Four Day Workweeks – Good for Production, but Good for a Public Unionized Workforce?

The results of a month-long shortened workweek experiment at the Microsoft Japan offices were recently released.  For the summer, all employees’ schedules were reduced to four days per week, but employees were not required to work longer hours during their on-duty days, and did not have to supplement their time with vacation in order to bring home a full paycheck.  Essentially, employees were working 80% time for 100% of their pay.  The results of the experiment were astounding. 

As far as productivity goes, the company experienced a 40% increase in worker production; far eclipsing the 20% of the workweek employees were missing.  In addition, the company’s electricity costs fell 23%, due to its facility being closed one extra day, and employees printed nearly 60% fewer pages than other months. 

One of the biggest reasons for the dramatic increase in productivity: fewer meetings!  Meeting durations were cut from an average of 60 minutes to 30 minutes, and the company did not allow multiple members from the same team to attend the same meeting.  Rather, employees were encouraged to use collaborative chat channels and chain e-mails. 

Not surprisingly, employees in the work-focused Japan were overjoyed by the change in schedule and appreciated the seismic shift in work-life balance, and the company has plans to re-implement the plan this coming Winter. 

The results of this experiment are not isolated, either.  Companies in other countries, including the U.S., have experimented with a reduced workweek and experienced greater productivity from their employees as well. 

With results such as this, companies around the world need to at least consider making similar changes for their workforce.  Who in the business world hasn’t been to an hour-an-a-half meeting that could have been resolved through one e-mail?

There are obvious limits to types of businesses that can see increased production from a reduced workweek.  The service industry will most likely not see increased profits by reducing hours.  However, there are many occupations within the professional, manufacturing, and even public sectors that could benefit from reducing the workweeks employees in effort to increase production. 

However, the public sector presents some obvious challenges, especially within a public unionized environment.  Employees work at negotiated wages for negotiated workweeks in order to perform services paid for by taxpayers.  As such, if you are going to make any changes to those terms and conditions they need to be negotiated. 

The more important, and far more difficult part of attempting a change such as this, is convincing elected officials, as well as John Q. Public, that by reducing the workweek for employees, and paying them the same rate, you will actually be increasing productivity.  It takes total buy-in from supervisors, employees, and elected officials to make something like this work, and if anyone is not on-board with achieving the desired results, the operation can fall apart pretty quickly. 

We, at the Wiley Law Office, are driven toward helping you get the most out of your workforce, giving you the tools to do so.  If you are interested in creating a different work-life balance for your employees, contact the Wiley Law Office, for legal advice that works.