- In August, Microsoft Japan closed its offices on Fridays, treating 2,300 employees to a month’s worth of three-day weekends
- Workers spent four days instead of five at their desks
- Productivity spiked by nearly 40 percent
- It's a sign that proponents of the four-day workweek might be onto something
Tokyo: Microsoft Japan published a report showing how productivity spiked by nearly 40 percent despite observing a four-day workweek.
In August, Microsoft Japan closed its offices on Fridays, treating 2,300 employees to a month’s worth of three-day weekends. Results of the August’s experiment were published on Thursday, October 31.
The result: a nearly 40% spike in individual productivity.
In Japan’s famously workaholic corporate culture, the experiment is a sign that proponents of the four-day workweek might be onto something,
How it happened
In addition to the extra days off, the office also set a time limit of 30 minutes for meetings and encouraged employees to communicate online rather than face-to-face when possible.
With workers only at their desks four days instead of five, you might think they got less done during the week.
Instead, productivity spiked by nearly 40 percent — a sign that proponents of the four-day workweek might be onto something, even in Japan’s famously workaholic corporate culture.
The program urged employees to:
- Limit meetings to 30 minutes
- Cap standard attendance to meeting at five employees
- Make full use of Microsoft’s collaboration tool, Microsoft Teams
- No need to to tie up multiple people from the same team
- Instead of "wasteful" emails and meetings, use collaborative chat channels
- Sales per employee increased by 39.9 percent during the trial compared to August 2018’s figures, and an employee satisfaction survey found that 92.1 percent of workers liked the switch to a four-day workweek.
- Closing the office on Fridays positively affected the company’s environmental impact as well.
- During the 4-day workweek trial month in August, Microsoft Japan reporting a 23.1 percent decrease in electricity use and a 58.7 percent decrease in the number of pages employees printed.
With automation poised to take over many tasks currently tackled by humans, people across the globe have started pondering what it could mean for the future of work.
Virgin CEO Richard Branson and Google co-founder Larry Page are among those who’ve suggested shortening the workweek, and Microsoft Japan isn’t even first to actually put the theory to the test. In 2018, a legal document firm in New Zealand made the switch — and it found “no downside” to the change.
Proponents say a healthier workplace is possible if there's less burnout and more flexibility.
The same electronic tools that have made working from home easier than ever have also made it harder for employees to fully unplug from their jobs when they aren't in the office.
Many employees might be heartened by the prospect of a three-day weekend.
Trials like the recent one in Japan are still only drops in a very large bucket of companies and workers worldwide.
Backers of such moves point to a general trend toward shorter workweeks — and longer weekends.
There are signs, however, that the shorter workweek may increasingly become a political issue, similar to parental leave and other benefits.
In the UK, the Labour Party recently made the four-day workweek — at no change in pay — one of its central policies.
When Labour embraced the idea, shadow chancellor John McDonnell was quoted by Labour List as saying, "the average full-time working week fell from nearly 65 hours in the 1860s to 43 hours in the 1970s."
While employers could now be more likely to experiment by shortening their own workweeks, workplace analyst and author Dan Schawbel says that, for the time being, employees are more likely to focus on a more common workplace perk: flexibility.
"Younger people actually choose work flexibility over health care coverage, even though that expense in America is pretty high," Schawbel says.
In the US, Schawbel sees schedule flexibility and a four-day week as two ways for employers to ease what he calls an ongoing "burnout crisis".
In 2017, a US Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that from 1987 to 2015, productivity rose by as much as 5% annually in industry sectors from information to manufacturing and retail — but compensation never grew by more than 2% in each year of that same period.
Faced with decades of stagnant wage growth, it seems that many workers are now seeking more flexibility — and dreaming of a shorter workweek.
It's an area that's already being explored in Europe, home of some of the world's strongest work-life-balance laws.
France has granted employees the right to disconnect from their jobs, limiting email and other communications after hours, for instance.