Working longer hours doesn't mean you'll get more done. But you don't always have a choice--especially if your work culture demands that you show up early and stay late. 

Japanese employees feel this acutely. The country is known for some of the longest working hours in the world. Almost a quarter of Japanese companies require employees to work more than 80 hours of overtime a month, a 2016 government study found. Japanese even has the term karoshi, which translates to "death by overwork."

Combating a culture of overwork.

To address the culture of overwork, Microsoft Japan tried an experiment. Last August, they gave 2,300 employees three-day weekends for five weeks straight. They called it the Work Life Choice Challenge. The hope was that employees would be more efficient during their shortened work week, then return to work Monday feeling more refreshed.

This experiment also required collecting gobs of data to measure the effectiveness of the adjusted schedule. Microsoft needed to crunch the numbers to see if it was worth giving employees the extra time off. The results just came in. Microsoft Japan can proudly say they saw great results from shortening the work week.

Employees were vastly more productive. They were more efficient with their meetings. They loved working fewer hours during the week and having longer weekends. 

Breaking down the data.

Roughly translated, this tweet from Shogo Yamada reads, "It's been proven! Let's implement the 3-day weekend throughout all of Japan." With the help of Google Translate and Soranews24, a site that covers Japanese news in English, I gleaned a few pieces of data from the dashboard.

39.9 percent increase in productivity.

Productivity, measured by sales per employee, increased 39.9 percent in August 2019 compared to August 2018. 

Cost savings on electricity and office resources.

With the office being closed one day a week, employees printed 58.7 percent fewer pages and used 23.1 percent less electricity.

Overwhelmingly positive response from employees.

Microsoft conducted a survey at the end of the experiment. A huge majority of employees--92.1 percent--said they liked the four-day work week. 

Microsoft Japan is already planning on bringing back the three-day weekends for next August. It's yet to be seen if they will offer this perk year-round.

Published on: Nov 3, 2019
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