Online Extra: Free Time? What's That?

The more I work, the more money I can make, says 23-year-old loan officer Michael Rome, who has never asked how much vacation he's entitled to

In his current job as a residential loan officer for Flagstar Bank in Rochester, Mich., Michael Rome, 23, regularly works 55-60 hours weekly -- a lot less than he used to. As an undergraduate finance major at Oakland University, also in Rochester, Rome worked 90 hours a week during his summers. That broke out to 40 hours as an assistant golf-service manager at Great Oaks, a local golf club, and 50 hours as an assistant to a Titleist sales representative.

He's unmarried, without children, so what's driving him?

"Establishing myself," he says. "Because I don't have any other responsibilities right now, it's a great time to work as hard as I can to position myself to make more money in the future. When I have a wife and children, I don't want to be working this hard. I want to spend time with them. This is an investment in my future."

Rome recently spoke with Chicago-based correspondent Ann Therese Palmer about his work habits. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:

How much time do you work in the office and outside the office?

I probably spend 50 hours a week in the office and 5-10 hours working outside. I feel like I've been given an opportunity to get ahead of the game with income, promotions, everything. The more I work, the more money I can make. I'm the only one who goes in on Sunday afternoons. Everyone in our office works this hard during the week, but the people with seniority leave a little earlier each day. They tell me they used to work as hard as I do when they were my age. Have you always worked more than the average?

During my last three semesters in school, I carried a full class load -- 18 hours, which is six classes meeting three times a week -- and also worked 10 to 15 hours for Titleist and 25 to 30 hours for the club. Are there ever times when you feel overworked or stressed out?

There are times when I know I do it to myself. It's when it's crazy for five or six straight weeks, and I'm going all of the time. That's when it starts to get overwhelming. I try to ease up a little bit.

I've only taken one work day off since I got out of college in May, 2004. It was a Friday during the winter, when I went to Florida to play golf for a long weekend. I was in a golf tournament in Dayton, Ohio, in July of this year. I teed off on a Monday morning at 7 a.m., played, got in my car at 11:30, drove straight to work -- a four-hour drive -- and worked from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

What are you spending this time doing?

I cold-call people at night. During the day, I work on new marketing ideas to find more business through realtors and builders. I put together information packages. I spend 5-10 hours a week on the road building relationships, 25%-30% writing mortgages, and the rest is marketing.

I'd rather work [extra hours] now and then, when I marry and have a family and more responsibilities, work a little less. My goal is to work my way up now.

Are you working these hours because you're afraid that you may be let go if the real estate industry begins to decline?

There's always that possibility. One of the reasons I'm working extra hours is that partly I feel the need to prove my worth and partly because this is a business that requires a lot of hours.

How much vacation time do you get?

I don't know. I haven't asked.

On Saturday, you talked to me on a cell while you were playing golf. How often do you have work-related calls while you're playing golf?

On Saturday, I took three calls related to work after I talked to you. Virtually during every round of golf I play I take calls, work-related calls. It's rather annoying, but it's part of being accessible all the time. I have come to accept it as part of today's business world.

Is technology a plus or a minus for you?

On certain days and at certain times, it makes life easier. It's worse because I don't go anywhere without my cell phone. So, I'm always accessible. That's the bad thing.

It makes it easier to do what I do. I work more -- probably 5-10 hours weekly -- because I'm accessible. It's too early to say whether this will correlate into more business. Right now, it's an investment for the future.

What's the saturation point?

That's a good question. I don't know yet. Eventually you have enough, and you just snap. You realize you need to get away from it all. That's how it has been for me in the past. You take a break for a day or so and then come roaring back.

Are there ways to manage things better to give yourself more time to yourself without losing your work productivity?

Every week, it seems I get more efficient. I spend more of that time working. I never cut back. I just keep going. When I was inputting loans in our computer system in the beginning, it would take me 45 minutes. Now it takes me 10. I pick up 20 minutes here and there. That gives me a couple of hours that I shouldn't be at work, but I am.

Do you foresee that you'll ever be able to vacation completely and turn work off?

I hope so. I'm hoping to get better with age. I think it just involves personal discipline.

Patricia O'Connell

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