Brits work the longest hours in Europe, and it may affect performance. Here's what can be done
The British work the longest hours in the European Union. We toil for an average of 44 hours a week, compared to 39 hours in the Netherlands and 40.1 hours in Germany, according to the TUC. A culture of relentless late evenings and early mornings takes its toll on a workforce as employees become tired, demotivated and lacklustre. Willmott Dixon is one firm that has embarked on a pilot study to watch the number of hours staff are working.

Why did you start this pilot study?
Construction is exciting, and there are times when you might have to work for 16 hours a day to hit a deadline, which can be a tremendous buzz. The danger is when the 16-hour day becomes the norm.

Willmott Dixon will always do whatever it takes to deliver projects on time and on budget. Our concern is to avoid long and unsociable hours becoming a way of life for staff.

New technologies and innovations are introduced into construction every day, and the ability of our staff to harness this change in the most creative and effective way possible underpins our overall performance as a business. We need our people to be fully energised, not tired. We need them to be able to think clearly and creatively to make a positive contribution to the business for our clients.

What are you doing to address the "long hours culture"?
We have launched a "Respect for People" pilot initiative in our housing western division. It's designed to lay down ground rules discouraging employees from working excessively. A key objective is to help eliminate ambiguity in people's minds as to what is acceptable in terms of the hours they work. Our staff hours are 9am to 5.30pm for office-bound staff and roughly 8am to 5pm on site. This will depend on location and conditions, like the weather.

The message to staff is that you don’t have to hang around on site just because your boss is still there

How does this "Respect for People" initiative work?
It aims to encourage people to plan their work so that they avoid the need to contact colleagues out of hours. We have laid down ground rules. Phoning colleagues on their mobile or emailing messages is forbidden before 7.30am and after 7pm unless it is extremely urgent.

To avoid meetings running late into the evening, site review meetings are limited to a maximum of two every day, and these must not start after 2.30pm. Internal meetings are not allowed to run after 6pm.

A key element of the initiative is to try to maximise the use of new technology so staff don't have to spend hours travelling here and there. Video conferencing is now in place throughout the company, and we are encouraging employees to think carefully about whether a meeting is really justified.

Aren't you concerned that this approach could impair your performance?
Not at all. Staff with front line responsibility for project delivery know that their position may require working late. These people are carefully selected for these roles and therefore act, and are paid, accordingly. This initiative aims to prevent staff from being burdened unnecessarily out of normal hours for issues that are not linked directly to project delivery or satisfying clients. The message for staff is that you do not have to hang around on site just because your boss is still there. The message for managers is to step back and think whether the evening meeting, telephone call or email can wait until tomorrow.