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Microsoft tried a 4-day workweek in Japan. Productivity jumped 40% (cnn.com)
348 points by heshiebee 7 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 149 comments

Posting to a top-level comment: The productivity claim has been removed from the Japanese report[0]. An erratum at the bottom of the page dated November 8, 2019 says this:

"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."

[0] https://news.microsoft.com/ja-jp/2019/10/31/191031-published...

> In addition to reducing working hours, managers urged staff to cut down on the time they spent in meetings and responding to emails.

> 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 :)

There's even a name for this: Hawthorne Effect From Wikipedia: "The Hawthorne effect refers to a type of reactivity in which individuals modify an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed."


(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)

That's not the Hawthorne effect, that's people responding to incentives.

I've wondered about this. In some limited areas, it seems like change helps keep things fresh and people off of autopilot. From that perspective, it's possible that if prolonged the results would level out.

And, yes, I say this as someone who would rather have a four day workweek.

Autopilot is nothing bad. For repeative tasks that cannot be improved with reasonable amount of ressources, you are better off in autopilot. It saves energy for critical times.

> was achieved due to a number of different factors.

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 would not blame solely company PR departments for this, often the press exaggerates claims for clicks.

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.

> I would not blame solely company PR departments for this, often the press exaggerates claims for clicks.

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.

True, that said, I think it's a good data point towards a 4 day workweek none the less. I feel most people would have predicted the outcome to be negative or hurt by the four day workweek. So we don't know if it's sufficient to increase productivity, but it clearly isn't sufficient to decrease it either. And that's already pretty promising data.

I don't think that you can make that conclusion. How do you know that a 5-day week with the other interventions still in place isn't better than a 4-day week? Or how do you know that keeping everything the same and moving to a 4-day week wouldn't have a negative/neutral effect?

> How do you know that a 5-day week with the other interventions still in place isn't better than a 4-day week?

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.

> 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.

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.

I'm saying negative or neutral to absolute growth, not to opportunity.

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.

A 40% improvement doesn't become negative just because you compare it to something else!

The contribution of the 4-day week on its own could be negative for productivity. It’s possible that without it you would have higher improvement to productivity than 40% due to the other changes in the experiment.

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.

> on its own

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.)

> I don't know why we'd want to keep everything the same.

To actually find out whether a 4-day week is better than a 5-day week.

Well, that's something we could find out. But to me the more interesting thing to find out is: is there a work process that is as good or better then the current work process in output produced yet allows me to only work 4 days.

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.

> I feel most people would have predicted the outcome to be negative

With a company like Microsoft that sits on a monopoly? They could fire all their staff and still sell licenses just fine.

I work at a financial company (200B assets) writing software to analyze bond market. When pandemic started and stock crashed, our software didn't expect such a market crash (obviously, it's called a pandemic ...), so I had to work 80+ hours to get it fixed as everyone else who worked on the application already left and the new people didn't have any clue. Fast forward to the post-mortem phase which also happened to be annual review time, my manager told me I am a toxic person and I made everything worse during the crisis.

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.

Sounds like your manager is a toxic person, who gaslights underlings, takes credit for their work, blames the worker for something they don't want to be accountable for.

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.

Thank you for understanding. Thank you!

Hey, no problem man, wish you, not necessarily luck, but wisdom into your future. Life is all about these experiences. As long as we're growing, is all that matters. Thank god you're alive.

> In summary, I will never ever work over 40 hours for any company.

Even if anyone can, please don't (exception applies). Especially if you're a developer, 40+ hour a week will burn you out fast.

I don't have any issues with 40 hours a week. But at 40 I drop it all. Knowing I have the self discipline to do that, 40 is fine. I have had the "go ahead and fire me talk" with more than one manager.

> In summary, I will never ever work over 40 hours for any company

Thank You!

"In summary, I will never ever work over 40 hours for any company."

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)

Most people mean it as a rule of thumb. If it becomes a pattern you have to put your foot down. Some people are fine with it. I'm not, and I have walked over the issue. I'll do it for a week or two but after that it's just a indicator of poor management and poor company culture. Also I avoid startups who don't pay by the hour :)

I would not consider a company or team that pushes you to work over 40 hours to be good.

Not to be it the norm. But at critical times .. I can see the neccesity. (if it was not bad planning)

But even if it's bad planning, as long as it's acknowledged and fixed, I get over it. The worst thing is IMO if the extra hours are required often and not reimbursed in some way.

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.

" While the amount of time spent at work was cut dramatically, productivity — measured by sales per employee — went up by almost 40% compared to the same period the previous year"

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?


The productivity claim has been removed from the Japanese report you link. An erratum at the bottom of the page dated November 8, 2019 says this:

"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."

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."

You should post this in the main thread, it is incredibly germane and enlightening.

For a sales team I think counting number of sales per employee is the perfect measure for productivity.

2280 employees in microsoft Japan, let me wage without being too wrong that 60% at least of those are NOT sales people. So this metric is completely nonsensical if you mix sales and non-sales.

I heard that the company mentioned in the article, Microsoft Japan K.K. is mainly sales company (including DevRels, support engineers). Developers in Japan are hired by Microsoft Development K.K.

Ok, do you know if this was offered to all employees or sales people?

As far as I know it was applied to all employees of Microsoft Japan. And then they made big headlines out of it. Pure PR move (PR always does this kind of thing - that's their raison d'etre).

It would have to be weighted by size of the sales too. 1 sale that you worked really hard on could be worth 20+ small sales.

Only if there nothing else at play like a new good product. An increase in sales and decrease in productivity is not mutually exclusive.

if they compare to the last year, they could have at least gone so far and compare to last month as well (probably did, but not in the cnn article, maybe someone who speaks japanese can say). It's a little daunting to just believe a 40% increase only due to cutting 1 day per week, would be quite phenomenal. Also, they cut down on meetings which was probably more decisive regarding improved productivity :) Article is from 2019 btw.

A Japanese acquaintance once told me that an office he worked at once instituted a strict "go home at the end of the day" policy to prevent people from staying late. I guess there's a sort of cultural pressure not to be the first one out of the office (which I can actually sort of understand; I feel weird leaving early).

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.

When we overwork, the line between work and personal time blurs such that they eventually become the same. So you don't feel guilty about slacking off.

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's a great point. This explains why I have not been able to get anything done after lunch during this extended WFH situation. I used to think it was because I ate too much or something similar, but this had never been the case when I was in office. Now I need to figure out how to trick my mind to believe that I can't login after 5pm :(

> Now I need to figure out how to trick my mind to believe that I can't login after 5pm :(

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.

Yup. I am always more productive when I force myself to log off at 5pm.

In Japan, staying long hours at work is not about productivity, as I explained in my other comment. It's to make sure to understand that now, your office, your peers = your life. That's for the exact same reason you invite co-workers and your boss to make a speech at your wedding once you get married: your work is your new family (whether you like it not).

The sheer number of times I've left a frustrating problem at work for the day, and come back in the next day and solved it in 5 minutes, makes me believe this would be the case.

Beyond a certain point you really aren't achieving anything.

That pressure is alive and well at places I've worked (USA). I used to finish my work day at 3pm, and I always made sure to leave at exactly 3pm. I would often get sideways looks and jealous vibes from my coworkers, even though everyone knew I was done at 3. No one ever really paid attention to the fact I was showing up to work at least a couple of hours before them, and the feeling that I was "cheating" by leaving early never really went away. The pressure was there all the time to stay longer, and honestly it really irritated me. We were given core hours to be in the office but because others made the choice to come in later I was left feeling like I did something "bad" due to comments and other implied communication.

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.

One place I worked at actually gave us a 15 minute warning to get out at 5. That start-up meant it too, they kicked you out, and you'd need permission from the CEO to stay (his policy). You could take your laptop home if you were desperate, but you couldn't stay there.

>I guess there's a sort of cultural pressure not to be the first one out of the office (which I can actually sort of understand; I feel weird leaving early).

AFAIK, the big cultural pressure in Japan is specifically leaving before your boss does.

Findings like these that suggest a fundamental shift in our work life dramatically makes things better for everyone(be it the schedule changed or basic universal income or remote work) keep appearing all the time but we don't see a mass adoption of any of it, maybe with the exception of remote working after being forced to do it due to Covid-19.

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.

For real, I've been seeing "working less increases productivity" articles and headlines for over a decade now. Are these articles wrong, and, if not, why hasn't our efficient capitalist machine moved in to get it done?

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.

Work/life balance may be considered cliche but it is important. I remember the most miserable year of my life was when it got out of control at a startup. I was working 7 days a week 10-12 hours a day along with everyone else. We chewed through good people. And then I walked away. Ever since then I've been a stickler for 40 hour max (or I get paid 2X it's in my contract) . I've lost plenty opportunities for it but I think I've gotten better jobs as a result as well.

Microsoft should probably try a 5 day / 40 hour workweek here in the US some time. From what I was told at a few interviews there, and from friends who work there, 50 hours a week is pretty much normal and expected. Sounds terrible, and I'm not sad to not work there.

Were your friends working in Azure or were you interviewing in Azure? Asking because Azure is the only place where I've heard about it (and even then, rarely).

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.

I spent 8 years in engineering at MS in the 2000s--it was no worse or better than any other tech company. There was never an explicit expectation to work more than 40 hours, and most managers were good about not pressuring people into disturbing work-life balance.

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).

I joined around 2010, the transition was in full swing at that time. Microsoft seemed like a much more aggressive work environment in the 90s/2000s. Around when I joined I didn't know anyone who got to senior without sleeping in their office for a few weeks getting their feature out. By the time I left that was unheard of.

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.

Yes but this is true of all jobs. If you want to climb the ladder it requires extra work particularly between levels as you typically have to already be doing the job of the next level to get promoted into it.

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.

My SO is on a team on Microsoft where they are expected to not infrequently work weekends and work until 8 PM.

e: Thought this was outside of Azure, but I was wrong

Sorry to hear that, and I realize that what I said is as much of anecdata as what you said, but this sounds more like an exception. Those exceptions do happen.

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.

Ah okay - actually the team they are on is within Azure, my fault for getting that wrong.

Seeing them WFH has been really eye-opening on how bad & micromanaging managers can get.

I've been at Microsoft for about eight years (which still makes me a relative newbie). I've been on several teams (changing roles by choice) and had many managers (due to new roles or reorgs). Depending on my family life, commute, work projects, etc., I have had seasons where I would stay late. Many times, I've had my managers walk by my office and say, "Go home to your family. Work will be here tomorrow."

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.

What team were on at Amazon? Seems like that can be a big fzctor

I have worked at Microsoft and no one I knew worked more than 30-40 hours a week. And this included at least an hour for lunch every day and multiple hours of just browsing the internet/wasting time, using office amenities or roaming around the campus. Some divisions are probably different, but calling Microsoft employees overworked is a joke.

I heard that they have the best work-life balance of any of the big tech co, in exchange for having the lowest salary/equity. Oh well...

Isn't Google a better place for WLB? I too have heard bad things about Microsoft.

Google seems to be the gold standard.

Is 50 hours that crazy? Does anyone else feel like these days they put in well above 40 hours a week doing WFH? Granted, during the day I can't stay 100% focused in my apartment, so I waste maybe an hour throughout the day online. Then I feel guilty and stay online well into the evening/weekends. I can't meet my deadlines otherwise.

50 hours can mean the difference between:

- 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.

>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.

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.

Is 50 hours that crazy?

I dunno, an extra 25% over what is normally expected? What exactly is your threshold for a ticket on the Crazy Train?

Definitely crazy. I've been WFH for a few years now and I've created a method that works really well for me: I make a hard separation between work time and me time. During work time (which starts at 8:00 local time for me) I don't do anything else that I wouldn't do at the office, and this goes on until 15:30 (I have lunch during work), at which point I shut down my work computer and phone and never touch them again until 8:00 the following day.

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.

Plenty of people work 40 hours per week with a 1 hour (each way) commute. I think that is worse than 50 hours per week with a minimal commute. Maybe some people have a job that is worse than sitting in stop-and-go traffic, but I'm not sure.

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).

didn't think about the commute. Yeah, that definitely figures in . There are only so many podcasts and audible books.

> I can't meet my deadlines otherwise.

working for free to meet deadlines is more a problem with the deadline than it is with your working additional hours

For me it's a no go. These days, even 40h/week is too much. As I got older (33 now), I got less tolerant to long work hours. When I code I get super focused, hardly even move. So in a week I'll get 20h of focused work at most. The rest will be me wanting to get up and go away.

Not really. I log in and 9am and close my laptop at 5pm. If I work more it's like 42 hours per week... I'm definitely not working an extra two hours per week day.

>Is 50 hours that crazy?

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.

Over the long haul? yeah it is. Some people absolutely adore their work, so 50 or even 60 hours is nothing. The majority of us though 40 hours is plenty.

In large parts of the western world, 50 hours is actively illegal and opens the company up for legal trouble with the state.

Careful. Some cultures in Asia have a strong culture of appearing to work hard solely based on time spent in the office.

The Japanese salaryman comes to mind [0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salaryman

Though not as extreme, this happens in the US as well, especially in Silicon Valley. My last few gigs in large enterprise software companies were like this.

I wonder if cutting official hours allows people to drop some of that pretense.

They have plans to try a 4 days working week here in Spain, and I believe the working culture is quite different. We will see how it works.

I've worked in Spain and they thought I was a workaholic because I didn't converse a whole lot in the office (I was there for probably 6 months at our Spanish branch) and I was just putting in the 40 hours I would do in the States. While I got good reports during reviews, my manager said some where that I was a bit intense. He got a good laugh out of that because I'm was one of the less intense people on our team (stateside) at the time.

I can see how that can happen, a workplace in Spain is also a place for socializing. In fact, I have seen the opposite happening with Spaniards working abroad. Some of them can't take very well that their colleagues just come, work and leave and sometimes they don't even say hello or goodbye.

If one believes that less time spent working increases productivity, then by all means let's go down to 1 day a week. We'll see HUGE productivity gains there... right?

I don't think its that simple, but I do think 5 days of restless productivity is not ideal for a lot of people. That's enough time to start losing sleep for everyone who isn't serious about getting enough of it. Its also five continuous days of doing the same thing. It works for an assembly line, but it might not be ideal for more creative work.

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.

That's the Weekend Wednesday described well by CGP Grey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALaTm6VzTBw

Oh that's an awesome description. Love the battery indicators he uses. It makes the concept much easier to understand.

like all things in life there is a point of diminishing returns and even negative returns. 4 days may be that for most "humans". Also culture is complex.

> The initiative is timely. Japan has long grappled with a grim — and in some cases, fatal — culture of overwork. The problem is so severe, the country has even coined a term for it: karoshi means death by overwork from stress-induced illnesses or severe depression.

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.

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

You...you know that's worse, right?

I'm not judging either way. Just stating the reality, and Japan is not a country where individualism is prized as much as in the US, for example. Being part of a larger community is very important here.

> Long hours are often the result of excessive bureaucracy and long meetings, and the expectation that you'll go out for dinner

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?

>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.


> And how many suicides in Japan are work-related?

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.

Though I agree on the cultural ignorance point (especially not choosing to localize terms so that they sound exotic), needless overtime and the 996 culture are absolutely a problem. It's not so much that the work is tiring as the hours are unnecessary and prohibit people from doing stuff outside of work. 20-30 years ago, bonding with peers after work was still pervasive in China/Japan/SK, but the hours were nowhere near as crazy as they are now.

I like criticizing CNN as much as the next guy, but nothing what you wrote really contradicts what you quoted from the article.

I just explained at least that "coining words" means nothing in Japan. That's a clear refutation of what they insinuated.

Do you think the suicide rate could be related to the cultural pressure to work long hours?

Just like every problem, there's tons of factors at play. Let's not try to reduce everything to a single variable, because then we are surely mistaking ourselves.

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.

I wonder what the percentage of any perceived productivity increase is due to the reduction of time spent in meetings. Management has less hours to appear they're doing management things so they're forced to have less meetings. I feel like my productivity is so much higher when I don't need to worry about meetings.

"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"

> "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."

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.

I can also imagine less meetings cause less bureaucracy, less mental fatigue from playing social theatrics, more satisfaction in actually doing things for people who hate meetings, etc. A meeting rarely if ever is "just" a meeting, and those that are "just" a meeting tend to be superfluous for the majority of participators (no preparation needed, no reflection afterwards).

If I were making socks in a factory, the more hours I put in, the more socks will be output (to a limit).

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.

It's going to vary significantly on an individual level as well. The best system would be where people opt-in to more hours but are evaluated solely on the quantity of quality output.

> The best system would be where people opt-in to more hours but are evaluated solely on the quantity of quality output.

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!

This is why it's important to have good managers who deeply understand what their subordinates are doing. Detached managers can easily be gamed by maximizing metrics like hours-in-chair, which is pernicious because it makes people choose between making an impact and getting promoted.


The idea we can jump from 40, to another arbitrary number for everyone, seems misguided to me.

Why are you reposting news from November 2019 without labelling it as such?

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)

Wow! Thanks for sharing these couple other instances of it happening, I wouldn't have seen them otherwise! This is certainly the first time I'm seeing this news.

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!

I do remember the consensus being that it worked out well because a (quite capitalistic!) sales team did the 4-day workweek experiment in question.

At least 2 other things to think about when reading workplace experiments like this:

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

1. The second paragraph of the Hawthorne Effect wiki says that the whole thing is BS.

I'd be curious to see a similar study for a 6 day workweek. In a way, if a 6 day work week increases productivity as well, it becomes more curious that 4 day would too.

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.

At that point, I'd prefer if they would also toss in any kind of scheduling to begin with. Where I live, 5x8 9-5 gets emphasized a lot, and any alternative that isn't working earlier or reducing the days gets incredible backlash. I'm young and fairly carefree outside work, I'd love to try more extreme patterns like 3x12 (especially with WFH) and have more days I can turn my head off completely regarding work, including a shift so I don't get chastised for coming in at 9:30. Someone else might prefer 6x6 starting from 6:30 and quit a bit before noon.

I might be misunderstanding, but I think they're talking about productivity in the sense of work output / time worked. A big part of the productivity increase could be explained by Parkinson's Law of the same amount of work getting done in less time. I don't think they're saying that 40% more work was completed overall.

Someone else said it is measured by: sales revenue per employee

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.

On a related note: when I intentionally time-box just 2 hours for focused work in a day, I usually get more done than when I sit in front of my computer from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed.

Does anyone have any links to a different study on 4-hour work weeks?

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.

Recent article from Bloomberg on the topic: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-02/four-day-...

While I think that productivity increases when people are happier and more excited about their job/life balance I think 40% would be impossible over the long haul. That said I would love a 4 day work week and I may make that a stipulation in my next contract. 3 days to do what I want sounds glorius.

When I joined the fulltime workforce I got to wondering:

"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?

Turns out that the productivity gain came from the fact that they wrote less code. Call me cynical.

Curious how HN feels.

If you could work 4 days/week but your salary would be 1/5 less would you do it?

I do and have been now for almost 3 years. Actually, I work 3 days for 60% (on average that is) and oh my god it's so much nicer than when I was working at companies for 80-100% time. And I'm actually learning again, coding for fun, doing a graduate degree, reading SICP, you know .... BEING A HUMAN BEING.

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.

To be truly accurate, I average 60%, but it swings between 40% to 80% done as 5-6 half days. I think it is much easier to work on a team doing that than 3 days on four days off, so I should have clarified that. When I was an employee I did 5 x 6 hour days, and honestly, if you get your shit done, rarely is anyone going to notice you're in at 10 and out by 4 or whatever. I just didn't play ping pong or fart around on slack.

Is that contract/freelance work or a regular company?

The current one is an ongoing regular position as a 1099 consultant, but I have done it many times before as a contractor, and even twice as an employee. It's surprising how many places will advertise they only want full time but agree to 75-80% if you push on it and you're a really good fit. I just needed to make sure I was producing well enough at that rate to demonstrate that it works.

No, I want to work 4 days/week with only a 12.5% reduction in salary to reflect the improved output per-hour my employer would anticipate due to improved conditions, and I want to keep all benefits, or no deal. I don't want the 4-day workweek to gradually morph into "people as a service", as I have my suspicions it may be intended to lead to.


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!

One day a week would be somewhere between 48 and 52 days off, that's over a month of time off.

I'm not counting those, I'm counting vacation time. Lets say you get X vacation days right now, this means that you get X/5 weeks off. If the workweek becomes 4 days, while you're still getting X vacation days, the number of weeks off you get is now X/4. This is relevant because vacation time is almost always taken in multiples of week-long periods (ie. "Next year I'll be taking 3 weeks off in August, one in December, one in January and one in June").

Ohhhh I see, you're talking about how many vacation days it takes to fill up a whole work-week, like the commonly seen benefit of extending golden week's 3 days off into a full week using only 2 vacation days. Gotcha.

I'm only 21 and joined the space around three years ago with a 40h work week (no more than 40 hours). The first thing I realized not even three years in: I value time so much more than money. How should I enjoy the good income I make when I'm just working?

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.

You could use the extra day to work on a side project that may produce more than 1/5 of your salary.

Wrong place to ask probably, since I bet most folks on HN are well above the median salary where they live in. It's easier to cut down on your income when you have a lot to begin with.

Japanese median salaries (at least for young workers) are, by all measures, relatively low.

Yes. I actually will do it after my paternity leave. Not sure if I would do it without a kid though but I want to believe I would value "life" more then money.

In Germany you are entitled to part time by law.

Seen plenty of such articles, but still waiting for a single one saying productivity doesn't drop back after a few months.

(This is coming from someone who's been working remotely and free hours for quite a while.)

I worked at a large co that did a 4/10 work week schedule. I didn't feel any more productive but I was certainly happier overall.

Why didn't they try it in the USA?

Probably because there's historical over-working happening in Japan and that's less of a problem in the States.

does productivity compose ? because reports of WFH improving productivity by 22% would make a nice bump on top.

i'd guess that while a 4-day week de-jure, it was de-facto a 5-day week with 1 day being free of meetings, manager's micromanagement, communication&collaboration (like being able to ignore Slack for the whole day) and other corporate crap. In this case it would mean that the productivity in that 1 day grew 3x to result in that 40% growth for the whole week. Those 3x estimate pretty much matches my experience of how big the corporate crap is a drag on productivity.

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