Reducing the working week to 4 days is an idea that many workers find attractive. Everyone would like to have more free time and enjoy an extra day of rest, without undergoing any modifications to salary or holiday entitlement.
However impossible this might seem, it is exactly what has happened in Japan, thanks to an fascinating social experiment conducted by Microsoft: a company which would not face any great risk by sacrificing a few working days; the test led to some really interesting results.
How the Microsoft experiment was carried out
The original test the Redmond company proposed to staff at its Japanese headquarters was called: ‘Work life choice challenge – summer 2019’. The idea was to reduce the working week from 5 to 4 days in total, therefore allowing time for an extra day of rest.
The interesting feature was that neither salaries nor holiday entitlement would be modified. In practice, staff would work fewer hours without suffering any financial disadvantage. The proposal immediately won over the 2,300 staff members involved, who accepted the company’s challenge wholeheartedly.
Although it was expected that a 4-day week would have put added pressure on workers (due to the limited time available to conclude their work), the results of the experiment turned out to be incredible.
What emerged from the 4-day week experiment
At the end of August, when production data from the period of the experiment was analysed, a 40% increase in production was revealed. Workers had been able to produce much more despite having significantly less time available.
This can be attributed to several factors. The first is connected to the additional free time offered by an extra day of rest. Being able to dedicate enough time to recreational activities or just to your private life helps concentration enormously.
The increase in production, however, was also favoured by changes in company routine. Face-to-face meetings, for example, were reduced to a maximum of thirty minutes, while interaction via mail and the use of digital platforms for managing work as a team were encouraged.
All things considered, it can be concluded that intelligent time management guarantees better performance in the workplace. Loss of concentration is reduced and slowdowns of various sorts are avoided.
It is not only staff who can reap the benefits of a 4-day working week
Appreciation of the new working timetable by the staff involved was almost unanimous, with an approval rate of over 92.1%. Furthermore, as we can see from the results, the company itself also benefited from the test.
In addition to the 40% increase in production, the following results were recorded:
A reduction in electrical power costs (thanks to the extra day of inactivity);
A reduction in the usage of printed paper (thanks to an increased use of digital technologies).
This unusual test showed that, given the right psycho-physical conditions, staff are capable of giving much more, even with less time available than usual. Microsoft has already announced further experiments involving the 4-day week, to be carried out over the next few months.
If this approach was to be considered by other leading companies around the world, it could signal the start of a real revolution in the world of work.
Translated by Joanne Beckwith