Working 24/7

<b>Lesley Stahl</b> On Why Americans Are Working Longer

This story originally aired on April 2, 2006.

Americans work longer hours than nearly anyone in the developed world, even the Japanese. For many professionals and corporate managers, the 40-hour work week is history; 60- to 80-hour work weeks are now the norm.

Signs of our addiction to work are everywhere. For one, rush hours are starting earlier and ending later. When 60 Minutes first broadcast this story a few months ago, the first train for commuters from the suburbs into New York had just been pushed back to 4:45 a.m., by popular demand.

Why do Americans work so much? The simplest answer is because we can.

The Digital Revolution means cell phones, wireless Internet and handheld computers like the BlackBerry allow us to work anywhere, anytime, 24/7. And we do, as correspondent Lesley Stahl reports.

It's 7 a.m. Pacific time, and Joe Hurd is still in bed. But this 36-year-old Silicon Valley entrepreneur has already made two phone calls over the Internet to clients overseas. He has checked e-mails on his BlackBerry and sent a half-dozen instant messages from his laptop.

For Joe and his wife, Christina Mireles, new technology means their work day isn't 9 to 5. It's 5 to 9.

"Because we have wireless access, you can work wherever," says Joe.

"We can be in the kitchen. We can be in our bedroom, we can be here in the living room," Christina points out.

With a masters and a law degree each, they're not exactly underachievers. Joe logs 12- to 15-hour days as vice president of an Internet travel Web site.

Sometimes, Joe admits he gets up at night to send e-mails.

"Sometimes I can't sleep and I'll get up at 2 or 3 (a.m.), yeah, to do e-mails, definitely," he said, while his wife was shaking her head.

"Or you'll set your alarm, you know to wake up at one, two in the morning," she added.

"I do, I do," he replied.

Christina, a vice president of a charter school company, works a few hours less than Joe. She says she is no match for her husband in terms of gadgets.

"Oh, I have the absolute bare minimum, I think. I have two cell phones, a personal and …," Christina explained.

"That's the bare minimum, America. Two cell phones," Joe interrupted.

Not a minute is wasted, even before getting to the office. Christina juggles the two cell phones, returning business and personal calls. She usually eats behind the wheel.

On his commute, Joe manages the consulting business he has on the side and even keeps track of new messages on his BlackBerry. But he says he's never tried anything as dangerous as typing out an e-mail while driving in rush hour traffic.

Joe's work day is a blur of business meetings, incoming phone calls, and hundreds of e-mails.

"I can check e-mails and respond to e-mails. I can have a conversation on the telephone. I can have a conversation via IM. And I can keep exactly probably half an ear on a conversation with a person," he says.

"In the room with you?" Stahl asks.

"Half, yeah, exactly," Joe says.

Asked if he is doing all of these things well when he does them at the same time, Joe says, "You know, this is not neurosurgery we're talking about here … but you can do a lot of that simultaneously."

Joe may be able to pull that off, but many corporate executives say the volume of voicemail and e-mail they get has become unmanageable — eating up an average of three hours a day.

Combine that with a corporate culture that values endless meetings and "face time" with the boss, and you can see why so many employees toil into the night just to get their "real work" done.