If it was possible to have shorter meetings, take a paid day off every week, cut the overhead cost of operating your office building and increase overall productivity, would you do it?

Thought it sounds like a no-brainer, what it takes to actually get there might leave a lot of leaders immediately unsure. But that’s exactly what a Microsoft outpost in Japan did as part of a summer experiment, complete with paid days off every Friday for five weeks in a row, and an internally produced report showed sales increased by 40 percent. 

 

The report was originally produced in Japanese, so we’re relying on translations and media outlets’ reporting, but as Forbes has noted, the experiment comes as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushes national business leaders to make workplaces more flexible. 

“Japan’s culture of overwork first made headlines in 2015, when a Dentsu employee died by suicide on Christmas Day after working excessive overtime, and again in 2017, when a Japanese reporter died after clocking 159 hours of overtime the month before her death,” Forbes reported

While that level of overwork may be an outlier for many, so, too, is the idea of shortening a work week. Still, studies consistently show that business leaders should take it under consideration. 

In the Microsoft Japan experiment this summer, the organization cut meetings to a maximum of 30 minutes, gave every staffer paid Fridays off, prioritized e-communication over in-person, used 23 percent less electricity, printed 59 percent fewer pages and had 92 percent of employees happy with the result. Soon, the company will try the experiment again, this time with the suggestion that employees pick their own time off. 

In another report, Business Insider rounded up some other examples, including: 

  • Shake Shack. About one-third of its restaurants institute four-day workweeks, which has prompted some potential employees to actively seek jobs there.
  • Basecamp. The software company gives employees a four day workweek during the summer.
  • Uniqlo. The clothing store still required 40-hour workweeks in its own experiment, but let employees arrange their own schedules.
  • Perpetual Guardian. The estate planning service in New Zealand famously ran its own experiment, which was so successful it instituted the practice full-time.

The popularity of four-day workweeks is growing beyond experiments, too, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s April report on paid leave. 

“Compressed and four-day workweek benefits also saw minor increases in 2019. Compressed workweeks are now offered by one-third of organizations, and four-day workweeks of 32 hours or less per week are offered by 15%,” the report stated. “While four-day workweeks are still relatively uncommon, organizations that have implemented them report no decreases to productivity or revenue as a result.”

That productivity does not drop “is making it safer for chief executives, for boards, for companies around the world to say, ‘Well, actually, I’m not just doing this because it is a good thing for my employees, I can also do this because it is good for business,’” Perpetual Guardian owner Andrew Barnes told the New York Times. Barnes didn’t stop at shortening his own company’s workweek; he co-founded a nonprofit to encourage worldwide businesses to do the same. 

Still, as the New York Times reported, the concept of a four-day workweek has been floated for more than 100 years. One of the biggest reasons it still hasn’t caught on: “Inertia.”

Chelsea Brasted is the writer and editor who serves as content manager for AssociationSuccess.org. A former reporter and breaking news editor for The Times-Picayune, she lives in New Orleans with her husband and two rescue dogs.

Chelsea Brasted is the writer and editor who serves as content manager for AssociationSuccess.org. A former reporter and breaking news editor for The Times-Picayune, she lives in New Orleans with her husband and two rescue dogs.

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