Sandra Dick: It's time we switched off from work

HEY you. Put down this paper. For heaven's sake, you haven't time to be sitting around reading, not when you've work to do. Come on now. Chop, chop.

Indeed, by the time this paper has reached most office workers, they've probably already notched up a full-on morning, perhaps travailed through lunch and be dreaming of 5:29pm precisely, give or take a few seconds, when the day at the office hopefully draws to a close.

Even so, the age of the BlackBerry, the iPhone and the laptop means work often doesn't end then.

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According to a new report, workers enter "work mode" earlier than ever before, skip proper meals during the day and then continue to mull over their jobs and e-mails well into the evening – until around 8pm – long after they should have logged off.

• Do you think you will be finishing work on time today?

For them, the traditional nine-to-five working day has gone the way of workplace pensions, gold watches for long service and ladies in pinnies pushing tea trolleys – consigned to the employment history books as something ageing relatives enjoyed.

There's no time for a 90s-style, three-hour power lunch down the local wine bar any longer.

Instead today's workforce manage a mere morsel of lunch, guzzled in an indigestion-inducing 33 minutes.

None of which is very healthy, says food brand Merchant Gourmet, which commissioned the research.

"Due to the time we start thinking about work and when we finally switch off our BlackBerry, we're spending almost 12 hours a day in work mode," says the firm's Clive Moxham.

"This is affecting our diets, our health and our ability to unwind."

The research says our working day starts at 7:41am, roughly an hour after we wake, when the realisation of what awaits us in the day ahead hits like a slap in the face with a chunky PowerPoint presentation printout.

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One in three workers is already at their desk by 8am, while one in five combines work with eating breakfast.

Come lunchtime, one in six keeps busy while eating and one in 14 doesn't stop for lunch at all.

OK, so it's not quite the kind of working day endured by Victorian miners, but wasn't the onset of all this fancy new technology supposed to buy us more time – not less?

Edinburgh-based employment life coach specialist Pauline McLeod, of Tres Bon Coaching, sees many clients who regularly work 12-14 hour days.

However, she points out there is a difference between high-flying executives who need to be permanently in touch with work, and the rest of us who have simply either forgotten how to log off or choose to keep working because we think it makes us look good to the boss.

"In this digital media age people have access to log on to work at all kinds of crazy times," she says. "But they are creating a rod for their own backs.

"It's a particular problem in the current climate, when people are worried about redundancy and thinking that if they don't work and aren't seen to be working as much as possible, then they could be seen as expendable.

"The problem then is that they burn themselves out, it becomes expected that they will always be available to be contacted even at home.

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"They became tired out and often the result is that they don't actually do their job as well as they could do if they actually had some time to recharge their batteries.

"It's a vicious circle."

While half of the 4,000 respondents to the Merchant Gourmet survey pointed out they wouldn't get all their work done if they tried to keep to normal working hours, a quarter admitted they stayed later at work than necessary just to impress the boss.

Katie Tomlinson, senior branch manager at recruitment agency Office Angels in George Street, Edinburgh, agrees that many find it hard to simply "switch off".

"Mobile devices such as laptops, BlackBerries and iPhones have become an everyday part of our working lives.

"Without doubt, there are many advantages to 'being connected' 24/7. It can make it easier for us to stay on top of our workload whether or not we're in the office, which helps to reduce e-mail backlog for starters.

"It can make communicating with clients and colleagues overseas much easier given time differences.

"The traditional nine-to-five role is becoming increasingly outdated due to this hyper-connectivity that comes with mobile devices."

That brings pitfalls, she warns.

"Given how quick and easy it is to access inboxes and work documents from mobile devices, there's a danger that we'll never fully switch off from work.

"It's about striking the right balance."

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She urges workers to learn to just switch off the BlackBerry or iPhone to avoid the temptation to check and respond immediately to items that could wait.

"Your employer might also thank you for it as you'll be more productive after a proper break."

Life coach Pauline agrees: "It's tempting to keep on checking the e-mails and logging on into the evening, but the best thing to do is limit yourself, switch off, go to meet friends or go to the cinema.

"That way you recharge yourself and are better placed to deal with work next day.

"Remember, employers will value a worker who can come up with creative ideas and suggestions because they are refreshed, than one who is tired out."