By Carmen Roberts
Reporter, BBC Fast Track
As the sun goes down across Asia, lights in the office towers remain lit as workers stay glued to their desks well after the normal nine-to-five.
Even at home or worse still - on holiday - it seems the continent's workaholics cannot switch off.
Working late into the evening is not unusual in Singapore
This is something the South Korean government is keen to tackle. In an attempt to improve productivity and boost its underdeveloped tourism industry, it is trying to introduce a national standard of a mandatory two-week holiday for employees.
South Koreans are among those working the longest number of hours in industrialised countries, averaging 2,256 a year compared with 1,647 in the UK or 1,778 in the US, according to the
Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development.
But despite being extremely hardworking, their productivity measured among the lowest of the OECD's members.
The average annual leave is currently just 11 days and those days are usually taken as short breaks.
Changing a culture where it is often feared that if you have time for a vacation your services may be viewed as expendable, will take some time, and in some cases extreme tactics.
The Shinhan Financial Group in Seoul has been locking employees out of the work computer systems while they are on leave to ensure they stay out of the office, a manager at the branch told the
Globe and Mail
And it's not just South Korea that is finding it difficult to entice their workers to take leave.
A recent survey revealed that
69% of Singaporeans
and 77% of Hong Kong employees tune into work out of office hours and even on holiday, higher than the regional average of 66%.
LONGEST WORKING HOURS
South Korea, 2,193
Russian Federation, 1,976
Czech Republic, 1,947
Slovak Republic, 1,786
Source: OECD 2010 average annual hours
"The other result that came through in the survey was the correlation between employee connectivity to work and the expectation of employers," says Tim Hird of the recruitment company Robert Half who commissioned the survey.
"So although people from Singapore and Hong Kong were regularly connected to work during their vacation time - over 90% of employers expected their employees to be available and connected during their holiday period."
In comparison, only 6% of employers in New Zealand expect their staff to be available out of office hours.
The average Singaporean gets 25 days leave a year. But most don't take it.
Stefanie Yuen Thio is a partner in a high-profile Singapore law firm and is an ardent believer in working on holiday.
"I never travel without both my mobile phones, my iPad and my laptop, and the first thing I do when I check into a hotel before I check out the toilet and the sheets is to make sure that the wi-fi connection is working and that I can get into my emails."
Around 25% of the 1600 executives polled across Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand confessed that they found it impossible to switch off on holiday.
Sixty-six per cent believed they should be available in case of an emergency, while 60% said filtering through work emails while they're away is a way to ensure less stress when returning to the office.
Business and pleasure
Advances in technology have made all this possible. Most business travellers would argue that wi-fi at hotels is more important than the obligatory turn down service. And so more and more hotels are recognizing this as an opportunity.
Sometimes there is just no escape from work
The Intercontinental Hotel group has introduced the use of free iPads for their executive guests, seizing on the fact that most people these days mix business with pleasure.
"We've found it's a really good service and we're going to have to buy some more because they are in demand," says general manager of the Intercontinental Bali Resort, Phil Riley.
Almost every second person who is pool-side at this beach resort is busy tapping away at their mobile phone or hand-held device.
"I work in the accounting field and every day I receive about 30-50 emails," Laurencia reveals. "So if I'm on holiday and don't check and stay connected to my email, when I get back to work it's going to be like tonnes of emails so it's really important for me to stay connected while I'm on holiday.
"I'm not only looking for wi-fi that's inside the building but also outside so then I can relax and enjoy the scenery while I'm still working."
The phenomenon of a 24/7 workplace has led to hyper-connectivity and faster turnaround times, which is of course great for business in a competitive world. But what does this say about the work-life balance in Asia?
"A practical tip, if you do want to stay connected with work, allocate some time at the end of the day or at the beginning of the day so you can catch up on your emails and then you can enjoy the rest of the day with your friends and family while on vacation," says Tim Hird.
As compensation for being available while on leave, employees are most commonly offered time off in lieu or overtime payment.
However, roughly 40% of workers are not compensated at all.
So for many, it doesn't even pay to work on holiday.