Labor productivity at Microsoft Japan jumped almost 40 percent in August this year – thanks to an initiative that saw all workers take a three day weekend… for the entire month. As part of the ‘Work-Life Choice Challenge’, offices were closed for five Fridays in August, with some 2300 employees taking special paid leave. Results from a study – commissioned and released by the company this week – showed a massive 39.9 percent jump in workers’ productivity over time. Microsoft measured this by the number of sales made, divided by the total number of employees. On top of taking Fridays, the results showed workers were also more inclined to take their already-provided paid vacation leave.

The company says electricity consumption dropped some 23 percent, compared to the same time the previous year, while the number of pages printed dropped nearly 60 percent. Following the relative success of the trial, Microsoft says it’s now going to implement a ‘winter’ version. And in what might come as a welcome finding for anyone that should find themselves in such a workplace environment… the limited office hours meant reduced numbers of face-to-face meetings.

Karoshi translates to English as ‘death from overwork’. In the 2017 financial year, 190 people officially died or attempted suicide due to karoshi. Makoto Iwahashi works for a Japanese labor NGO, POSSE. When The Feed met him in 2018, he said calls to the group’s hotline had jumped from a few hundred in 2006 to 5000 that year. One of the main issues called about was overwork. The death of 24-year-old Matsuri Takahashi in 2015 forced the Japanese government to reassess labor laws in the country.

Matsuri took her own life on Christmas Day. In the month leading up to her death, she’d worked more than 100 hours of overtime. In July 2018, Japan introduced legislation that capped overtime at 100 extra hours a month. That number is still 20 hours more than what the government itself says is at risk of ‘karoshi’ – and for people like Makoto, that’s not enough real change.


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