MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Microsoft tried a radical experiment - turning off computers and telling staffers to take Fridays off. This was a division of Microsoft in Japan. And this past August, it rolled out an experiment; abandoned the usual five-day workweek. Work four days instead of five. Well, guess what? The company says the result was a big spike in productivity. Joining me to talk about it is NPR's Bill Chappell.
BILL CHAPPELL, BYLINE: Hello.
KELLY: How did this work exactly?
CHAPPELL: Well, Microsoft's division in Japan gave about 2,300 employees every Friday off last August. The company says its productivity went up 40%.
KELLY: Forty percent for working one fewer day - OK, go on.
CHAPPELL: And electricity costs fell by 23%. So they saw gains in a lot of different ways - efficiency and productivity.
KELLY: And they tried some other things. What else were they doing to make this work?
CHAPPELL: They kind of went on a time diet. They said all the meetings have to be shorter. They need to be 30 minutes not an hour. No meetings should have more than five employees. And they actually said people should get in touch with each other directly and not use what they called wasteful emails and meetings.
KELLY: All right, I'm loving this so far. I'm abandoning journalistic neutrality (laughter).
CHAPPELL: (Laughter) Yes, right.
KELLY: I'm in. Are they going to roll this out on a wider basis?
CHAPPELL: Well, when I asked Microsoft about that, a spokesperson got back and said, you know, this is a pilot project, not to get too excited and for Microsoft employees not to get too excited. They said they are interested in some of these changes, but it's still at the pilot phase.
KELLY: What is the takeaway for other workplaces?
CHAPPELL: You know, I talked to workplace analyst Dan Schawbel. And he says for the time being in the U.S., employees are more likely to focus on a perk that we all might know more about. It's flexibility in their schedules.
DAN SCHAWBEL: Younger people actually choose work flexibility over health care coverage, even though that expense in America is pretty high.
KELLY: So, Bill, what is the downside to this? Why shouldn't every company be trying this?
CHAPPELL: Well, I mean, you could say they - maybe they should try it, but there are huge cultural barriers to this. I mean, in Japan and in the U.S., where people are known for their really intense workplace culture of putting in a lot of hours, the idea of idling people for an extra day just might not be a good look. When Dan Schawbel spoke to some HR department heads recently at a conference, he said his only real pushback that he heard was people saying, you know, what if people don't take the same day off?
KELLY: About predictability and being able to reach your co-workers.
KELLY: Are there other places, though, experimenting with ideas along these lines?
CHAPPELL: Well, I mean, this made big news last year when a company in New Zealand called Perpetual Guardian saw their productivity go up 20% when they tried a trial like this. And in the U.K., the Labor Party just recently made the 40 workweek part of its official platform. So I mean, backers are saying the workweek had been shrinking since the 1860s. The process, they note, stopped in the 1970s. And workers are trying to shake things up now, it seems like.
KELLY: All right, thank you so much, Bill.
KELLY: NPR's Bill Chappell with news of a four-day workweek that boosted productivity. Watch this space.
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