Science Shows That a 4-Day Work Week Increases Productivity

Microsoft Japan tried a 4-day work policy and it resulted in a higher productivity rate in employees.
Nursah Ergü
Microsoft officephotobyphm/iStock

The idea of a non-traditional workweek has picked up steam over the last few years. While France led the way in 2000 with its adoption of a 35-hour workweek, the Covid pandemic has re-sparked interest in alternative options to a five-day schedule.

According to ZipRecruiter, the share of postings that mention a four-day week has tripled in the past three yearsAnd there's good reason for that. Almost two-thirds of businesses with a four-day workweek report improved productivty

Let's take a look at a few companies who have seen success in this shorter alternative. 


The Microsoft experiment

In August 2019, Microsoft Japan tried a 4-day work and 3-day weekend system for a month without any deduction in salary. According to The Mainichi, the firm also provided financial help to employees up to 100,000 yen to be used toward family vacations, to further education, or to develop new skills. 

Takuya Hirano, president, and CEO of Microsoft Japan said "Work a short time, rest well and learn a lot. It's necessary to have an environment that allows you to feel your purpose in life and make a greater impact at work. I want employees to think about and experience how they can achieve the same results with 20% less working time" about the project.

In the one-month project called "Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019," 2,300 employees didn't work for 5 Fridays, during August 2019.

The productivity of employees increased by 39.9 percent. Since their week was shorter than before, employees had to be more efficient and productive with their time. Additionally, employees took 25.4 percent fewer days off, electricity usage was down 23.1 percent, and employees printed 58.7 percent fewer pages.

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Other experiments

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Buffer adopted a four-day workweek after seeing success in two trials. Much like the Microsoft experiment, the new system resulted in sustained productivity levels, and a better sense of work-life balance, according to internal surveys. 

Most recently, in March 2021, Unilever in New Zealand also tried the 4-day workweek. “Our goal is to measure performance on output, not time,” Mr. Bangs said in a statement. “We believe the old ways of working are outdated and no longer fit for purpose.”

After more than a year of many of us working from home, it's evident that companies need to be flexible when it comes to expectations and schedules. In such unprecidented times, it's actually a better time than ever to begin questioning the five-day system developed in the early 1900s, and consider alternatives that have proved to be successful. 

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