Microsoft 4-day work week boosted productivity

Published: 05 Nov 2019 | Updated: 06 Nov 2019   

Online Desk

Microsoft Japan has announced the results of its 4-day work week trial, and it will shock no-one to know the experiment was hugely popular with the company's employees. 

What may surprise people is that the shortened week increased productivity by almost 40 percent — thanks in part to shorter, more efficient meetings, reports Mashable.

This August, Microsoft Japan trialed a 4-day work week for its entire workforce, calling the project the "Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019". Approximately 2300 employees were given 5 Fridays off, with no reduction in salary and no days taken out of their annual leave. 

Further, The Mainichi reported that Microsoft Japan also planned to subsidise employees' family vacations or further education by up to ¥100,000.

"Work a short time, rest well and learn a lot. It's necessary to have an environment that allows you to feel your purpose in life and make a greater impact at work," said Microsoft Japan president and CEO Takuya Hirano. "I want employees to think about and experience how they can achieve the same results with 20 percent less working time."

The 5-day work week is a deeply entrenched structure around the globe. But considering the results of Microsoft Japan's experiment, it may be time to overhaul the system.

As reported by Nikkei xTECH (via SoraNews24), Microsoft Japan's 3-day weekend trial resulted in an incredible 39.9 percent increase in productivity. 

This was partially attributed to the shortened work week meaning employees had to be more economical and efficient with their time. In particular, many meetings were shortened, cut, or conducted remotely so as to eliminate the commute.

It also isn't a stretch to imagine that well-rested, happier people work better. 

Employees took 25.4 percent less time off during the trial, and the benefits didn't end there either. As Microsoft Japan's offices were empty for 5 extra days, electricity use was down 23.1 percent. 

Employees also printed 58.7 percent fewer pages, meaning a shorter work week could be good for both people and the environment.

Employees in customer-facing roles did state it was hard to relax on their Fridays off with the rest of the working world continuing on apace. But overall the extra day off was a big hit, with 92.1 percent of employees saying they liked the shorter week. 

Clearly, the only solution is to simply implement 4-day work weeks everywhere.

This isn't the first time it's been demonstrated that shorter work hours have a positive effect on happiness and productivity. 

New Zealand firm Perpetual Guardian switched to a permanent 2-day work week in 2018, following a 2-month trial that saw productivity increase by 20 percent. The company's employees also reported a significant improvement in work-life balance, and like Microsoft Japan, electricity bills were reduced and meetings shortened.

Numerous companies around the world have also held similar trials to favourable results, with a 2018 report from the International Labour Organisation finding that shorter hours generally result in higher productivity. 

The push for a shortened work week has gained momentum in recent years, with significant support from labour unions. However, the 4-day work week also comes with new challenges such as keeping up with customers and competition. 

Some businesses have managed this by having half their staff off on Mondays and half off on Fridays, although perhaps it would be better if we all just agreed that Mondays are terrible and should be cancelled.

Microsoft Japan reportedly plans to repeat its 4-day work week experiment next summer, and possibly expand it to other times as well. Hopefully other businesses will find their results compelling enough to give it a try.


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