For Mario Contreras, putting in eight hours at the office is just the beginning of his workday. After he eats with his kids and puts them to bed, Contreras heads over to his laptop and shoots off emails or resolves a concern with his construction crew. The night might end hours later when he finally slips into bed.
Contreras, the 32-year-old owner of 27 Charley's Grilled Subs, said that as he opens new restaurant locations worldwide, his workload stretches as does his work hours. In the evening, he connects with people all over the country and the world who are designing and building his new restaurants. "I find you just can't clock out anymore."
Today, only 11 percent of professionals globally say they have accomplished all the tasks they planned to do by the end of an average workday, according to a study by LinkedIn. It's no wonder then that many workers find business is creeping into the evening hours and more of us now consider dinner simply a midday break.
The smartphone, the laptop and the tablet allow us to be more connected than ever before, and that makes it tempting to reconnect with work from home at night. Workplace experts are grappling with whether we are burning the midnight oil by need or by choice and if we can sustain this pace.
"Today, jobs are more precious, and the economy has driven that home," said Tim Geisert, chief marketing officer for Kenexa, a global recruiting and leadership development firm. "That has made people more willing to put in discretionary effort."
Geisert said he is one of those workers who put in evening hours. "Technology is an enabler. I'll spend my quiet evening time catching up on what didn't get done that day and trying to get ahead for the following day."
Some late-nighters say it's daytime distractions that lead to evening hours - the meetings, the phone calls, the people who barge into your cubicle. "Nighttime is my think time. I save emails that take more thought and do that at night," Geisert explained. "I find online conversations at night are more fruitful."
Valerie Mitrani and Julie Lambert, co-directors of educational services at the Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education in Miami, say working more effectively during the day may help your workload from invading your personal time at night. The pair, trained in Stephen Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People," recently spoke at the Jewish Women's Foundation of Broward County and advised scrutinizing and prioritizing our work habits to do tasks that are both urgent and important.
Flexibility and connectivity factor into this new work pattern, too. Mitrani said she is one of millions of Americans who took on more job responsibilities in the past few years as organizations cut back staff.
"Fortunately, with technology, everyone can work on their own time frame," she said. "I'd rather get home at 4:30, do homework and eat dinner, and then be more productive for another hour at night, rather than staying later, fighting traffic to get home and missing out on time with my kids."
Of course, the ease of working at night may have turned it into a habit that may need to be curbed.
"If you are trying to put serious hours in and want to see your children, working from home at night is better than the alternative, which is working 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.," said Laura Vanderkam, author of "168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think."
But it can become a problem if you do it every single night, she said. "Challenge yourself. For two nights a week, force yourself to do something other than work, something to maintain your personal life."
Vanderkam said in some workplaces, the work-at-all hours culture has eroded work-life boundaries.
"People take cues from their boss," she said. "What happens is late nights get built into an organization's culture and if you don't get an email back at 10 p.m., you're like, 'What happened?' "
She suggests people track their work hours and consider speaking up. "It helps to be armed with data."
Along with technology, the recession has contributed to this new work pattern. Grant Cardone, an author and international sales expert who provides sales training programs to businesses, said he doesn't get a break from his job at night and feels few of us should.
Married with two kids and four businesses, Cardone said, "I put a lot of time into work. People need to understand this is a very unusual, unique economy we are in. Everyone who wants to make money for their families will need to dig in and push hard right now."
Cardone said after a full day at the office, he returns home at 6 p.m., eats with his family, talks about the day with his wife and kids, and then powers back up to plan, email or work on a new book until about 10 p.m. Yet he realizes it's time with a spouse or partner that's sacrificed. "If your spouse doesn't understand why you need to do this, it creates problems. You need to be on the same page."
When the recession made his profession more competitive, Miami plastic surgeon Michael Salzhauer started his push toward evening hours. He now operates on patients during the day, gets home to eat with his five kids and wife by 4:30 or 5 p.m., and then returns to his office at about 6:30 for evening consultations with potential new clients. He may stay as late as 10 p.m. "As the marketplace became more competitive, I started to think I needed to make it as convenient as possible for people to come in for consultations."
Now, Salzhauer said, the weekends are his sacred family time. "For me, this is what works and I've worked my life around it."
(Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at email@example.com. Read her columns and blog at h http://worklifebalancingact.com/.)
2012 The Miami Herald; distributed by MCT Information Services