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Microsoft Japan’s Four-Day Work Week Experiment Led to a 40% Boost in Productivity

Japanese employees are known to be some of the most overworked in the world.

by Lia Savillo
05 November 2019, 7:49am

A Japanese employee at night. For illustrative purposes only. Photo by Darren Chan on Unsplash

Long weekends are relaxing and can motivate people come Monday, but in most parts of the world, they’re a rarity and only happen a few times a year. Microsoft Japan, however, tried what it would be like to incorporate long weekends to their regular schedule, and found that it made employees work better.

The company tested out the four-day work week in August and reported that they had an almost 40 percent increase in productivity, based on sales per employee, according to CNBC. This was part of Microsoft’s “Work Life Choice Challenge,” which promoted a healthier work-life balance.

It allowed its 2,300 employees to have three-day weekends the entire month and observed how the change affected workers and the company.

Over that period, company costs also fell, as they used 23.1 percent less electricity and 58.7 percent fewer pages for printing.

Meetings were also cut in half — from 60 minutes down to 30 minutes — and remote conferences increased. Microsoft urged employees to use collaborative chat channels rather than "wasteful" emails and meetings, citing a need for a shift in time management.

Naturally, most employees (92.1 percent) said that they liked the four-day work week.

According to Microsoft, the experiment also incorporated self-development and family wellness programs that received largely positive feedback from employees. The company is now planning to conduct a similar work-life challenge this winter, aimed at encouraging greater flexible working.

Japanese “salarymen” are notoriously overworked. In the country, almost a quarter of companies require employees to work more than 80 hours of overtime a month, according to a 2016 government study. Japan has even coined its own term for the extreme culture — “karoshi,” which translates to “death by overwork.”

Microsoft Japan told The Guardian that “it’s unclear if these changes will be implemented in offices elsewhere or on a longer-term basis.”

They added: “In the spirit of a growth mindset, we are always looking for new ways to innovate and leverage our own technology to improve the experience for our employees around the globe.”

The idea for a four-day workweek made headlines in 2018 when Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand trust management company, announced a 20 percent increase in employee productivity and a 45 percent increase in employee work-life balance after a trial period. The company eventually made the policy permanent.

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