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Microsoft Japan trialed a four day week and saw a 40% increase in productivity

I’m keen to see four day working weeks crop up in the headlines more often, so I’m doubly pleased Microsoft Japan have given me an excuse to write one. They conducted an experiment over the summer where employees were granted special paid leave on five sequential Fridays, who then reported greater happiness while the company reported a 40% increase in productivity. Everybody won, in other words, especially considering the employees reportedly worked no additional hours during their blessedly shorter weeks.

Of course the idea isn’t going to work for literally every employee in every industry, but this is one of many experiments that have successfully demonstrated the potential benefits of working less. Betcha can’t guess which British political party is currently pushing for the idea.

Microsoft Japan’s report (also via the Guardian) talks about improving efficiency by shortening meetings and in some cases relying on instant messages instead. I’ve no doubt greater motivation also played its part too, especially considering the company also gave employees the equivalent of $950 to subsidise family vacations. 92% of employees said they preferred the shorter week.

Microsoft Japan are planning another iteration of the trial this winter, though that won’t involve granting paid leave.

The Guardian points to numerous experiments with similar results. According to a 2018 survey of 3,000 employees by the Workforce Institute at Kronos, more than half of full-time workers reckon they could do their job in five hours a day.

That survey’s well worth checking out, partly because it’s got some interesting stuff about differing worldwide attitudes to working hours, and partly because the answers suggest which jobs would be least disrupted by a shift. That said, I think it’s important to recognise how big a difference feeling happier and more refreshed could at least potentially make to productivity in any job – and, going further, that the ultimate aim of work should be to facilitate happiness anyway. Presuming a fairer distribution of wealth, wouldn’t the world be a better place even if productivity decreased while happiness shot up?

This is getting grandiose and I don’t have the proper space to justify that, so I’m going to go ahead and link to Bertrand Russel’s essay “In Praise Of Idleness” in the hope he’ll do that for me. His core idea that our duty to work goes no further than in some sense producing more than we consume strikes me as pretty much self-evident, and should be the starting point for discussing the practicalities of working less rather than dismissing those obstacles as insurmountable.

I’m excited to see my country’s Labour party begin to align themselves with Russell’s school of thought.

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Matt Cox

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Matt is the founding member of RPS's youth contingent. He's played more games of Dota than you've had hot dinners.

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