Once upon a time 5 pm meant the end of the workday, when millions of workers could change out of their neckties and high heels and go home to relax and spend time with loved ones.
But that now sounds like a fairytale for Mei Chen, an online marketer at Six Spoke Media in Los Angeles. When 5 pm comes around, she's just getting started with conference calls and responding to emails.
The 25-year-old Shanghai native works from her Koreatown apartment for the typical 9-5, then begins connecting with clients in different time zones: "I use Skype and GoToMeetings to talk with my clients from different countries and my supervisor while he is traveling."
Chen belongs to the next generation of workers, one that is already accustomed to being plugged in, and now transfers these habits to the workplace - checking emails by phone on a lunch break, and video chatting with clients after dinner.
For this generation, work is becoming a 24/7 experience.
Annenberg's Center for the Digital Future released a January report predicting that this trend of non-stop work would become more prominent in the next decade, expanding the standard workday.
"Decades ago, we thought that computers would be labor-saving devices. It's true that technology makes us more productive, but with that productivity comes greater expectations about how we work and when we work," said Jeffrey I. Cole, the director of the Center for the Digital Future, in a press release.
Chen occasionally allows herself a break for a couple hours of salsa dancing, but then it's back to her home office to answer email until one in the morning: "These are the business hours over in China, so I have to check my email in case [the Chinese clients] have questions that I need to answer."
As Cole notes, the convenience and efficiency of technology is to blame for the longer hours: "For many workers - blue-collar and white-collar alike - technology makes them accountable to their work all the time," said Cole.
While this culture of constant work may be good for the bottom line, studies show that it could increase problems for marriage and families.
Harriet B. Presser, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, found that the shifting hours of work increases the likelihood of divorce: When one spouse works a night shift, the risk of divorce increases up to six times.
"As employees, we may benefit from the expansion of job opportunities resulting from a 24/7 economy," Presser writes in 2005. "But again, this expansion involves risks to our health, to our psychological and social well-being, and to how our families function."
Some companies are picking up on the trend, and altering their time off policies to accommodate a more flexible workday.
Netflix first killed the typical 9-to-5 model, as workers answered emails on the weekends and finished projects at home after work. Then it decided to offer employees unlimited time off to spend more time with family and resting, while still meeting deadlines and getting work done. The company urged that the focus should be on what employees get done, not how long it took to do it.
Social Media Group, which also offers unlimited vacation days, believes that it is needed to keep their employees healthy in a fast-paced and high-pressure environment.
CEO Maggie Fox said: "Sometimes your work blends into your life (working late or on weekends, doing what you need to do to deliver quality results). Why shouldn't your life blend into your work (taking an afternoon off to spend with your kids)?"
Completely evading a 24/7 economy is not an option anymore, and solutions like unlimited vacation may be needed: "Technology synchronized the globe, now we have to work in this new system," Chen said.