The English language is full of idioms extolling the virtues of hard work. We praise employees who are willing to fight tooth and nail for the company. Someone ready to go the extra mile is the kind of worker we want on our team. But employees who keep their noses to the grindstone might not be what companies need to be successful.
Some companies are now experimenting with a four day work week, and it’s not just the employees that are benefiting. Microsoft in Japan recently tried a four day work week, and they say productivity increased by 40%. The program was called the “Work-Life Choice Challenge.” All employees were given Fridays off this past August, and the bottom line was more money for the company. They were measuring sales per employee and saw a 40% jump compared to August 2018. In addition to increased sales, Microsoft was also able to save electricity costs by closing down once a week.
In Japan, a country known for overworking employees, this was a bold initiative. In addition to cutting hours, employees were encouraged to reduce meetings and emails. This may have been a reason they were more efficient. Reduced stress and increased morale may have also contributed to more productivity.
Microsoft Japan isn’t the only one trying out a four day work week. Across Europe, companies are experimenting with decreasing work hours. A Belgian nonprofit called Femma is currently testing a 30-hour work week. After discovering that a desire for more free time was employees’ chief complaint, they cut Fridays for most of their 60,000 workers. It is a one year experiment that is being studied by researchers at the University of Brussels. Femma director Eva Brumagne, says, “Our colleagues are very happy with this new situation; they’re experiencing a lot more freedom… People are saying their lives have slowed down.”
Perpetual Guardian, a real estate company in New Zealand, has recently made a four day work week permanent. They have reported a 20% boost in employee productivity and a 45% jump in employee work-life balance. And more balanced employees equals more focused employees. Burning the candle at both ends isn’t the answer. Andrew Barnes, the founder of the company says, “This is all about working smarter, not working longer.”