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What happened when Microsoft Japan trialled a four-day work week?

5 Nov 2019

Microsoft Japan’s workforce reported greater happiness and increased productivity after switching to a four-day week.

Flexibility is one of the most popular topics of discussion in any conversation about the future of work, and it looks as though some of the world’s biggest companies are listening.

Microsoft trialled a four-day working week in its Japan offices for the month of August. As part of the company’s Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019, it gave its entire workforce, totalling 2,300 people, five Fridays off in a row without any changes to salary.

In addition to the shorter work hours, the employer provided up to ¥100,000 for staff to spend on family holidays or to learn new skills.

Takuya Hirano, president and CEO of Microsoft Japan, commented on the scheme: “Work a short time, rest well and learn a lot. It’s necessary to have an environment that allows you to feel your purpose in life and make a greater impact at work.”

“I want employees to think about and experience how they can achieve the same results with 20pc less working time.”

According to Microsoft Japan, there was greater efficiency in meetings as a result of the challenge, contributing to greater happiness and a 40pc increase in productivity.

There was also a 25pc decrease in annual leave taken by employees for the duration of the trial, and a similar reduction in office electricity use. Employees printed 59pc fewer pages of paper during the trial.

Overall, the vast majority of employees (92pc) said they liked working a shorter week.

Microsoft’s findings support those of similar studies about reducing working hours. A study published by the Harvard Business Review on working six-hour days instead of eight also reported increases in productivity levels. Meanwhile, a 2018 survey of 3,000 employees by the Workforce Institute at Kronos suggested that nearly half of full-time workers feel they could complete their duties in five hours a day.

Although there are no official plans to roll out shorter weeks for Microsoft employees in Japan, the company told the Guardian that it does plan to organise another instalment of the challenge this winter.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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