Microsoft Japan Increases Productivity with Shorter Workweeks

A trial from Microsoft Japan showed that working four days a week increased productivity while reducing paper and electricity consumption.

November 5, 2019

Microsoft Japan held a trial last August to see what the effects of a shorter workweek would be. This trial, called the “Work Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019,” gave employees every Friday off over the course of the month. Microsoft then examined how business went that month compared to Augusts of previous years.

The shorter workweeks unsurprisingly resulted in a less wasteful month. Electricity consumption went down by 23 percent and the amount of paper printed went down by almost 60 percent compared to 2016. People are around less often to consume those things, so it makes sense that we’d see these reductions.

What might come as more of a surprise to some is that productivity increased by nearly 40 percent compared to last year. Productivity was determined by the number of sales per employee in this case. That’s a significant jump up even if you don’t consider that fewer days were worked.

There are a few things you could attribute this increase to. One is that the Work Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019 set a 30-minute cap on how long employees spend responding to emails and sitting in meetings. Less time in those areas means more time making sales. Another is that giving these employees a desperately needed day off simply makes them better at their jobs.

Japan is infamous for its extreme work culture. Expectations are often set astronomically high and work-life balances are practically nonexistent. Over 80 percent of Microsoft Japan employees spoke favorably of the four-day workweek, both for themselves and society as a whole. I have no doubts that knowing you have Fridays off makes your job more enjoyable, in turn making you better at it. Spending less time in meetings definitely helps but I attribute more of the productivity increase to higher employee satisfaction. The trial also introduced a support program that provided financial assistance for expenses related to “self-development, family travel, and social contribution activities.”

Microsoft Japan likes what it saw from the Work Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019. It plans to follow up with a Work Life Choice Challenge Winter 2019. You can see the full results of the trial here.

I would love to see similar trials be put in place across the world. Something tells me that we might see similar results.

In other recent Microsoft news, Microsoft Flight Simulator will use real-world data to build its atmospheres.

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