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Workers unable to switch off find ways to lie low and check the emails

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Stephanie Gardiner, Vince Chadwick

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Ben Neumann checks his emails in the pool as wife, Martine and daughter Ella enjoy the water.4 January 2013.The Age Sport.Picture Sebastian Costanzo.

Ben Neumann checks his emails in the pool as wife, Martine and daughter Ella enjoy the water.4 January 2013.The Age Sport.Picture Sebastian Costanzo.

WORKAHOLICS never had it so good. Every summer small business owner Ben Neumann gets withdrawal symptoms whenever he tries to forget about the emails that follow him everywhere on his smartphone and laptop.

''It's my baby,'' the 31-year-old said of the mobile cocktail company he started eight years ago. For the past year he has seen more of the business than his other baby, eight-month-old Ella.

''I tried to switch off for a day and I found myself getting very anxious. I wasn't enjoying my holiday because I was so concerned about what was happening. Am I on top of things? What if we miss out on a $5000 sale?''

The company runs 30 events a week, and Mr Neumann said if even one goes awry, he needs to know. In the end, the only way to holiday was to work.

''No matter where I was, spending an hour to three hours a day checking emails, checking in with the office, would actually allow me to enjoy the rest of my holiday,'' he said. ''My idea of a holiday is a laptop with Wi-Fi on a lilo in the pool, minimum three hours a day.''

Monday will be the first day back at the office for many Australians, but thanks to the internet many never left. A Nielsen survey of more than 8000 people, commissioned by Fairfax-owned holiday accommodation website Stayz and released in December, showed 51 per cent checked their work emails every day while on leave.

However, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed working hours were not getting dramatically longer, with full-time workers doing 40 hours a week in the last decade, up from 39 hours in the 1980s.

Dr Jim Minifie, director of the productivity growth program at the Grattan Institute in Melbourne, said technology had enabled a big increase in after-hours work.

But aside from industries requiring 24-hour vigilance, such as those involving financial markets and customer service, Dr Minifie said virtual workers risked becoming less effective.

''If you work intensely while you are at work and don't do work while you are not at work, that's very productive for a lot of roles,'' he said.

Research by Dr Melissa Gregg, a gender and cultural studies senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, found people who worked outside office hours were more likely to be passionate about their jobs. ''There's not an obvious distinction between work and home life because the profession itself is a kind of calling,'' Dr Gregg said.

Dr Minifie said seniority was also a factor. Stressed subordinates were more likely to be button-mashing into the wee hours to meet deadlines than their bosses, who held more discretion.

But not Ben Neumann, who said he only wished half his more than 80 employees checked their emails after work. ''It gives time to prepare for the next day rather than be ambushed at 9am,'' he said. ''Time is money and time is limited''.

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