Microsoft's Japanese Division Switched to a 4-Day Workweek — Then Productivity Skyrocketed


After spending August experimenting with a four-day work week in a country notorious for overwork, Microsoft Japan said sales per employee rose 40% compared with the same month last year.

The “Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019” saw full-time employees take off five consecutive Fridays in August with pay, as well as shortening meetings to a maximum of 30 minutes and encouraging online chats over face-to-face ones. Among workers responding to a survey about the program, 92% said they were pleased with the four-day week, the software maker’s Japan affiliate said in a report on its website on Oct. 31.

Japan has been struggling to bring down some of the world’s longest working hours as it confronts a labor shortage and rapidly aging population. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to make workplaces more flexible and reduce overtime has drawn mixed reviews.

The summer trial also cut costs at Microsoft Japan, with 23% less electricity consumed and 59% fewer pages printed compared with August 2018, according to the report. Some Microsoft Japan managers still didn’t understand the changes in working styles and some employees expressed concern that shorter work weeks would bother clients.

Microsoft Japan plans to hold another work-life challenge in winter. Employees won’t get special paid days off, but will be encouraged to take time off on their own initiative “in a more flexible and smarter way.”

Today's Vocabulary

1. notorious (adj.)
famous for something bad

2. confronts (v)
to face, meet, or deal with a difficult situation or person

3. affiliate (n)
an organization that is connected with or controlled by another, usually larger, organization

4. drawn (v)
to attract attention or interest

5. initiative (n)
the ability to use your judgment to make decisions and do things without needing to be told what to do

6. consumed (v) 
to use fuel, energy, or time, especially in large amounts

7. bring down (phr. v)  to reduce the level of something

  1. What is the name of the company that conducted the trial?

  2. By how much did productivity rise?

  3. What did the article say Japan’s workplace practices were?

  4. By how much did the company’s electricity bill fall?
  1. How hard do you work?

  2. Would a four-day working week work for every company?

  3. Why might productivity rise with a shorter working week?

  4. Is a four-day working week a good idea?

  5. How satisfied are you with your job?