When starting out in business, people inevitably work long hours. Years ago when I set up my travel company, I spent countless hours at work trying to get it off the ground. And sometimes (often, actually) this was at the expense of quality time with family and friends. It probably didn’t do my health much good either.

When we’re younger we often choose to put our careers first – and when you’re starting your own business you have to put in the hours to even stand a chance of success. A business demands all-encompassing dedication and time to get it off the ground. But where does this become “overwork”?

Men, in particular I think, spend much of their time sailing close to the wind on this. In the past, those who worked longer hours didn’t necessarily end up earning more per hour than people who didn’t. But these days, companies often find it hard to quantify the success of a project, often bestowing praise and, importantly, financial rewards on those working 50 or more hours per week.

Not only is this kind of work ethic dangerous for an individual’s health and personal relationships, many also point toward it also being part of the reason for the wage gap between men and women, something that was narrowing but now seems to have come to a grinding halt again.

This is an imbalance in both ways that sorely needs to be redressed. Yes, working hard is the way to succeed initially but there is a limit. I’ve found that those working long hours are not always more productive. Sometimes, employees do it to ‘appear’ as if they’re working hard – it’s all for show, but in fact they’re doing very little during these extra hours.

Work tends to expand to fill the time allotted and to work exceptionally long hours could mean the work is sub-standard. Those with inspiration and flair could achieve in an hour what others may take a day or more to accomplish – a task-oriented approach would show this immediately. And a tired worker is not usually a good worker.

It would seem that the biggest effect of this grinding “more, longer, harder” work competition though is being felt by hard-working, committed female professionals who are also trying to juggle work and family life. I think that women are often better than men at their jobs, yet their wages don’t reflect this  – and the culture of ‘overwork’ is a major contributor. A primary carer – whether that is a woman or man – simply cannot put in 100-hour weeks and bring up their family in a healthy way. As it happens, the primary carer still is the woman in the majority of cases – even if both partners have careers. It is not for the woman to try and ‘have it all’ as past rhetoric would have it, but for business – and society – to realise that work is only one important part of a person’s life. If more value were placed on a wider perspective then women – and men – would be able to contribute their talents, be paid equally and still be able to be human beings into the process. A happy workforce is a healthy workforce.

It’s time for employers to take a look at the work ethic within their companies and see where they aren’t serving their workforce with realistic work-life balance. And where they are missing out on valuable talent for the lack of flexibility in their company culture or just by valuing the wrong, and outdated, approach.

As Rudyard Kipling once wrote, ‘More men are killed by overwork than the importance of the world justifies.’ Work hard by all means, there are times when you’ll need to sacrifice things in order to get ahead in your career (I certainly did), but there comes a point when you realise there’s more to life.

I have certainly put in the hours to get where I am – and continue to work hard. But I am above all a family man – my wife, children, and grandchildren mean the world to me and no amount of work can ever come close to their value.