Microsoft experimented with a 4-day work week in Japan — and saw a big jump in productivity

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We all know those people who wear a 60-hour work week like it’s some sort of productivity badge of honor. But for those of us who appreciate the quality of life that comes, in part, from being away from work, a Microsoft experiment in Japan is worth celebrating.

The tech giant introduced a program called “Work Life Choice Challenge” this summer in Japan, shutting down offices every Friday in August to give employees an extra day off each week. CNN was among those reporting on the results, which were published in a Microsoft Japan blog post last week.

As time at work was cut, Microsoft saw productivity — measured by sales per employee — jump by 40 percent compared to the same period from the year before. Employees were not only encouraged to take an extra day off, they were told to keep meetings shorter (no longer than 30 minutes) and spend less time responding to email, communicating via a Microsoft messaging app instead.

CNN said that more than 90 percent of Microsoft’s 2,280 employees in Japan later said they were impacted by the new measures. And other resource savings were also noted, such as electricity consumption, which dropped 23 percent compared to August 2018.

Companies looking to win the recruiting battle when it comes to perks and flexible work schedules might try different equations to get away from the traditional five-day, 40-hour work week. Some allow employees to do four 10-hour days, while others cut the number of hours worked below 40 to give employees more time to recharge.

Microsoft’s initiative in Japan is especially noteworthy because of the sometimes deadly culture of overwork in that country. The company plans to conduct another experiment there later this year in a continued search for work-life balance and efficiency.

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