Microsoft Japan tested out a 4-day work week, and it boosted productivity by 40 percent

Amid ongoing labor reforms in a notoriously overworked Japanese market, Microsoft performed an experiment to see how reducing the work week to four days would affect productivity.

They found that sales per employee jumped a whopping 40 percent compared to the same period a year prior.

Microsoft Japan implemented the Work Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer project to tackle work reform and provide an adaptive environment based on choice and flexibility, and the core tenet of the program was a trial of reduced-hour work weeks.

Employees were given off all Fridays in August (that’s five consecutive weeks), and full-time employees were given special paid leave.

Additionally, the company sponsored employee support programs that were geared at promoting work-life balance. Microsoft doled out assistance to employees for expenses related to self-development, family travel expenses, social contribution activities and more.

The company challenged employees to “work in a short time, take a rest, and learn well” as a means to boost creativity and productivity by becoming more efficient, and the results were clear cut.

The number of sales per employee in August 2019 was found to be 40 percent higher than from the same time period in 2018, while total working days in August 2019 were down 25.4 percent.

The company also saved on resources — the number of pages of paper printed were down 59 percent and electricity consumption was down 23.1 percent.

This isn’t the first test-run of a shortened work week to return positive findings — a New Zealand company, Perpetual Guardian, decided to permanently adopt the four-day week last year after a trial yielded a noticeable boost in productivity as well as in job satisfaction among employees.

In Japan, the benefits of adopting a shorter work week may extend far beyond the realm of productivity.

In a society that has upheld a dangerous association between over-working and success — where there is a specific word for “overwork death” (karoshi) — the need to slow down has become increasingly more important.

Japan’s population has been shrinking, which has placed a lot of pressure on the country as a whole to revitalize its struggling economy, which often results in unfair and even dangerous working conditions. Many companies are turning to an influx of non-regular workers to pick up the slack, but these part-time or contract workers (who are generally young and/or female) are paid about 60 percent less in hourly wages than their full-time counterparts.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has focused heavily on work reform during his tenure, arguing that, instead of pushing for more hours worked to invigorate the Japanese economy, the country need to hone in on establishing better work-life balance.

The findings of the Microsoft trial provide promising support for Abe’s theory.

What’s more, 94 percent of Microsoft employees said they were happy with the program overall, and 92 percent said they were happy with the four-day work week specifically.

Microsoft Japan plans to follow up with an additional Work Life Choice Challenge this winter. This time, however, the company will not provide special paid leave and will instead encourage employees to experiment with more flexible workflows, such as shortening meetings and utilizing more collaboration tools.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.