Microsoft trialled a 4-day workweek in Japan – productivity shot up 40%

5th November 2019

More offices around the globe are trialling shorter work weeks in an effort to promote a healthier work-life balance.

Microsoft in Japan trialled a four-day workweek last August, with results pointing towards an increase in productivity by 40 per cent, the company said in a statement on Monday.

Smaller companies have been trialling the four-day work week, while many companies in Malta switch to reduced summer hours during the period where temperatures reach their highest. There seems to be no indications of a drop in productivity and supporters of the four-day workweek have championed Microsoft as being one of the first big companies to try out the switch.

Last August, Microsoft in Japan introduced its summer program called the ‘Work Life Choice Challenge,’ shutting down its offices every Friday for the month. Workers benefitted from a three-day weekend, every weekend in August.

Results of productivity were measured in terms of sales per employee. It was found that sales went up by almost 40 per cent when compared with the same period the previous year, Microsoft said in its statement.

In addition to reducing working hours, staff were urged to reduce time spent in meetings and responding to emails. They were encouraged not to allow meetings to run longer than 30 minutes. Managers suggested that where staff could replace meetings with conversations using a Microsoft messaging application, this would be preferred.

The company reported that shutting down a day earlier each week also led to savings in other areas, such as water and electricity.

Japan is known to have an intense working culture, with many calling it a culture of overwork. The problems runs so deeply that a Japanese term has been coined for it: karoshi – meaning death by overwork from stress related illnesses or unsurmountable depression.

Microsoft said it would conduct another experiment later this year, planning to ask employees for their suggestions on measures to improve the work-life balance as well as efficiency.

A company in New Zealand called Perpetual Guardian working in trust management has made the switch to a four-day workweek and has reported there to be “no downside” to the move. The company employs some 250 people and after the massive success of a trial, it opted to switch to the four-day workweek fulltime.


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