Having a reduced workweek is a dream most working parents wish would come true. Not necessarily for an extra day of rest, but to have some extra time to catch up on life. All those little things from laundry to grocery shopping to even catching up on the DVR—all the things that working parents are often forced to put on the backburner. Oh, and lets not forget spending precious quality time with our little ones too.
Japan is known for having poor work-life balance, with a culturally large emphasis on productivity and a typically deafening lack of resources for employees. A 2016 government study showed that nearly a quarter of Japanese companies required their employees to work 80 overtime hours per month. These conditions have garnered international headlines in recent years, having led to horrifying stories of employees literally working themselves to death.
In an effort to shift away from that culture and provide more space for their employees to have lives outside of work, Microsoft Japan—a company with 2,300 employees—launched their “Work Life Choice Challenge.” For the entire month of August, every employee had Friday off. The results, the tech giant reported, were catastrophic.
During the 31 days in which the company tested the reduced workweek, they shortened their meetings to 30 minutes or less and increased the number of remote meetings.
In the month, they found that productivity rose by 39.9 percent compared to August 2018, measured by sales per employee. At the same time, the company saved on operating costs, using 23.1 percent less energy and 58.7 percent less pages printed.
The reduced workweek was just one aspect of the Work Life Choice Challenge, which also included family support programs and self-development trainings to promote healthy work-life balance. The company reported that 92.1 percent of employees enjoyed the challenge.
In short, less workdays made for higher productivity, less energy and paper used and happier employees. While obviously not all companies can hold remote meetings or implement a four-day week, it’s worth exploring. If Microsoft saw such tremendous success, we’re hoping more companies are compelled to at least start researching what it would take to follow their lead.