A four-day workweek can work wonders for productivity, as Microsoft recently discovered by implemented this policy in its Japan offices, leading to productivity boost of a staggering 40%.
Japan has long battled with a culture of overwork which sometimes even leads to suicides. The problem is so bad in the country that they also have a word for it: karoshi. Karoshi means death by overwork or severe depression, or stress-induced illness.
Thus, Microsoft Japan decided to experiment with a new project in August called Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019. In this, they decided to give employees their Fridays off for five weeks in a row without decreasing their salary.
Moreover, Microsoft also planned to give its Japan employees a subsidy for family vacations up to ¥100,000 or $920.
'Work a short time, rest well and learn a lot'
Microsoft Japan president and CEO Takuya Hirano gave a statement on the website of Microsoft Japan, wherein he said, "I want employees to think about and experience how they can achieve the same results with 20% less working time."
The motto is to "Work a short time, rest well and learn a lot."
What were the other benefits of a 4-day work week discovered through this experiment?
Apart from happier employees and highly increased productivity, it was also noted that employees took 25% less time off during the trial. Moreover, it was also seen that the office space recorded reduced electricity use by 25%.
Yet another energy-saving factor was that employees printed 59% fewer pages of paper during this period.
Almost all the employees 92% -- said that they loved the shorter workweek.
Unclear if 4-day work week will be implemented on long term
Even though the experiment was conducted this successfully, Microsoft Japan told the Guardian that this was just a pilot project and it is not decided whether any long term changes in the workweek will be implemented in any of their offices.
Microsoft plans to carry out a version of this experiment in winter as well.
Previous experiments on shorter work weeks
This is not the first time that such an experiment has been carried out on the effects of shorter workweeks.
Perpetual Guardian, a trust management company in New Zealand, tried a 4-day work week for 2 months. Stress levels decreased by 7% and employees showed better focus and reported an improved work-life balance.
HR consulting firm Robert Half conducted a survey of 1,500 workers and 600 HR managers and found that 66% of the employees preferred a workweek of fewer than 5 days.
Harvard Business Review conducted an experiment with 6-hour workdays instead of 8-hour days and recorded increased productivity.
Workforce Institute at Kronos also conducted a survey in 2018 on 3000 employees and found that among the full-time workers, more than half said that they could do their job in 5 hours a day.