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Work Smarter Not Harder: Fewer Hours Lead to Increased Productivity

A growing body of evidence indicates reduced working hours lead to higher productivity. A recent trial in Japan reduced the working week by 20% which resulted in a 40% increase in productivity and a reduction in running costs. This comes after a similar trial in New Zealand where workers reported experiencing a better work-life balance.

Productivity Gains and Reductions in Costs

Microsoft Japan conducted a month-long experiment as part of their “Work Life Choice Challenge 2019 Summer.” To promote productivity and creativity employees were paid for a five-day week but had Fridays off during August. Financial assistance was offered for expenses related to self-development, family travel and activities contributing to society.

The  2,300 office workers were asked to communicate using an online chat tool instead of meetings and emails. Essential meetings were capped at 5 participants and 30 minutes duration. This resulted in a 40% increase in sales per worker despite the 20% reduction in hours. There was also a decrease of 59% in paper use (printing and copying) and 23% in electricity consumption compared to the same period last year. Overtime hours were kept the same as usual. Microsoft Japan does not plan to introduce a regular 4-day week but may implement it occasionally as 92% of employees view the scheme positively.

A Better Work-Life Balance

An eight-week study was conducted at Perpetual Guardian, a NZ estate planning firm, last year. Monitored by academics from the University of Auckland, results revealed a maintenance of productivity and an increase in wellbeing. The 240 staff reported on stress and work-life balance before and after the study; stress levels fell from 45% to 38%, whilst work-life balance increased from 54% to 78%.

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