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Published: Nov 05, 2019 3 min read
Busy office workers
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Slide this research under your CEO’s office door: Less time on the clock really can boost productivity.

Microsoft Japan found after a month-long trial that a four-day workweek increased employee productivity by nearly 40%. The experiment “suggests it might be applicable at scale, and even in one of the world’s most notoriously ‘workaholic’ cultures,” reports Quartz.

Microsoft Japan ran the trial in August, closing down every Friday and giving employees paid time off. The company measured productivity by looking at sales per employee and comparing the August 2019 numbers, when everyone enjoyed three-day weekends, to the same month in 2018.

The company encouraged employees to use other strategies to improve output alongside the four-day workweek. At work, employees were encouraged to limit the number and length of meetings, and on their day off, they were encouraged to volunteer, learn, or just rest, according to a translation of a company blog.

The Microsoft Japan results are the latest in a small but growing field of research and surveys that suggest more flexible workweeks can benefit both employees and companies. A German tech firm recently found that employees felt less overworked but still hit their goals with a five-hour workday.

In fact, according to survey of 3,000 workers across North America, Europe Australia, and India, nearly half of workers think they could do their jobs in less than five hour a day if they could work uninterrupted

Meanwhile, a New Zealand company made its four-day workweek permanent after a successful 8-week trial. The company found an additional paid day off each week increased employees’ engagement and reduced their stress levels, while job performance remained steady.

Not every experiment has been a success, sadly. A decade ago, Utah put all of its state workers on a four-day workweek in hopes of reducing overhead costs and conserving energy. Employees still worked 40 hours a week, though. Two years later, state legislators reversed the plan. Government workers were happy with it. But the savings promised with a four-day workweek never materialized and the public complained about not having access to state offices on Fridays.

Don't fret based on Utah's experience alone, though. Flexible work schedules have become, at least anecdotally, far more common in 2019 than they were in 2008. And there's a growing push from younger employees for more work-life balance.

Don’t want to wait for your company to institute an office-wide four-day workweek? Here’s some advice on how to make the dream a reality.