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Japan is well known as a country that works its employees (literally) to death. Microsoft Japan recognizes the risks. There is even a word for death from overwork, which shows you just how much of an issue it is.

A lot of this work is either time padding, where employees fear the judgement they’d get for leaving before 7pm, or obligations like drinking with co-workers or working on weekends or from home. Combating this doesn’t seem to be a top priority for most companies, but Microsoft might be taking strides to decrease wasted time and resources and increase productivity and happiness.

In August this year, Microsoft Japan implemented a 4-day work week, giving 2,300 employees every Friday off for the duration of the month, and they released the results on October 31st. This extra vacation time did not get taken off the standard 10-day leave Japanese employees receive yearly (out of which comes any sick days as well), so the days really were a bonus. The results were undeniable.

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Not only did this save the company money in paper (-58.7% sheets printed) and electricity (-23.1% less power used), but also the employees took 25.4% less vacation (read: sick days) and were 39.9% more productive overall. So even though there was one less day, they were able to work much harder in the time they did have.

Perhaps this was out of a time pressure to end the (notoriously long) meetings early, but the company’s meeting time KPIs went up, meaning that there was less time padding going on. Employees had more remote meetings, and the meetings under 30 minutes went up by 46% compared to the previous August.

Reactions from others vary, from, “Here’s to hoping my boss reads about this.”

And, “So I guess me feeling like I’m ready to be done for the week by Wednesday is pretty natural.”

to, “I’d love for this to be implemented more, but I feel like making it work at companies open all week could be difficult. They’d have to hire more workers to rotate through the days.”

And, “Yeah, Microsoft is different from regular businesses, so I don’t think this would work everywhere.”

But while it might not work for every company, even if some adopt this style it may lead to a more productive workforce, and positive future change.

Overall satisfaction in this “Work Life Choice Challenge” as Microsoft dubbed it, was over 90% and extra productivity means more profit for the company, so perhaps they will consider doing this style of work week more often.

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