Pressure like this can bring us to justify crazy options just to meet deadlines and stay ahead of others. Crazy things like, habitually working 6 days a week, constantly on your phone or computer "just answer some emails" while at home, and working 80 hours each week regularly.
"The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.”
Being seen as someone who regularly only puts in 40 hours per week, and is home for dinner every day with their family shouldn't be seen as a weakness to employers. It should not make anyone worry about their job security or that they might be replaced by someone who is potentially younger, cheaper, unburdened by other obligations, and single.
In the book Rework, Jason Fried and David Hasson sum up the true goal perfectly, “Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.”
There are a few key reasons why we, as workers, should feel safe and proud to have a healthy work/life balance:
1. It is generally a bad thing to perpetuate the industry standard as being obsessive workaholics. It's one thing to have pride in what you do, and the passion to bring it into all aspects of your life, but it's another to push that expectation on those who have varying priorities. Inevitably, the work will suffer from the constant drive for more, and will just breed a field of burnouts. A burnt field, if you will.
2. Being young and single does not an ideal employee make. In the article Don't Fall Asleep at the Wheel: Successful Entrepreneurs Have Lives, Aron Ginn bookmarks several studies illustrating the statistics behind successful entrepreneurs in the multiple industries. Those single, 20-something year olds who can "give it all to their company" aren't the most productive members of an organization. In fact, the "high-value" contributors had well-balanced schedules, got about 8 hours of sleep a night, and were relatively older with families.
3. Variety is the spice of life. Humans just aren't programmed to endure too much of any one thing without being driven straight into a burnout. Side projects can help infuse you with additional types of inspiration and experiences. They can also re-energize you to tackle work.
4. It's just plain not healthy to be sitting in front of a computer for that long. Basic ergonomics will outline just how dangerous sitting for extended periods of time can be. If you're lucky enough to have a standing desk setup, use it. People need exercise and interaction with other humans... at least once in a while.
5. Working smarter, not harder. Yes, yes. You've heard that before, but what does that really mean? Having time-management skills, the ability to easily prioritize and reprioritize incoming tasks, and handle deadlines is a start. Smashing Magazine outlines a few specific ways to optimize obtaining your life goals without having to sacrifice your career in the article Work, Life, and Side Project. Paul Boag suggests that combining interests, creating structure, and knowing yourself will help.
A healthy balance of (healthy) activity, career-related stimuli, external projects (creative or otherwise), healthy doses of family interactions, and some good old fashioned personal time to reflect on whatever it is you want will improve overall productivity in yourself, your career, and hopefully perpetuate this culture in the industry. Well-balanced workers are happy workers, and happy workers means quality output.