MIT Sloan Executive Education Blog

Is a four-day workweek the answer to work-life balance AND productivity?

four-day workweek

In an ideal world of work, employees would put in fewer hours and companies would benefit from optimal productivity. It’s easy to assume those two ambitions are at odds, but recent news out of Microsoft Japan reveals that work-life balance—in particular a four-day workweek—can actually spur productivity, among other benefits.

This schedule is what MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer and productivity guru Robert Pozen refers to as a "pure" four-day workweek, as opposed to split shift or an overlap setup. In his book, Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours, and his two-day productivity course at MIT Sloan Executive Education, Pozen makes the point that “using hours as a proxy for productivity is really crazy.” He says that contribution of knowledge workers should be measured by what they accomplish and the value they create, not by how long their day or week is.

After experimenting with a four day on, three day off schedule over the summer, Microsoft Japan reported a 40% increase in worker productivity. During that time, employees received their normal, five-day paycheck. Encouraged by the results, the company plans to hold a similar trial this year.

While it makes sense that happier, well-rested employees work harder, there's much more to the boost in productivity, says MIT Sloan Professor Erin L. Kelly.Kelly told Fortune, "The four-day work week becomes a prompt that encourages employees and managers to look at how they are working, to try to find smarter ways to get the job done, while also reclaiming some time for their own goals.”

One such strategy includes reducing meeting times. To accomplish this, Pozen suggests having an agenda and sending meeting materials out in advance, putting the kibosh on PowerPoint presentations, and ending with ways to move forward. “Everybody should know what was decided and the next steps,” he says.

In a blog post announcing their four-day plan, Microsoft Japan discouraged meetings that ran longer than an hour or tied up multiple people from the same team. The Microsoft division also urged people to use collaborative chat channels rather than emails and meetings.

It is also worth noting that Microsoft Japan says it became more efficient in several areas, including lower electricity costs, which fell by 23%. And they printed nearly 60% fewer pages.

While a four-day workweek isn’t for every company or industry, most can benefit from a serious conversation about workplace burnout, schedule flexibility, and measures to cut meetings or tasks that are not really critical to the central work.

Learn more tips for productivity in Robert Pozen’s two-day program, Maximizing Your Personal Productivity: How to Become an Efficient and Effective Executive.

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