The four-day workweek: A closer look

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Workers at Microsoft Japan this summer enjoyed a four-day workweek as part of a project examining work-life balance and its effect on productivity. The tech giant last month released a report saying the experiment resulted in a 40 percent increase in productivity.

As part of Microsoft Japan’s “Work-Life Choice Challenge,” the company closed its offices every Friday in August with full-time employees still receiving their normal five-day paychecks. The program aimed to improve productivity and creativity among workers.

Here are the key results of the program, according to the company’s report:

  • A 39.9% increase in productivity compared with August 2018
  • A 23.1% reduction in energy consumption compared with August 2016
  • A 58.7% reduction in number of pages printed compared with August 2016

The company also reduced the time spent in meetings by implementing a 30-minute limit and encouraging remote communication.

Microsoft Japan says it plans on holding another trial in the winter.

This isn’t the first time the four-day workweek has made international headlines. Last year, New Zealand trust company Perpetual Guardian trialed a four-day workweek and concluded it an unmitigated success.

As a result of the shorter workweek, 78 percent of employees felt they were able to manage a work-life balance, compared with 54 percent before the trial, according to the company. Workers also reported lower stress levels and greater overall life satisfaction.

Perpetual Guardian has since adopted the four-day workweek full time.

Why the four-day workweek sounds so appealing

A 2018 Gallup survey of American workers found that about two-thirds of full-time employees experience burnout on the job.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in May officially classified burnout as a clinical syndrome resulting from “chronic workplace stress.” According to the WHO, burnout is characterized by:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feeling of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Having a day added to the weekend may sound appealing to Americans because the US is the only major developed country that doesn’t guarantee paid-time off for workers—many other countries require that workers get at least 20 days of paid leave per year. Further, the US does not require employers to provide meal or break periods for their employees.

Americans are putting in more hours

Many American workers are putting in more hours to earn enough income. Last year, the average full-time American employee (59 percent of which are paid on an hourly basis) worked 44 hours a week, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Additionally, nearly one-third of working Americans are putting hours into the gig economy in order to make ends meet and increase savings, according to a 2019 Bankrate survey. Respondents said they spent an average of 12 hours per week completing tasks related to their side hustle.

The reality is that most Americans would need to see an increase in hourly pay before they could justify eliminating a day from their workweek.

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