Why it matters: One of life's unfair and harsh truths is the ratio of workdays to weekends. And it's a well-known fact that neither of the two can be fully utilized by people burned out from work. While proper time management is a crucial skill to have in today's busy world, an experiment with Microsoft's Japan employees found out that going to work for four days in a week, instead of the usual five, resulted in more efficient meetings and increased focus in the office, making up for a 40 percent rise in employee productivity.
All of 2,300 employees working at Microsoft Japan had three-day weekends this past August, as part of the company's 'Work Life Choice Challenge.'
Japan, known to have some of the world's longest working hours, tends to feel the impact of overwork where people have coined the term 'karoshi,' a work culture phenomenon which translates to 'death by overwork.' In such an environment, a four-day workweek at Microsoft would probably have felt like a breath of fresh air.
Getting an extra day off every week made for improvements in several areas, including productivity and operational costs. Sales per employee, used to determine productivity, rose by 39.9 percent as compared to figures in August 2018, while remaining closed for an extra day reduced the firm's electricity costs by 23.1 percent and saw a 58.7 percent decline in paper printing.
Given that employees had only four days to work, meetings were capped at 30 minutes, while remote conferences were increased to eliminate commuting where possible. The experiment also incorporated self-development and family wellness schemes and received positive feedback by the majority of employees, 92.1 percent of whom liked the shorter workweek.
"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. I want employees to think about and experience how they can achieve the same results with 20 percent less working time," said Takuya Hirano, Microsoft Japan president and CEO.
The company plans to repeat its four-day workweek in Japan for August next year, though it remains to be seen if it expands the program to other months or regions.