Rising each day at 5 or 5:30 a.m., Jonathan LaBonte of New Auburn reads newspapers on his laptop or BlackBerry. An hour later, he’s deep in the trenches, responding to work-related e-mails that have accumulated overnight. If he waits until 8 a.m., when most people arrive at their desks, the in-box fills up faster than he can clear it out.

As executive director of the Androscoggin Land Trust and an Androscoggin County commissioner, for LaBonte, the border between work and life — or what experts call the “work-life balance” — simply doesn’t exist. Often working six days a week, at times attending board and selectmen’s meetings or grappling with grant deadlines well into the night, LaBonte oversees a territory that ranges from Jay and Canton to the north and Lisbon and Durham to the south. His personal and professional lives merge into one indistinguishable entity.

“For the most part, the days of shift work where you punch in at 8 and punch out at 5 are gone,” said LaBonte, 30, speaking to the many requisites and variables of his chosen path. “I’m not sure my personality fits with that anyway.”

According to the Harvard Business Review, a study conducted by the Center for Work-Life Policy entitled “Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Workweek” found that many workers become “hooked on the adrenaline rush and gargantuan rewards” of the so-called bottomless job. With more than half of the study’s respondents professing the loss of family relationships, and almost as many conceding their sex lives had succumbed to the din of constant connection, having it all in the 21st century can exact a high price.

In some cases, and especially in the tenuous economy of the past few years, efforts involved in simply keeping one’s job can cast employees into workaholic roles once highly scrutinized, but today considered as essential as the caffeine required to do them.

Where friends and family are concerned, many claim that the preponderance of social media like Facebook and Twitter, and software such as Skype, make staying in touch electronically a viable runner-up to dinner and a movie, or Sunday pot roast at Mom’s.

Split-second response time

“The way we communicate today, if you wanted to send President Obama an e-mail, he might answer it,” suggested Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Chip Morrison. “People in a variety of places make themselves very available – instantaneously.”

In his current capacity for 15 years, Morrison, who is 65 with two grown children and several grandchildren, recalled the early years of his career doing a great deal of federal grant writing. At that time, a secretary took dictation, typed a draft of a letter and then a final one with carbon paper, and mailed it — a process taking three or four days before it reached its destination. A response might take another week.

Reflecting on his own current working style, Morrison said he receives e-mails at a rate of 125 to 200 a day, and sends about that many. “I try to be available to people who want to get a hold of me by phone or e-mail, getting back to them clearly within a few hours . . . or no later than 24 hours,” he said, noting the large number of in-person visits that are also a requisite of his job.

When he is on vacation, he admits that he is not on his laptop or BlackBerry 24/7, but they are close at hand and he checks in with them at least every 48 hours. When everybody’s in bed, he said of his normal work week, he might be answering e-mails.

“My work, in addition to being work, is like a hobby,” Morrison said of his appreciation for the job and his 60- to 70-hour-a-week schedule. “If I thought of it as drudgery, I wouldn’t do it.”

For Susan Stine, 56, a Washington, D.C., interior designer who frequently vacations in Maine, disconnecting from work and iPhone is never an option in her highly competitive industry.

Though she affirms she is not a “CrackBerry,” a weekend at a Bar Harbor bed & breakfast may find her mixing eggs benedict with e-mail. As president of her own design firm, Red Team Strategies, “a 110 percent commitment to every project” is pretty much in the drinking water for Stine, with minimum 12-hour workdays the rule rather than exception.

“I’m lucky. I love what I do,” she said, maintaining passion is a key component in propelling her through a six-or sometimes seven-day workweek. With technology precluding the need for a separate office, Stine said often she will work in her home office until she is just so hungry that she realizes it’s 8 p.m. and she hasn’t eaten all day. “Mine is a very engrossing profession, and the (technology and software) tools I use are very engaging. You can work and work until it becomes physically impossible, because your back hurts,” she said. “Other than that, there’s no reason to stop.”

Powering up, though BlackBerry-free

Eschewing the use of a BlackBerry, iPhone or Android altogether in her typical 15-hour workday (“it would make me insane,” she said), Hillary Eaton, 32, is director of marketing and business development for Austin Associates, a CPA firm in Auburn. Owner of her own small business that deals in fine art commissions, Eaton is also enrolled in dual MBA programs at Southern New Hampshire University in Brunswick. She is planning her June wedding and closing on a home with fiance Adam Dow, also 32, a Mechanics Savings Bank customer service representative.

“The earlier I get up and start, the better,” Eaton said, “because for Austin Associates, I’m often out at different functions in the evening, attending an industry function or Chamber of Commerce event.”

Eaton serves on several boards, including Sandcastle Clinical and Educational Services and the Auburn Business Association, is co-chair of the Maine Women’s Network local chapter and on the Business Advocacy and Regional Image committees of the Chamber of Commerce, but believes she doesn’t overextend herself. The key, she maintains, is compartmentalizing and carefully committing her time.

For example, though dual MBAs are a primary goal, she attends graduate school at the rate of one class per semester, anticipating a protracted, five-year climb to graduation, and limits her board and committee work to manageable terms that end before she takes on something else.

Where her personal life is concerned, Eaton said she is fortunate to have met someone who shares her proclivity for work-related activities that occur after work. “It’s interesting when people ask me all the time how I managed to fall in love with someone and build that relationship, but busy as we both are, when we’re out on the river or just not at work, we’re unplugged,” she explained, citing a life devoid of BlackBerries as a great facilitator.

Regarding social networking, Eaton said she utilizes Facebook for Austin Associates, posting tax tips or staff updates, and the firm has a LinkedIn profile, but she doesn’t necessarily spend a lot of time on Facebook or Twitter for herself. Both Eaton and LaBonte, who are past presidents of the Chamber of Commerce’s YPLAA (Young Professionals of the Lewiston-Auburn Area), emphasize that striking a balance between a personal and professional social media presence is a slippery slope: In our society, there is a shrouding of borders there as well.

“Your work face is your public face is your personal face when you get into social media,” LaBonte said. “I just think when I’m out on the river myself, and I want to promote it on my personal Facebook page, directly or indirectly I’m promoting the work of the Land Trust.”

Because he is fully invested in his work, he notes that having family and friends close by (he lives four blocks from where he grew up) helps keep him in balance. “My parents and friends nudge me that the work will be there the next day. I’m not going to die wishing I had worked an extra two or three hours one random night,” he quipped.

As president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, each week Morrison sees people looking for jobs and assistance in finding them. “I put them in touch with others, and the first piece of advice I give them is ultimately you’ve got to find something you like,” Morrison said, allowing for a down economy where this is not always possible. “The last time I looked, food and shelter weren’t free,” he said, adding that with all the hours required to perform a job today, if you don’t like it, it’ll definitely be work.


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