Story at a glance

  • Microsoft experimented with a four day work week at a Japanese subsidiary and productivity skyrocketed.
  • The month-long experiment also made the office more efficient, using less electricity and less paper.
  • Other companies have had success with shortened hours, but the surprising results of Microsoft’s experiment suggest even the largest corporations can reap benefits.

An experiment that reduced the work week to four days during the month of August resulted in a 40 percent increase in productivity at a Microsoft subsidiary in Japan, the company announced last week.   

The increase was measured relative to the unit’s performance during August of the previous year. Employees were paid the same despite working fewer hours each week. The experiment was part of the company’s "Work Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer" initiative, which aims to promote a healthier work-life balance among employees. 

The experiment included reducing the time spent in meetings by creating a 30-minute time limit and encouraging remote communication. The experiment also helped Microsoft conserve resources — using 23 percent less electricity and 58 percent less paper compared to August of 2018, CNBC reports.

Other, mostly smaller companies have had success with allowing employees to work reduced hours, but Microsoft’s results suggest the potential benefits can even extend to giant corporations.

While employees from all over the world may be eagerly forwarding the results of Microsoft’s experiment to their bosses, Japanese workers may stand to reap the greatest rewards from improved work-life balance. Nearly a quarter of companies in Japan required employees to work more than 80 hours of overtime every month, according to a 2016 government study into the phenomenon termed “karoshi” in Japanese, which translates as “death by overwork.” 

Published on Nov 06, 2019