"In the announcement dated October 31, one of the listed "improvements" from the 2019 Summer Work-Life Choice Challenge was an increase of 39.9% in labor productivity (sales revenue per employee) in August 2019 compared to August 2018, with a graph below.
"While this number is factual, it is not solely the result of this challenge, and was achieved due to a number of different factors.
"To avoid misunderstanding, we have removed that claim from the above summary of the direct effects of the challenge."
> They suggested that meetings should last no longer than 30 minutes. Employees were also encouraged to cut down on meetings altogether by using an online messaging app (Microsoft’s, of course).
If I am told I am part of an experiment, I would do my best to make it a success and make my 3-day weekend permanent :)
(Yes, the Hawthorne Effect is more general than the specific case here where people want to influence the outcome in a particular way, but it's still cool that this is known to be a thing)
And, yes, I say this as someone who would rather have a four day workweek.
How surprising that something is used as a single variable explanation by a PR department. I for sure have never seen that before. Glad to know they backtracked on that, but it's too late since the news has been out there already for a long time and this CNN article perpetuates it.
I remember working on a non-profit that provided philanthropy advice to millionaires. Once we hosted a small conference and we ran a very informal poll about the said millionaires satisfaction with their own philanthropy.
The result was something like 32 out of 40 wanted to donate more money annually than what they were currently donating (as opposed with “satisfied” with the amount or wanted to “donate less”).
We mentioned the result to a journalist covering the event and of course the newspaper headline was ”80% of Brazilian millionaires want to donate more”. No mention that it was a poll during the event with only 40 people that were highly selected to people wanting to donate more (the purpose of the event was teach how to donate well). On the contrary, someone reading would have the impression that our organization funded a well-done proper research covering a significant sample of all millionaires in Brazil.
That was not our PR, that misleading headline was solely the journalist creation. The event itself was pretty boring, so they went with that headline to justify their time investment in covering it I think.
PR specifically knows how the press reacts and tailors their messages accordingly. Also, there's a lot of cross-pollination between people working for PR and people who work in the press.
That we don't know.
> how do you know that keeping everything the same and moving to a 4-day week wouldn't have a negative/neutral effect?
I don't know why we'd want to keep everything the same. What we do know here at least is that a four day work week implemented as it was in the experiment did not result in negative or neutral effects. And that's already quite the positive outcome which means more experimentation is mandated as it seems there's hope for four day work week being practical and realistically implemented by companies without hurting their output.
We don't know that, though. Maybe sales would've increase 10x with a 5-day work week and the 4-day week hurt significantly.
Basically, what would you have said prior to knowing about this experiment if I asked you: "What do you think will happen if we do this experiment to productivity?"
I think a lot of people would have said probably you'll see a decrease. But instead we saw a 40% increase.
Now I'm assuming Microsoft has YoY data, so I don't know if 40% yearly increase is the norm, above the norm or below and that be interesting to know.
But still, this 40% increase is surprising to what I think I would have guessed and assume a lot others would have too, that you'd see a decrease or maybe neutral.
So I'm not saying it tells us 4 day work week is better then 5 or 6 or 7. But it seems like a viable model that still allows for quite a bit of productive growth. And that's already a good start for it, one I'm a little surprised about.
Cause it means that possibly time worked has minimal impact on productivity, at least within a 1 day margin. It seems other factors might be more important, maybe simply strategic decisions, cutting out of time wastes like useless meetings or discussions, etc.
You don’t know whether you got that extra 40% by getting 20% from the change to a 4-day week and 20% from the other changes. Or -20% from the 4-day week and +60% from other changes. Or any other combination.
Which is why the parent comment explicitly said "implemented as it was in the experiment".
We don't know what it does on its own, but we know that this combo can be applied to similar jobs.
(Well not 'know' for sure after a single experiment but it's useful evidence.)
To actually find out whether a 4-day week is better than a 5-day week.
Now sure you could say, all productivity boost were due to other process changes and the benefits of this boost should not go to employees, but if you wanted to be more attractive to talent, that be a good benefit, and knowing that your business wouldn't be affected compared to how it's doing currently is the first step to consider this benefit as a viable one.
With a company like Microsoft that sits on a monopoly? They could fire all their staff and still sell licenses just fine.
To make the matter worse the night when everything was fixed, I was on my way home at 3:30am and I got a speeding ticket for going 60mph over the limit. I fell asleep behind the wheel, thank God I'm still alive.
I left that team immediately, and exactly one year has passed and they haven't been able to find another person to replace me but what bothers me is they promoted that manager because I left and he got all the credit.
In summary, I will never ever work over 40 hours for any company.
I know a good number of people like these, and sadly they get promoted much quicker than everyone else. Its an archetype that survives and thrives in the corporate setting. The thing about this personality type is that they are incapable to seeing truths that will damage their ego in such a way that reveals themselves to be flawed or incorrect. To clarify, these people live by lies of self-deception - telling the "truth" to how they see the world, but clearly the world they speak from is false.
Best thing to do when you see this is to just leave. You wont get credit for anything good you did, you'll be scapegoated for everything that went wrong, and anything good that happens is because of them. The number one rule when dealing with these personality types is that they they are right even when they are unquestionably wrong, and that is one ship no self respecting person should be on.
Even if anyone can, please don't (exception applies). Especially if you're a developer, 40+ hour a week will burn you out fast.
In general I would say, don't generalize.
If you are with a good company and in a great team, you might want to make exceptions again to succeed as a team.
(exceptions as in at critical times, family would still come first)
My previous team would consistently burn through people after setting irrational deadlines, promise to be better with planning next quarter except it would be just the same as the previous. I left. I've heard they're doing better now but it took pretty much everyone to leave (except some super senior people who are probably paid their weight in gold every month) for management to see it as a problem. And worse, it wasn't the team managers who saw it as a problem but the HR who were concerned about bad retention in this team.
In my current team, I've also had crunches and I worked until 1AM on some ocassions, but after the crunch my manager or team lead would just reach out and say 'take it easy now for a couple of days and no need to file PTO' and they'd actually try to amend the planning next time. What a difference it makes.
Is sales per employee really an appropriate proxy for 'productivity'? The original report is entirely in Japanese, so I'm not really sure exactly how they are calculating productivity... is this a sales office?
While this number is factual, it is not solely the result of this challenge, and was achieved due to a number of different factors.
To avoid misunderstanding, we have removed that claim from the above summary of the direct effects of the challenge."
Edit to add:
>is this a sales office?
"Every Friday in August 2019 was designated an office holiday. Permanent employees received special leave for those days, and all of the offices were closed."
Apparently it worked out really well. Either similar or improved output. However after a management changeover things went back to as before. It's a cultural hurdle, sounds like.
Long hours in an office setting promote procrastination. Why do something now when you are going to be here at 8PM anyway and will need something to occupy your time?
Once you stop procrastinating, because you know you can't be at work late, then you build up work inertia. This is probably where all the efficiency gains are.
That seems easy, set an alarm on 4.30 or 4.45 as a warning, then add a scheduler / cron job to shutdown at 5.
However from my experience, I tend to slack if my tasks aren't urgent, and only productive for 4 hours a day (2 before lunch and 2 after).
IMO it's fine since it feels more like marathon than sprints. If I want to be more productive, I need to raise each tasks's sense of urgency.
Beyond a certain point you really aren't achieving anything.
These days I run my own place, but the pressure to work longer hours is due to so much needing to get done that can't be completed in 8 hour days. Self-inflicted pressure is way worse because I can't get up and leave it behind.
AFAIK, the big cultural pressure in Japan is specifically leaving before your boss does.
Are there any follow ups to the "Finland gave everyone living wage regardless of their employment and the productivity doubled" or "Denmark switched to 3 days a week and the profits actually increased" sort of stories?
The article is from 2019, did Microsoft actually recouped the returns that %40 increase from the 4-day workweek brings?
I'm getting numbed down to these stories, just like the ads about this one weird trick that makes you rich or helps you to be instantly liked by all the men/women.
Looks like it took about 30 years to get the five day workweek from testing to full deployment, with some industries getting it done in 20. But my understanding was that that was a moral crusade. Leaving money on the table while making people's lives worse feels like the kind of thing that should correct more quickly.
I have friends all over MSFT (at their main Redmond HQ campus, not remote offices), and no one outside of Azure works over 40/week. The occasional overtimes/crunches happen so infrequently, they could count the number of those days per year on one hand. And even an average workweek frequently falls under 40/week (all engineering btw, cannot comment on other positions like PM or design).
I honestly am baffled by your info, because Microsoft definitely has a reputation here for being one of the more "relaxed" tech companies. In fact, that's one of the biggest reasons I am staying, because I could definitely make noticeably more by switching to another tech giant, but I don't want to lose my work-life balance, as it isn't easy to find at all.
But, at the end of the year you were calibrated against all of your peers and WLB was not a criteria that mattered. If you just put in your 40 hours you probably wouldn't get fired, but you definitely were not going to be promoted when compared to the people cranking out more work per week. There was a big divide with the younger, fresher folks working all the time (and making their work very visible).
Once you were a senior dev you kind of had a choice to make--if you wanted to keep a high 'promotional velocity' you had to keep working >40 hour weeks or be left in the dust. If you didn't want to climb that ladder then it was totally fine but you would never be promoted beyond another level or two. I knew folks who were senior devs for 10, 15, or even more years. In contrast the partners/high performers were all regularly getting promotions every 2 years or less and absolutely none of them I knew worked less than 60-80 hours a week. To get promoted up to principal and beyond levels required having a consistent history of promotions every couple years--there was no way to really pause or slow down without stopping your entire career development.
From my friends still left there I don't think much has changed over the years. It's a somewhat subtle system where managers and HR can proudly point to never requiring people to work crunch time. They can trot out plenty of 10 year senior engineers to give quotes and talk about how it's so great to just work 40 hour weeks. But at the end of the day if you want to be successful and rise up the ranks at MS, you are going to be working all the time, period (at least until you reach partner level).
But everything is relative to which org and even which team your on. Windows vs Office are going to be completely different as will Azure.
Work life balance doesn’t mean 50-50. The balance is a personal decision and can even change based on life and career stage. Organizations with good WLB enable employees to make that tradeoff and accommodate a wide range of choices.
e: Thought this was outside of Azure, but I was wrong
For example, Amazon is known to be a brutal meatgrinder for engineers, and most of the experiences I've heard of from people I know irl support that assertion. That reputation isn't a secret to absolutely anyone. However, there are definitely those rare few teams at Amazon that are actually quite nice about work-life balance and are extremely functional, without any usual bs you would expect from an average Amazon team. But those teams are absolutely an exception.
Is your SO on Xbox by any chance? Not asking it to invalidate what you have said, I am just genuinely curious. Plus, it would be another good datapoint for me to be aware of in the future. I was guessing Xbox because anything gaming-related is the first thing that comes to mind when I hear about insane work hours.
Seeing them WFH has been really eye-opening on how bad & micromanaging managers can get.
When I was at Amazon, on the other hand, I was usually in the office about 6:30am and would go home about 4 or 5pm. (I was new to big tech and wanted to prove myself.) The younger guys on my team were more 11am - 8pm, so I was always seen as being the guy that left early. And it showed in my relationships with my manager and skip-level, which is a big part of why I left.
So with my n=1 experience, Microsoft is significantly better with work-life balance than Amazon. I can't speak for other big tech. I know this hasn't always been the case - I've heard horror stories from earlier in the Ballmer years, but we're not in the Ballmer years anymore, thank goodness.
I'll also say that there are plenty of times where I *love* what I'm doing and actively put in lots of time because it's fun, not due to pressure to do so. But I've done that at other companies, and I know lots of people that have that passion for what they're doing.
- Getting a healthy amount of sleep or not
- Having time to eat a proper breakfast or not
- Having time to prepare dinner (vs. order out)
- Getting that evening bike ride in before dark or not
- And on and on
I can't help but feel your response to this is part of the problem. 50 hours is a lot of hours, and we shouldn't normalize it.
This was less clear to me earlier in my career. I held a similar viewpoint for awhile. As time went on, and I saw the long term impact on those around me, and eventually myself, I shifted my viewpoint greatly.
While I absolutely agree with you, my career first as a union laborer and now a construction field engineer have really jaded me to the count of hours. It can be very different across different industries.
On my current project Engineers are expected to be present to support field operations, which means starting before the craft workers to ensure everything is ready for the day (possibly as early as 0500) while still being here until 1700 like any other 'office job'; its pretty outrageous. At least when I was a laborer I was hourly.
What can be done to fight the normalization of this? For myself, I fought my way to a senior engineer position and lobbied for a larger staff. Now I not only have enough people to do the job, but we stagger our shifts out to each get around 8hr/day while ensuring full coverage for our field guys throughout their shift. I've worked to instill a culture of "hey you've been here long enough, go the fuck home" with my team. But it took too long to get to this point, and much more tooth and nail fighting than it should have to convince higher ups of the need for what they saw as 'excess staffing', even for my department which is very much production critical.
I dunno, an extra 25% over what is normally expected? What exactly is your threshold for a ticket on the Crazy Train?
I'm actually more productive because I don't spend > 1hr socializing during the day, like I did at the office and have far fewer interruptions.
Regarding deadlines, we plan our sprints and provide estimates for all tasks. Sometimes they slip but if I spend more time one day working on something, you bet your ass that I'm leaving that same amount of hours early next Friday. It's been years since I worked 40 hours in any given week.
My current commute is about 20 minutes by car, which is the longest commute I've had in almost 20 years and I really don't like that. Prior to COVID I switched to biking to work and that was much more pleasant (40 minutes of exercise beats 20 minutes of driving hands-down for me, and we have showers at work).
working for free to meet deadlines is more a problem with the deadline than it is with your working additional hours
The collective agreement for IT service sector workers (incl. software developers) in Finland is 37.5 hours per week, so it sounds pretty crazy actually.
The Japanese salaryman comes to mind 
After trying something similar I think it might be better for people like me to work really hard M-T, take a breather on W, then hit it hard R-F. Thats a very different rhythm than slugging M-T-W-R-F week after week.
I love the ignorant CNN contributors there. You can really see the full effect of people commenting about cultures they do not know or do not understand.
First, 'overwork' is not what you think. Most of work done in Japanese companies is not busy work. Long hours are often the result of excessive bureaucracy and long meetings, and the expectation that you'll go out for dinner (maybe not everyday, but regularly enough) with your peers as a form of social bonding at the end of the day (something that is not really a thing in other cultures). If you don't understand that aspect of the culture, well you don't understand anything at all really.
As for coining words. Japanese people have a coin word for everything under the sun, even mundane things that foreigners would have no expression for. It's a culture that loves making new words, new expressions, new acronyms - very much in the DNA of the Japanese language, so there's no "even coined a term for X" that remotely means anything at all. Niche phenomena also coined specific words, and it does not mean there's a massive trend going on.
You should be a lot more concerned by the number of suicides in Japan than by the number of people dying from overwork - it's not even on the same scale at all.
You...you know that's worse, right?
I don't think it matters what the work is. If you spend most of your awake hours either in the office or with your colleagues then that deprives you from resting and relaxing (and of course seeing your family, engaging in leisure activities etc.).
> You should be a lot more concerned by the number of suicides in Japan than by the number of people dying from overwork
And how many suicides in Japan are work-related?
Probably no hard statistics on this but here's something from Japan Times on karôshi:
>Over the past decade, more than 300 people each year have been awarded compensation under work-related accident insurance after suffering either heart attacks or strokes. In 2013 alone, 133 of such people died. A growing number of workers also win damages for work-induced mental problems, with the figure hitting 436 last year, including 63 who either committed or attempted suicide.
Hard to say. Since there are a lot of suicides among students and retired people too, I'm sure work is not the only problem.
Top of mind, I would say the following factors probably play a role:
- social pressure to conform
- social pressure to be successful
- depression not being very well treated in Japan
- work/school being too much in one's life compared to other things
- lack of support/encouragement - isolation
- fatalism ('you can't do anything about that') kind of belief
But even that list is too short, I feel. I think by living in Japan you grasp a little more what is at play but as I said, it's a whole package, not just a few factors.
"No point digging into this important task, it's 30 minutes before that meeting. I guess I'll kill time looking at hacker news"
"I'm exhausted from having be part of that meeting, I need 30 minutes or so to recharge before I dig into that important task."
"There's a follow up email to that meeting, I guess I should I should read it before digging into that important task"
This is me exactly. A meeting to me isn't just a 1 hour slot, that leaves me 7 hours for other things. If I have a task that takes 90 minutes of focused work, I'll have 90 minutes before that meeting where I can't work on that task. And at least 15 minutes before the meeting will be spent getting into the right mindset / catching up on what's relevant to the meeting, plus 15 minutes after to get everything in motion that was decided during the meeting itself. Also, I've started to try to do meetings only from 5 to, lasting til 5 to. e.g. if I find a slot for a meeting with someone from 10-11, I'll make the meeting 10:05 - 10:55 instead of the full hour. Really helps when the rest of the day is packed with meetings as well.
If I were a creative, composing music, the relationship is not so linear. Your creative output may significantly benefit from more time off.
The optimum number of hours is really going to vary with job role.
More hours will almost always look better to management regardless of output. Even if it was possible to evaluated solely on the quantity of quality output (we still have the socks vs creative problem) management will still tend to focus on "lost" productively.
If person A is able to produce as much as person B but in half the time then management will tend to think person A should be able to product as twice as much in the same amount of time as person B! Person A isn't being a team player!
The idea we can jump from 40, to another arbitrary number for everyone, seems misguided to me.
I remember it being heavily discussed back then:
https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21433710 (210 comments)
https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21441689 (242 comments)
I'm always excited to see more reason for us to shorten our working hours and I think it could help lots of the problems we've been or may soon be having in society!
Thanks for bringing more examples of the conversation for me to look through!
1) Hawthorne Effect when workers are aware of being observed in response to a novel change: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect
2) Difficulty and disagreement in measuring the success of a change: E.g. France has had 20+ years of the 35-hour work week and there's still debate on whether it was successful. : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/35-hour_workweek#Criticism
I say that because I think the challenge here is measuring productivity, and people are just mentally skeptical that less working hours could equal more productivity. I hope it is true, but I too feel like really?
So maybe a counter data-point could make things clearer. If the 6 day experiment has worse outcome, at least we'd start to suspect that overworking might be detrimental to output. And that could reinforce the theory of 4 day work week.
So I think you're right. I still think people will be suspect. Like why couldn't more work be done in a 5 day week compared to a 4 day week? Why would 4 day produce the same work which result in the same sales as 5 day?
And it's hard to logically argue for or against. But if you tried a 6 day week, you could try to answer: well does more working hours result in more work with more sales output? And if not, then maybe the truth is that there's a max budget of real work per week for employees, and more work hours just go to waste. And in turn that could explain why 4 day over 5 didn't see a big change on sales output.
I’ve seen this same 4-week trial shared on every discussion of 4-day workweeks for years. It was such a small and short trial that the results look more like an outlier than a long-term trend.
If I was an employee at one of these companies and management hinted that we could have Fridays off as long as it didn’t decrease productivity during a 4-week trial, I would definitely work extra hard during those 4 weeks. I don’t know if we can extrapolate much from this short trial among sales people.
"If everyone is meant to be working fulltime, who is out there being a customer to sell to?"
Maybe society could try a 4 day & 3 day "work weeks" with people only allowed to work one or the other by Tax office enforcement?
If you could work 4 days/week but your salary would be 1/5 less would you do it?
I will tell anyone who will listen in tech to work less, learn more. If you learn the right things, your salary will likely catch up in the long run and you will be happier, healthier, and smarter. I hardly ever sleep until my alarm now.
It even has an extra bonus: I'd effectively get more than one extra week of vacation each year, because despite the number of days being the same, the one extra day a week would mean a week and a half extra off, pretty nice!
That being said, as a software engineer you're usually well above the median income for your age, so sacrificing a cut of your income for a better work life balance is a lot easier than for people who can barely support their families.
Japanese median salaries (at least for young workers) are, by all measures, relatively low.
(This is coming from someone who's been working remotely and free hours for quite a while.)