Given the unavoidable dominance of smartphones, it's unsurprising that many of us are expected to be "on call" for work 24/7 – even though it's not in our contract and we don't receive overtime pay.
But now, researchers say we're doing it so regularly that it should counted as part of the official working day. A study by the University of West England monitored 5,000 rail passengers on commuter routes into London as wi-fi was rolled out across the rail network, and concluded that it had extended the working day, the BBC reported.
More than half of commuters (54%) on the train's wifi were using it to send work emails, with others using their own mobile phone connections to do the same. On the way to work, people used the time to get ahead with emails, while those on their way home were finishing off tasks they hadn't had completed during the day.
While some commuters said they value the chance to do this, researcher Dr Juliet Jain said smartphones and mobile internet access during the commute has blurred the work/life boundary, and raised the important question of what counts as "work".
Technology has made overwork more common, rather than simply giving employees greater flexibility, the researchers concluded. Commenting on the study, Jamie Kerr from the Institute of Directors told the BBC the ability to work from anywhere "leaves open the door to stress and lower productivity," and that employers and individuals now need to define where work ends and leisure begins, given that "the concept of clocking on and clocking off no longer straightforward."
To gauge how common it is among young employees to answer emails outside of working hours, we carried out two polls over 24hours. Refinery29 UK asked: how much time are young women actually spending on emails outside of working hours? And crucially, do they think this should count as "work"?
Most of the 718 respondents on Instagram said they spend just under an hour doing so. On Twitter, 59% of our 96 respondents revealed they do it too, with the largest group (39%) spending under an hour, 14% spending between one and two hours, and 9% revealing themselves as slaves to their inbox who spend more than 2 hours on work emails while out of the office.
A greater number (1034 people) shared their thoughts on whether or not this should be classified as "work" – and their verdict couldn't have been clearer. Almost nine in 10 (89.5%) said it should be, while an even higher proportion of the 60 people who answered the question on Twitter (93%) concurred.
Several women told us they're expected check their emails outside of working hours, despite never having been explicitly asked to or given a "work phone" – and even while on holiday – to the detriment of their mental health. "I took my only annual leave all summer last week (and stayed on email/contactable the entire time) and it was the most anxious I've been in a long time!" said @troublethornton. "It was genuinely a relief to be back in work purely just so I could stay on top of emails."
@rchlfltchr admitted that outside her working hours she's "still (usually) stressed" and at the office, and often ends up staying late because she's "had too much work to do during the day and [hasn't] had time to send them."
Many told us their job requires being "on call" via email around the clock. Personal assistant @hawaapatel said she regularly checks her emails at 2am to deal with her boss's "people", and has even been contacted while abroad on holiday.
The more you get done out of work, the higher the expectation of what you can achieve. It's a never-ending circle.
In the current job market, employees may feel the need to prove they're "switched on and delivering outside of the standard working week" to be considered good at their job and eligible for promotion, as @as1m_ highlighted.
But this can easily lead to overwork, as @trickyeyeline told us: "Often the pressure you're under gives you no choice but to work out of hours to keep up and stay sane. The more you get done out of work, the higher the expectation of what you can achieve. It's a never-ending circle."
The cultural norm around it also varies from country to country, as @sanya0011, who works in India, told us. "We have no such thing as overtime in private companies. In dynamic work environments such as ad agencies, it's maddening when you're working 'til late hours with no extra pay. Sending emails while on holiday is expected."
But some, who consider it essentially free labour, said they stand their ground and have very strict no-emails-outside-the-office policy. "I consider it work, which is why I simply don't check emails outside of my working hours," said @lmesservy.
In France, the government has already taken a stand against the increasing expectation to be contactable 24/7. In 2016, French employees were given the legal right to avoid work emails outside working hours with a "right to disconnect". Is it time the UK followed suit?