The company introduced a program this summer in Japan called the "Work Life Choice Challenge", which closed its offices every Friday in August and gave all employees an extra day off each week.
The results were promising: While the time spent on the job was cut dramatically, productivity – measured by sales per employee – increased by almost 40% compared to the same period last year, the company said in a statement last week.
In addition to reducing working hours, managers encouraged staff to cut down their time spent on meetings and respond to emails.
They suggested that the meetings should not last longer than 30 minutes. Employees were also encouraged to cut down on meetings altogether by using an online messaging app (Microsoft, of course).
The effects were widespread. More than 90% of Microsoft's 2,280 employees in Japan later said they were affected by the new measures, according to the company.
By closing earlier each week, the company could also save on other resources, such as electricity.
The initiative is timely. Japan has long struggled with a bleak ̵
1; and in some cases fatal – culture of overtime. The problem is so serious, the country has even named it: karoshi
means death by overworking from stress-induced illnesses or severe depression.
The problem attracted international attention in 2015, when an employee of Japanese advertising giant Dentsu committed suicide on Christmas Day. Tokyo officials later said employees had worked large amounts of overtime.
Two years later, a reporter died at a Japanese broadcaster after working to punish long hours. Her employer said she had opened 159 hours overtime the month before her death.
This has led companies to start searching for solutions. Some companies have begun offering more flexibility to employees, and the government has launched a campaign called "Premium Friday", which encourages workers to leave early every last Friday of the month.
Microsoft, for its part, states that they will conduct a new experiment in Japan later this year. It plans to ask employees to come up with new measures to improve work-life balance and efficiency, and will also ask other companies to participate in the initiative.