Microsoft's four-day work week powers worker efficiency

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Last August, Microsoft Corporation implemented a project called “Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019,” which left many improvements that suggest hopeful change in Japan’s work culture. The trial of the new system included Fridays off for full-time workers, without cutting pay and increasing overall work hours.

This experiment might have been a response to the strict work life in Japan. Japan is notorious for its work culture, especially pertaining to the grueling long hours. There is even a phrase that emphasizes the harsh working conditions: “Karoshi,” which translates to “death by overwork.” This term has emerged into surface in 2016, after it came out that a woman who committed suicide “reportedly worked more than 105 extra hours in a single month.” 

Since then, there have been some efforts to examine the issues of work-life balance. A labor reform law was created last Spring to “limit overtime work to 45 hours a month and 360 hours a year,” which is planned to be put into action next April, according to The Japan Times. But, there is still concern over whether it will create a change in the tradition of overworking.

There were significant effects of the four-day work week, such as reducing energy costs and improving productivity, Microsoft reported. This is attributed to “less operating time” and how “sales per employee rose by 40%” since the past year. Employees also seem to view the new workstyle positively. 

Among the employees who were involved with the program, “94% said they liked the experiment and 92% said they would welcome the four-day work week policy,” according to responses gathered by Microsoft. But, Microsoft also mentioned that there was some confusion about the new schedule, as well as concerns about the negative impacts on customer service.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has mentioned that it does not currently have a plan that mirrors Japan’s for the United States, but they said they would “conduct another work-like challenge program this winter.”

In spite of the mostly positives that emerged from Microsoft’s plan in Japan, across the other side of the world in London, there was an issue that arose from the 4-day work week plan. The Wellcome Trust, a science research foundation, had difficulty initiating the implementation of the shorter timeframe, due to concerns that “work could have become harder for employees in back office and support functions” and the negative impacts of “compressing work,” according to The Guardian. On the other hand, in 2018, a small company in New Zealand has found significantly-improved productivity after implementing the four-day work week. 

This suggests that the four-day work week policy can be effective to certain kinds of companies that have a more specific type of employment, and further research needs to be done in order to maximize the schedule’s effectiveness. Then, many different kinds of companies will be able to utilize its benefits. 

Compared to European efforts, the United States has been more hesitant towards the change. Some companies, such as Shake Shack, have been encouraging the four-day work week, but in general there have not been many steps taken to enforce this schedule. 

Concerns have been raised about “unintended consequences for workers,” such as “cutting their pay through shorter hours,” “failing to keep up with the competition” and “hurting employment by increasing the cost of labor,” according to The Washington Post.

Although the four-day work week seems to hold a lot of promise for workers who are unable to balance their work lives, the United States would need to wait longer to make sure that there will definitely be a successful transition from a five-day to a four-day schedule.

Hopefully, these implements will spark awareness of harsh working conditions, in order to benefit people who are stuck within the grueling cycle of a strenuous work-life.