People want more for less. I think it's a conserved trait for all humanity. Let's face it, most of us are cheap bastards.
Bosses are no exception. When you're a boss under pressure to produce more in the same amount of time and with the same number of workers, the immediate inclination is to ask your salaried workers to put in more time. I think most of us in white collar work give in to the pressure. Work later, come in at night, come in on the weekend, take work home with you, don't take breaks, work while you eat lunch, or don't eat lunch at all. Why do we put ourselves through this when we could be happier pursuing more rewarding life choices, like going home and watching "Dancing with the Stars" from your beaten-up recliner while eating Haagen-Dazs? Some of us might be fired if we didn't work extra, but I think it's more about the mindset that if you just give in a little more to the boss's urgings you'll be that much more likely to get that extra raise, promotion, or other recognition. To some extent it may be true, but more and more I get the feeling that extra recognition amounts to nothing more impressive than having a smiley-sticker put on your class essay.
I admit to giving in to "boss pressure." Recently my boss and I had a huge project dumped on us from above with a totally unreasonable deadline on it. Instead of pointing out the obvious stupidity of the deadline and the fact that we would be unable to do any of our other work in that timeframe, my boss gave in to The Big Talking Heads and sheepishly agreed to do it. Now I'm stuck with much of the load. So, being an obedient worker bee, I came in last Saturday to do a lab experiment, when I could have taken the kids to the park on that gloriously sunny day. After three hours of work, I realized I had made a mistake at the beginning and had to start over again. Damn! I came back later, at about 9:30PM and worked until almost 2AM. Sadly, these sorts of hours are not uncommon for me (though it isn't usually due to stupid mistakes on my part), but do I ever get a pat on the back for it? Hell no. It just sets the bar higher for my boss's expectations of me. I'm fairly certain I'll be here a couple more nights this week. Before long I may wind up like one of my coworkers who works constantly. He even takes his laptop with him when he camps so he "doesn't fall behind."
In a fit of depression and work-place burnout, I went to the website http://www.despair.com/, where you can find hilarious (yet sad at the same time!) parodies of those stupid motivational posters you find hanging in work spaces. You can even make your own. I've attached a picture of the one I made for myself using their "make your own" webpage.
Yet, despite all this, be glad you aren't a worker in pre-1940's
Average work hours per week are slowly increasing again, and working stiffs like me are feeling the pressure. HERE is an excellent report on some of the depressing statistics about work/life balance (Example: "The typical middle income married couple works 3,885 hours per year, an increase of 247 hours or nearly one week more than their counterparts ten years ago."). That work/life imbalance forces us to try to fit our personal lives around the longer work hours, such as making personal calls from work, taking lunch breaks to run simple errands, or necessary web surfing (I have grown very fond of browsing my NetFlix account from work, for instance). Some companies actually hire concierge services and such, in the incredible belief that saving their employees' time keeps them at work. Ptah! Weaklings!
Yeah, I know, you're reading this at work, aren't you? Get to work, you slacker! And I'd better see you at your desk this weekend, too!