For five Fridays, Microsoft Japan closed its doors, and employees enjoyed a paid vacation day. The result? Not only did the company save money, but overall employee productivity increased by 40%.
"I want employees to think about and experience how they can achieve the same results with 20 percent less working time," explained CEO Takuya Hirano in a post on Microsoft Japan's website.
The idea of implementing a four-day workweek is not new, and it seems to become more and more prevalent. The reasoning behind it is pretty straightforward: give people more time with their families and hobbies and you'll get more from them in the other four days. The idea has been around for almost a century, but it seems to be picking more traction in recent years.
There's also another way of looking at a 32-hour workweek, and why it is justified: the average productivity of workers has increased (as has the overall level of employee education). Simply put, people produce more work in less time, so they deserve to get more rest.
However, while anecdotal or small-scale evidence abounds, the four-day workweek remains more of an uncertain concept. But, at least for Microsoft Japan, it seems to be a workable concept.
The pilot test, called Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019, took place during August. In order to cope with the off-Fridays, the company management also did a number of other tweaks: it slashed many meetings from 60 to 30 minutes, limited meetings to 5 people, and encouraged people to communicate in group chats rather than email. According to the company, employee productivity grew by almost 40%.
The findings echoed another recent survey from 2018, where Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand trust management company, announced a 20% gain in employee productivity and a 45% increase in employee work-life balance after switching to a four-day work-week. Microsoft announced that it will start another trial, but Perpetual Guardian already made the policy permanent.
Sure enough, the findings are encouraging. If productivity can be grown at the same time as giving employees more free time -- everyone wins. But these are still small trials, with several limitations.
It's perhaps no coincidence that the survey was carried out in Japan -- a country known for having some of the longest working hours in the world, yet despite this, having surprisingly low productivity. Several Japanese companies have been reportedly analyzing the four-day workweek in an attempt to rebalance this problem.
Additionally, it's not exactly clear how work productivity was calculated, and how these trends might apply to different working scenarios. The Japan trials have offered exciting prospects, but it's still just a small project in the grand scheme of things.
Nevertheless, it's something worth thinking about, and testing. It's something bosses all around the world should ponder.