Microsoft Japan's 4-day workweek experiment highlights the business case for work-life balance

Productivity increased by 40 percent in a month where employees had every Friday off.

HR leaders should pay attention to the recent innovation from Microsoft Japan whose introduction of a four-day Workweek led to a 40 percent increase in productivity. The company has published results of their Work Life Choice Challenge 2019 wherein, for the month of August, employees were only required to report to work for four days of the week as long as they committed to be more productive and more creative in their approach to work. 

Microsoft Japan released a statement on Monday detailing improvements in morale and efficiency. The standard duration for meetings was cut in half to 30-minutes with percent 40 percent of all meetings falling within the target. Sales increased by 40 percent compared to August 2018 while electricity costs fell by 23 percent and the number of pages printed dropped by 60 percent. 

The pilot project is one of many initiatives driven by Microsoft Japan’s commitment to work style innovation, which is at the core of its management strategy. By implementing a new in-house practice aimed at promoting a philosophy the call “Work-Life Choice”, all employees are encouraged “work in a short time, take a rest, and learn well,” aiming to improve productivity and creativity. 

Such was the success of the “Work Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer”, Microsoft Japan will run the project again in Winter. However, unlike the summer pilot, the winter project won’t give employees special paid leave days. Instead, it will encourage flexible working and challenge employees to find at the work style that suits them best.

The Microsoft Japan experiment is not an isolated case.  Perpetual Guardian is an estate planning company in New Zealnd that, after successfully trialling the four-day working week, adopted the schedule permanently

Meanwhile, this Harvard Business Review article cites a 2015 study based in a Chinese travel agency, which saw productivity increased by an average of 13 percent after it started allowing call centre employees to work from home.