Four-day workweek boosted productivity by 40%, Microsoft Japan experiment shows

In a rare corporate experiment to test a four-day work system, Microsoft Corp.’s Japan branch found that their productivity improved by about 40 percent, the company said.

The test involved 2,300 regular office workers in August.

Amid calls for improving efficiency in the workplace in a country notorious for having long working hours, the firm conducted the trial to see if it would boost employees’ performance.

Microsoft Japan Co., which released a report on the experiment last week, made every Friday in August a special paid holiday for all its regular workers in the country.

To raise productivity, the management asked workers to communicate more often via an online chat tool instead of having meetings and sending emails.

Even when they had physical meetings, workers were asked to finish them within 30 minutes in principle and limit the number of participants to five at the most.

As a result, the experiment saw a 39.9 percent increase in sales per worker, and 58.7 percent and 23.1 percent drops in the amount of paper used for printing documents or used in copy machines and in electricity consumption respectively, compared to August last year.

About 92 percent of the employees viewed the four-day workweek in a positive manner, the report showed.

It did not reveal the total amount of overtime hours worked during the period, but the spokesman said it did not increase.

He said Microsoft Japan does not plan to make four-day workweeks a permanent fixture but it may use them from time to time.

In a bid to eradicate Japan’s notorious corporate culture of long working hours, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been touting the importance of work-style reforms.

According to the Japan Productivity Center, a Tokyo-based research body, Japan’s hourly labor productivity, based on data from the OECD, was calculated at ¥4,733 ($47.5) in 2017, meaning it ranked 20th among the 36 OECD countries.

While four-day weeks are unlikely to become common in Japan anytime soon, a recent poll showed a vast majority of Japanese workers view the idea of a four-day week system favorably.

In a July online poll by internet service provider Biglobe Inc., 80 percent of 1,000 respondents answered positively about the four-day workweek system.

Asked what day they would like to take off if a four-day week was introduced, 51 percent said Wednesday.

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