Microsoft Japan switched to four-day workweek — sales skyrocketed 40%

Maybe it's time to show this report your employer?

Microsoft Japan switched to four-day workweek — sales skyrocketed 40%
SOPA Images / Getty
  • Microsoft Japan recently completed its experimental "Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019" program.
  • The program involved giving employees five consecutive Fridays off, cutting the duration of meetings, and encouraging online chats instead of face-to-face ones.
  • Some research echoes Microsoft Japan's recent report, suggesting that cutting the workweek can boost productivity.


What's one way for a tech company to boost sales, increase employee satisfaction and cut overhead costs? Switch to a four-day workweek.

That's the takeaway of a new report from Microsoft Japan, which recently wrapped up its experimental "Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019." The experiment involved giving employees five consecutive Fridays off with pay, limiting meetings to 30 minutes or fewer, and encouraging online messaging as opposed to face-to-face chats.

In addition, some employees worked three-day weeks and were allowed to work remotely. The company also provided financial assistance to employees for "expenses related to self-development, family travel expenses, social contribution activities, etc."

In the new report, Microsoft Japan compared data on sales performance and other metrics from this summer to the same months last year. Compared to August 2018, the results showed:

  • Number of pages printed in August 2019: -58.7%
  • Rise in sales per employees in August 2019: +39.9%
  • Amount of "30 minute meetings" in August 2019: +46%

'Karoshi' and karojisatsu'

About 92 percent of employees said they liked switching to the four-day workweek. That's perhaps unsurprising for a company based in Japan, where the severe work culture requires many people to work overtime for little to no extra pay, sometimes leaving them dangerously exhausted. In fact, being overworked to death — by stroke, heart attack, etc. — is common enough that the Japanese have a word for it: karoshi. There's also a word for workers who commit suicide due to work-related stress: karojisatsu.

Stories of karoshi and karojisatsu — such as a 31-year-old journalist who logged 159 hours of overtime in the month before she died of heart failure — have encouraged Japan to pass laws promoting work-life balance, including caps on overtime hours. Still, critics of Japan's work culture argue the regulations — some of which allow employees to work 100 hours of overtime in a month — don't go far enough.

Work-life balance

But, like Microsoft Japan, some companies have taken matters into their own hands, passing strange policies to discourage overwork, such as making employees wear purple "embarrassment capes" if they work too late, or flying music-playing drones around the office to announce it's time to leave.

More broadly, research suggests that cutting the workweek and making schedules more flexible can boost productivity and employee satisfaction. The Harvard Business Review, for example, reported that a Chinese travel agency saw a 13-percent increase in productivity when it allowed call center employees to work remotely. In New Zealand, one company permanently switched to a four-day workweek in 2018, leading to a 24-percent productivity increase.

Richard Branson's utopian vision of the workweek

To some business leaders, switching to a less intensive workweek is inevitable, as Virgin Group founder Richard Branson wrote in a 2018 blog post:

"The idea of working five days a week with two day weekends and a few weeks of holiday each year has become ingrained in society. But it wasn't always the case, and it won't be in the future. Could people eventually take three and even four day weekends? Certainly. Will job-sharing increase? I think so. People will need to be paid the same or even more for working less time, so they can afford more leisure time. That's going to be a difficult balancing act to get right, but it can be done. If it works for individuals and works for businesses, everyone would want to spend more time with their loved ones, more time exploring their passions, more time seeing the world outside of an office and more time getting healthy and fit."

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A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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