The tech giant trialled a progressive working structure. Picture: AP Photo/Michel Euler
The tech giant trialled a progressive working structure. Picture: AP Photo/Michel Euler

Microsoft’s 4-day working week stuns

Modern Japan is synonymous with its population struggling in a culture of extreme workloads, where office workers are known to sleep in the streets out of pure exhaustion.

It has also been criticised in the past for its lack of gender diversity in senior roles with just 4.1 per cent of executive positions at publicly listed companies being occupied by women.

So it may come as a surprise that a Japan-based Microsoft workplace has trialled a progressive four-day working week with huge success.

The tech giant recorded a boost in productivity levels by 40 per cent when it cut its work hours as part of a focus to promote a healthier work-life balance.

The firm closed its doors on Fridays, giving the 2300 employees three-day weekends as part of the Work Life Choice Challenge in August.

Over that period the sales per employee surged 39.9 per cent compared with the corresponding period in 2018, according to CNBC.

Microsoft credited the jump in productivity to capping meetings at 30 minutes and increasing remote conferences.

The tech company also made significant savings by turning the lights off for an extra day, paying 23 per cent less for electricity, and nearly 60 per cent less pages were printed.

Microsoft isn't the first company to reap the benefits of the extreme change to working hours.

Last year in July, Australian digital marketing company Versa trialled an employment initiative that allowed employees to take every Wednesday off work - provided they could get all their work done in four days instead of five.

Versa CEO Kath Blackham, who started the agency 10 years ago, told it came out of wanting to give employees a set day to honour their personal commitments and have better mental wellbeing.

"We already offered a lot of flexibility, so everyone at Versa was working under different arrangements," she said. "But it got to the point where you couldn't book a meeting because you couldn't get everybody together at the same time.

"I wanted to give people the flexibility but allowing everyone to have their own (day off) didn't work for us.

"I also had a couple of recent graduates who were very young and were talking about how they were going to go part-time. I figured, if that's the case that people are just expecting that now, I need to come up with a solution."

Ms Blackham said the company deliberately took the midweek day off as opposed to extending the weekend to allow staff to focus on their mental health.

"We're a very young workforce. A lot of the guys that work at Versa are in their 20s, and I just felt like if I gave everyone a three-day weekend it would encourage them to really go large over the weekend.

"The whole idea of a four-day week is to give people the opportunity to get healthy again and catch up on sleep and exercise.

"These days we talk about the classic sickie - it's also called a mental health day."

Ms Blackham says profit had almost tripled since the Wednesday-off rule came in, and Versa's revenue had grown by 46 per cent in that time.

Staff are healthier, happier, and less likely to take sick days or resign.

While she acknowledges it may not suit every trade or company, Ms Blackham hopes the Wednesday-off model will help encourage other bosses to re-examine their schedules.

"I'm hoping other companies will look at this and stop and think about different ways they can implement something similar that allows staff to be happier and more efficient," she said. "I strongly believe the workforce is changing, and I think in 20 years, the 9-5 day will be a thing of the past."

- additional reporting from Gavin Fernando

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