Blackberry and PDA owners are closely tuned in to their work email during off hours.

Among Blackberry and PDA owners, of course, all of these numbers are much higher. Checking work-related email outside of normal working hours is the norm for many of these gadget users, even during weekends and vacation time. Indeed, many workers either choose to own these gadgets or are required to have them so they can to stay connected while they are away from the office.

Overall, 70% of Blackberry and PDA owners say they will at least occasionally check work-related email on the weekends, and 40% say they do so “often.” While on vacation, 55% will stay tuned in to work communications, and 25% say they check in often.

When they are sick, Blackberry and PDA users rarely let that keep them from staying on top of their work email. Seven in ten say they will log on to get their work-related email when they are taking a sick day, and nearly half (46%) do so often.

Most of these tethered gadget owners start the work day early by taking care of email before going to the office. More than half of Blackberry and PDA owners (55%) will check in before they go to work for the day and 36% do so often.

However, evening seems to be the time when email most often spills over into personal time. Fully 70% say they will at least occasionally check their work-related email after they leave work for the day, with 37% doing so often.

Commercials of gadget users bumping into obstacles while glued to their screens have even started to appear. Indeed, 43% of Blackberry and PDA owners say they check their work-related email on the go, such as commuting or shopping. Close to one in four do make a regular habit of it; 23% say they “often” get work email on the go.

Work-related Email Outside of Normal Working Hours

One in five employed email users and half of Blackberry and PDA owners say they are required to read and respond to work-related emails when they are not at the workplace.

Off-hours email checking does not merely happen out of an employee’s own volition; 22% of employed email users say they are expected to read and respond to work-related emails, even when they are not at work. Blackberry and PDA owners are more than twice as likely to report that their employer expects that they will stay tuned in to email outside of the office. Fully 48% say they are required to read and respond to email when they are away from work.

By comparison, employees are still more likely to say they are required to be available by phone; 52% of employed email users are expected to be available to discuss work on the phone when they are not at work. And 70% of Blackberry and PDA owners report the same.

However, in practice, off-hours calls related to work are much less common than checking in via email. For instance, just 12% of employed email users say they “often” make or receive work-related calls on the weekend, while 22% say they often check work-related email on the weekends (as noted above). Similarly, just 5% of employed email users make and receive work-related phone calls often while on vacation, compared with the 11% who say they often tend to their inboxes during their time away.

Those who are home sick are also far more likely to check in online than they are to pick up the phone; just 14% of employed email users say they “often” make and receive work-related phone calls when they are sick and unable to go to work, while 25% check their email often when they are sick. Making work-related calls while on the go, such as commuting or shopping, is the only practice that is more frequent than after-hours email checking; 12% of employed email users say they often make and receive work-related calls while they are on the go, while just 7% say they check work-related email on the go.

Yet, few workers feel as though the volume of email alone has increased the total amount of time they spend working.

In a trend similar to what we noted in 2002, few employed email users feel as though using email has increased the amount of time they spend working overall; just 17% attribute some increase to email, while 6% feel as though email has actually cut down the amount of time they spend working.  About the same modest number report some increase in the amount of time spent working specifically at home (16%), while 5% note a decrease. A smaller segment (10%) note an increase in the amount of time spent working at the office, while nearly the same number (7%) say email has cut down the time they spend at the office. In a new question, we also asked how email might have changed the amount of time spent working at places other than the office and at home—including work done while commuting or traveling. Just 13% reported an increase, while 3% said email has decreased the amount of time they spend working somewhere other than the office or home.

Those who have higher education and income levels are more likely than the average employed email user to say that using email has increased the amount of time they spend working. One in four employed email users with a college degree and the same number of those earning $75,000 per year or more feel that email use has added to the amount of time they spend working (compared with 7% of high school grads and 14% of those earning $30,000-$49,999). Similarly, among workers who hold managerial and professional positions, 22% say that email has increased the amount of time they spend working.

Again, Blackberry and PDA owners stand out as being more likely to feel the crunch that work email adds to their lives. Fully 28% say using email has increased the total amount of time they spend working overall. Likewise, these gadget users are more than twice as likely as the average employed email user to say that email use has increased the amount of time they spend working at places other than the office; 30% of Blackberry and PDA owners report an increase in this regard (compared with just 13% of all employed email users who report the same).

  1. numoffset=”14″ This question employed new wording and should not be trended with our earlier measures of at-work and at-home internet use.
  2. However, it should be noted that this group of respondents is small (n=64 for employed seniors ages 65 and older).
  3. This group of respondents is also small (n=52 for employed respondents with a high school education or less).
  4. numoffset=”17″ See Deborah Fallows, “Spam: How it is Hurting Email and Degrading Life on the Internet,” Pew Internet & American Life Project, October 22, 2003. Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/102/report_display.asp
  5. numoffset=”14″ April 2002 results based on a sample of 1,003 “work emailers.” See Deborah Fallows “Email at Work: Few feel overwhelmed and most are pleased with the way email helps them do their jobs,” Pew Internet & American Life Project, December 8, 2002. Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/79/report_display.asp. April 2008 results based on a sample of 807 “employed email users.” The 2008 sample includes those who may use personal accounts for work-related email.