As it turns out, not squeezing employees dry like a sponge is maybe a good thing.
Japan has a reputation for not being so great when it comes to work-life balance. And it’s a reputation that makes sense, considering the country routinely scores toward the bottom when it comes to employee satisfaction around the developed world.
For decades this has been a known problem, usually resulting in companies having after-hours meetings to try and figure out how to reduce after-hours meetings, or just shrugging and declaring that “it can’t be helped.”
But some businesses are finally taking actual steps to address the problem. And one of them is probably the last company that many would expect: Microsoft Japan.
▼ A company that big might not seem like it would need to change anything, since people will always want to work there, so hearing they’re trying changes is exciting.
Last August, Microsoft Japan carried out a “Working Reform Project” called the Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019. For one month last August, the company implemented a three-day weekend every week, giving 2,300 employees every Friday off during the month. This “special paid vacation” did not come at the expense of any other vacation time.
And the results were pretty incredible!
First off, the reductions. Employees took 25.4 percent fewer days off during the month, printed 58.7 percent fewer pages, and used 23.1 percent less electricity in the office (since it was closed an extra day). All of these saved the company quite a bit of money.
Next, the increases. Productivity went up by a staggering 39.9 percent. That means even though the employees were at work for less time, more work was actually getting done!
▼ A chart showing the changes. The tweet reads: “It’s been proven! Let’s implement the three-day weekend everywhere right now!”
— shogo.yamada (@yshogo87) November 1, 2019
A lot of the increase in productivity is attributed to the changing of meetings. With only four days to get everything done for the week, many meetings were cut, shortened, or changed to virtual meetings instead of in-person.
And even though it should seem obvious, it’s also important to note that 92.1 percent of employees said that they liked the four day workweek at the end of the trial. Due to its success this year, Microsoft is planning on repeating it again next summer or perhaps at other times as well.
Here’s how Japanese netizens reacted:
“Here’s to hoping my boss reads about this.”
“So I guess me feeling like I’m ready to be done for the week by Wednesday is pretty natural.”
“Unfortunately, us Japanese people value ignoring efficiency and wasting time at work over actually being productive.”
“I mean, the people working at Microsoft are first-class employees. I bet they could get everything done in three days.”
“I’d love for this to be implemented more, but I feel like making it work at companies open all week could be difficult. They’d have to hire more workers to rotate through the days.”
“Yeah, Microsoft is different from regular businesses, so I don’t think this would work everywhere.”
While some of the commentors have a point that this kind of policy wouldn’t work for every type of job, one thing is for certain: humans are only capable of doing so much work in a week. Beyond a certain threshold, no matter the job, work isn’t going to be work anymore, it’s just going to be time-padding.
And considering that Japan’s overwork culture can be physically seen from the city streets, taking a chance on something like this and seeing how it goes seems like a far better idea than just sticking with the status quo.