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Microsoft’s four-day week trial sees huge boost in productivity

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Microsoft Japan has revealed the results of a short trial of a four-day working week. The shortened working week was very positively met by employees and increased productivity by almost 40 per cent.

The ‘Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019’ involved approximately 2,300 employees being given all five Fridays off during August with no penalty (no deduction from annual leave and no reduction in salary). Microsoft also offered to subsidise employees’ holidays or further education up to ¥100,000 (£710), as well as covering the cost of sports classes and other leisure activities.

“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,” Takuya Hirano, Microsoft Japan President, said. “I want employees to think about and experience how they can achieve the same results with 20 per cent less working time.”

Microsoft Japan has now reported on the results of its trial, finding that the four-day working week resulted in a 39.9 per cent increase in productivity (as measured by sales per employee). This boost was credited to employees having to become more efficient with how their time is used, such as by meetings becoming both shorter and more efficient (capped at 30 minutes), as well as increasingly being conducted remotely to eliminate unnecessary commuting time. It is also feasible that the Microsoft employees were able to work more efficiently when well-rested.

Unsurprisingly, employees were very positive about the four-day working week, with 91.2 per cent saying that they liked it. The employees also took 25.4 per cent less time off during August. However, employees who work directly with customers said that they found it difficult to stop thinking about work on their extra day off.

The trial also saw environmental benefits and falls in operating costs, with electricity consumption falling 23.1 per cent and 58.7 per cent fewer paper pages being printed on account of the offices closing for an extra day every weekend.

According to reports, Microsoft Japan is planning to repeat its four-day working week trial next summer.

Microsoft Japan is among a small handful of companies which have experimented with shortened working hours - a serious proposal for the future of work as many aspects of human work become automated.

Earlier this year, the UK-based scientific research foundation the Wellcome Trust dropped plans to trial a four-day working week after concluding that the trial would be too operationally complex to implement. Although the proposal has support from some academics, business leaders, and labour groups no large company has yet taken the plunge and introduced a shortened working week.

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