In Britain we have the longest working hours in Europe. In a unique experiment, The Money Programme asks the employees of Dartington Crystal - the glass making company - to stick to their set hours for just a week. It proves more difficult than it sounds.
Leaving work on time may not sound much of a challenge, but when a group of workers try to do just that for a week it proves to be surprisingly difficult. As part of a unique experiment for the BBC's Money Programme, all of the office staff at Devon-based Dartington Crystal agree to keep to their set hours - no coming in early, staying late or taking work home.
The British are notorious for working the longest hours in Europe. For many of us long hours are a form of addiction. For some it's about being seen to work long hours, proving your dedication. For others it's just part of the culture. So can people learn to work more efficiently?
Dartington Crystal is one of the last big companies in Britain still making hand blown crystal. Around two hundred people work at their factory which nestles among the green hills of North Devon at Torrington.
Although the glass blowers and other factory staff stick to set hours, some of the office staff find themselves doing up to sixty hours a week.
When The Money Programme asked Dartington's workers to try to keep to their set hours for a week they were initially apprehensive.
Robin Ritchie, the company's new MD, was very aware that his company was embarking on this experiment at their busiest time of the year, and they were also just days away from a big product launch.
But he is keen to improve the balance between his employees' work and home life, and thought the experiment would be a good way to get everyone thinking about their working hours and how they might be able to reduce them.
The programme concentrates on four key workers - all of whom regularly work over 50 hours a week. At the beginning of the experiment, everyone is optimistic that they will be able to stick to the rules, but it soon becomes clear that conquering the long hours habit isn't going to be easy.
As the week progresses, staff find it hard to cope with the pressure of leaving work undone. They feel they're letting people down, and worry about the effect on the business.
Sudden crises, such as a problem with glass production, make it more and more difficult to go home on time. By Wednesday, the pressure is bringing some of them to breaking point.
They do get some help though. Lynne Copp is a consultant on work-life balance. Her company, CTC, is advising Dartington as part of the DTI Challenge Fund - a government scheme to improve the work-life balance of Britain's businesses.
As the experiment progresses, Lynne spends time in the offices encouraging the stressed workers to delegate, reorganise their priorities and make meetings more focused. She even suggests putting a red flag on your desk to warn colleagues that you don't want to be disturbed.
Lynne feels that the long hours at Dartington result from the staff's commitment. As she puts it, the company is like a second family for them.
But Britain's long hours culture isn't necessarily achieving a great deal. Lynne Copp says that British companies are twenty five per cent less productive than their continental counterparts.
So it may be no surprise to learn that although the staff have some catching up to do the week after the experiment, the running of the company doesn't appear to have been affected.
In fact Managing Director, Robin Ritchie, feels the experiment has been positive for the business - "It's caused a reappraisal of the whole attitude to staying late - it's forced us to look at prioritisation, making sure that people do what's important first."
And the experiment has had a big impact on the home life of many of the workers. Warehouse manager, Mark Jordan, has three small children. Going home at five rather than six thirty has made him realise what he's been missing. "It's made me sit back and realise that there is more to life."
Since the experiment, many of the workers at Dartington have made permanent changes to their working habits and their hours to create a better balance between their work and home life.
This programme was first transmitted on Wednesday 5th December 2001.