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4-day workweek boosted workers' productivity by 40%, Microsoft Japan says (npr.org)
587 points by evo_9 45 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 199 comments

This comment [1] should probably also be mentioned here:

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."

Especially the definition of productivity as "labor productivity (sales revenue per employee)" is interesting and adds some perspective to this claim.

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

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26495933

Workers productivity in this context means Workforce productivity, not to be confused with employee productivity. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workforce_productivity

It's interesting that working on a two plus year product cycle does not add to productivity, at least not how it's used here.

So as an employee it would seem to be a better career move to always work on something that can be shipped within a year.

Directed by Robert B Weide.

Hidden in here is the “reasonable default” change for meetings from 1 hour to 30 minutes.

If you havent already done so, go and change your entire organizations default meeting length to 30 minutes. Force people to justify why they need an hour. Still not sure why it isnt the default.

25 minutes and everything starts at either XX:05 or XX:35.

People get to be human and do things like use the restroom, get a drink, or just take a breath in between meetings without being flustered and apologizing for being late.

I just sprinkle short events that show me as “busy” and start at odd offsets like :15 and :45 so I can have some blocks of time where I get to take a break from meetings and do some of the work that stems from those meetings (otherwise when the hell do I do the work). The weird offsets really confuse calendaring applications :) which always try to align things to :30 or :00.

Just block off times as “reserved” for work, and unapologetically so.

I do that and keep my calendar private so people can't see they're productivity blockers. If something's important, people will ask me if I can free up a slot for them. If it isn't important they usually don't bother asking, which is just as well.

I value transparency as a leader, and so I keep my calendar public and encourage my teams to do so as well. However, sometimes I'll just block off some time with the word "busy" as the title. It looks like it's a private event, but it's really just me taking some time for myself. People will assume that someone just made a private meeting with me. You get the benefit of both sides that way. It's worked well for me in the past.

Just sharing my POV. You do you. :)

I do this. Works really well.

Last time I did that, a PM just ignored it.

Then you just say “no” to the meeting and don’t attend :)

On the other hand, I may have way fewer meetings than many others that might get invited to the same meetings, so I understand it can be hard to find a time where everyone is available.

I've only been to one company that had a sane meeting culture. Along with every meeting invitation there were attached documents that you were expected to read. You were expected to have notes and comments ready. The meetings mostly were not supposed to be a time where you worked vague things out.

Not being able to meet in person we relaxed this rule to encourage more "shooting the shit" and team bonding time focusing more on vague stuff.

Specifics are already easy to discuss async.

Exactly. Make your own schedule, or others will make it for you.

The anecdote said that they did make their own schedule but then someone made it for them anyway.

It sounds like they attempted to make their own schedule, but then acquiesced when faced with an inconsiderate ask.

In my last few jobs, there has been the option to set a meeting to private. It shows on your calendar but people can’t see the title or other details. You could create multiple shorter events if you think people would be suspicious of a single multi-hour meeting.

M doesn't stand for manager, it stands for assistant.

The sentiment and logic here is good but I think all employees have to agree otherwise wastes some time for those folks who do show up on time.

My personal observation is the timing matters less than the number of participants. More people usually equals less insights and more wasted time. One rule could be "if you can't emerge with an action item you shouldn't be here." But I'm not sure if that's practical as an organization grows and social/political relationships matter more.

Not everyone takes an action item out of the meeting. Some people provide information to the meeting. But if you're not contributing or taking something away, you should go, yes.

At MIT, all classes started 5 minutes after the scheduled time and ended 5 minutes before the scheduled time.

Something like that is fairly normal at universities. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_quarter_(class_timing...:

“An academic quarter (localized into various languages in the countries where it is practiced[a]) is the quarter-hour (15 minute) discrepancy between the defined start time for a lecture or lesson ("per schema") and the actual starting time, at some universities in Europe including Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the United States.”

This was applied in 100% of classes at my university in Sweden. A 14-16 lecture would start at 14:15, take a break from 15-15:15 and end at 16. The practice was frequently applied in student union meetings and events.


However, while meetings were sometimes explicitly scheduled for a quarter past, if your thesis supervisor schedules a meeting at, e.g., 9 AM, then be sure not to show up at 9:15. :)

While in France they d start on time but the students would trickle down for 15 minutes. You can imagine our respective surprise when I had a german boss one day and I d arrive always 2 minutes late not understanding why it would be written on the meeting note as if it was a huge mega deal :D

Complete disrespect for him, absolutely the norm for me :D He learned to be less angry and I learned to be less "late"

This is so common... and a few kind words in the beginning would avoid any negative effect once and for all. Yet its so hard for so many folks

UofT (University of Toronto) does 10 minutes.

It works really well, except for non-classes no one is ever sure if you were told UofT-time or normal-time. For example if you agree to meet with a prof or ta outside of class..

I think I would have preferred if they just always scheduled things at "xx:10 to yy:00" instead of having the ":10" as implicit.

I think at many (most?) universities, an “hour” of tuition is officially recognized as 50 minutes.

This is actually called Michigan Time

I don't even apologize for being late anymore.

I’ve seen early endings but not late starts. That seems way better.

Everyone ignores early endings, late starts is so much better!

I try to schedule them at 20 minutes, so that people have 10 minutes to prepare for the next meeting. If I'm on point that's usually enough.

A lot of these organizations put status updates as meetings though, which is never necessary. There are a lot of better ways to send status updates.

Or spend 25 minutes fiddling with Zoom sound settings which somehow don't work with the random headset they just picked up 2 mins before the meeting.

Or just cancel almost all meetings and do async communication. Works great.

> Force people to justify why they need an hour.

Force people to justify why they need a meeting as well, have an agenda, keep a tight schedule, don't let people change the agenda or rant on. One thing I found in the scrum style meetings is that people love to be on the soapbox for their allotted time.

Definitely don't join an agile shop with 2hr ceremony BS meetings

Your comment made me realize why burnout exists.

It's funny because we all think the grass is always greener and yet.. my most recent 2 job leads:

* a firm that was demanding devs return to office already in January pre-vaccine, justifying it by paying for Ubers & doing PCR testing in office

* a firm which in its job-spec explicitly listing that "8a-6p are standard hours" and "plus other hours as required for role / due to support / meetings out of region / some flexibility required"

what a shitshow tech can be

We can push back by publicly shaming bad actors and ensuring they go to the back of the queue along with the firms with psychopathic interview processes when it comes to choosing tech talent at a time of high demand. Unionising would probably be better but for some reason a bad word around these parts...

Much Good has come from unions.

So why would that be a "bad word around these parts" ?

Because Much Evil has also come from unions, devs are in high demand, and unions are political structures instead of technical ones.

Why does the fact that devs are in high demand mean a union is bad? How does demand relate to unions at all?

I’m an uber capitalist but I think all workers should be totally free to unionize.

Unions gave us the weekend, can’t be all bad.

The good thing about the ceremony is having the whole team see whats being planned and giving input and helping each other out. But there might be a more efficient way to do this. Get everyone to read a published "this is our roadmap" page or something like that.

The ceremony is usually: what's the status of this Jira ticket?

The worst ceremony is the retrospective. Let's talk about what made us do a bad job this sprint.

Some revolving list of "other team __" being slow/unreliable/hard to manage/etc..

The same 1 or 2 senior devs is tasked with taking away some discussion points to have with them.


I've organised those meetings. You could halve their length by doing most of the grooming yourself, and just saving the remaining questions for the team.

The meetings would only take a few minutes with Kanban, assuming the backlog stayed sorted. I just asked where the new tickets had to go in the current sorted list.

These meetings would be much faster if project managers didn't clog the backlog with stream-of-consciousness tickets.

However I was never an Agile guy. I trimmed the process heavily, and took up most of the backlog maintenance so that others could work.

This requires the organizer to be organized. If management is running sprint ceremonies but in 5-6 hours/day of meetings, they come in unprepared and ad-lib.

Our product manager sits in on the meetings such that he can says yes/no when questioned on tickets, but for all I know could be watching soap operas given his level of engagement.

I think it all falls apart above a team size of 5-10. Just a tedious slog. The number of tickets you have to churn thru in backlog review / planning / closing / etc ceremonies is directly proportional to the number of devs..

And try have meeting free zones. 8 half hour meetings spread over a day is nearly as bad as 8 hour meetings in terms of getting work done, 30 mins gaps only allows for easy tasks (email, etc), but not true engineering/deeper work.

It would be awesome if every meeting had a scoreboard that displayed a running total of the cost of the meeting based on the salaries of the participants.

That could be a plugin in OBS.

For me, the most important thing isn't that meetings be short - they can be a good way to build relationships as well as get work done, after all. The most important thing is for meetings to be bunched up with no gaps at either the beginning or end of the day, and never added to the schedule outside of those blocks

I feel 30 mins is often not enough to get things done, but if you give it an hour people get too "relaxed" or tune out.

So the best approach would probably be to schedule 30min meetings that are always followed by 30min free time; so that everyone knows there is an urgency to be brief, but it's not the end of the world if you overrun 10mins. Otherwise you end up with back-to-back meetings and "I have to go, sorry", even if we're not actually done, or the 1h snoozefests.

I think there is space for some software here, that could automatically tweak one's calendar to "block out" post-meeting time by a predetermined amount in Outlook (yes, don't try to pry people out of Outlook, you're not going to win).

> So the best approach would probably be to schedule 30min

> meetings that are always followed by 30min free time

It seems better to have no free time between meetings. That way everybody is much more motivated to keep them to the allotted time. 30 min is much too short an interval to do serious technical work.

Make it 25 minutes instead. Now there's a break of time in-between allowing your brain to properly context switch so your night's sleep isn’t messed up.

The only problem with this is that it frees your calendar so that other people can book things in. If something is booked for an hour but it can be wrapped up in 30 mins.. that gives 30 mins breathing room.

I only lost 2 hours to meetings yesterday give or take.

…or even 0 minutes!

Even better make it 25 minutes to allow for transition time between meetings

In years to come we will look down on the 5 day working week in the same way we currently do with 15hr factory shifts during the industrial revolution.

It absolutely blows my mind that 99% of office roles are still 5 days / week, Monday to Friday - why is there basically no variation on this model?

It annoys me so much that I recently launched https://4dayweek.io/ (Software Jobs with a better work / life balance)

I hope so, but I'm not sure it'll be common for those outside of the tech class.

For one, there was already a massive shift that nobody noticed. A few decades ago people complained about how awful and soul-crushing 9 to 5s were. Well, someone decided to reform that. Now 9 to 6 and 8 to 5 are everywhere. I've even known some people who get two 5 minute breaks at work, and now their job runs from 9 to 6:10.


In my country it's quite common for white collar workers to have a half day on Friday, or at least finish an hour earlier. Unless you work for a tech company... then it's 9-6 as usual.

I do 8:45 to 7 and I dont even understand your point. I worked in France and in Hong Kong, I never heard of 9 to 5, and we re supposed to do 35 hours :D

Or no lunch break ?

In France, as a "cadre" (most tech people are cadre for some reason) you're paid by the day and not by the hour, hence there's no cap to 35h.

You do however get RTT (basically paid holidays) to get back the hours that you do above 35h (usually half a day a week to compensate for the 40h classical work week)

Why would you work that long though? I would leave that corporation immediately.

On the other hand, many people complain that stores don't open on Sundays. Mostly hear that from students that could go shopping anytime they want...

That's somewhat unrelated: different people could run the store the first four and the last four days of the week.

I don't think it is completely unrelated. It can be, but it isn't in reality. Expectations are part of what shapes work culture. Not only because management would try to keep HR costs to a minimum.

This looks great! Ruby jobs were showing up when I set it to JS but switching to node seemed fine, I didn’t expect UK based roles on there but pleased to see a couple - well done.

You need consistent variation for everyone if you are in a fast moving organization.

I worked for an organization where people had one flex day off every two weeks. In practice, it made Tue-Thur the only days for collaboration as it was otherwise normal for someone to be out of the office. It worked because it was government with long project cycles. It would not work for my current company. It would cause issues with clients and project speed.

I feel like if you need all hands on deck 100% of the time, your process is flawed. Software productivity is exclusively driven by good devs who are properly motivated. If you want to succeed, maximize their creativity and peace of mind. The 5 day work week is diametrically opposed to that and one of the reasons devs burn out so quickly. They’re being treated like manual labor in a creative field.

>if you need all hands on deck 100% of the time, your process is flawed.


Especially when you run 24/7.

Then you know it's really bad when a 24/7 operation "rises" to a challenge by calling all hands on deck. And at the same time battle stations because they don't even know the difference.

Being negatively affected by lack of sync (days off, different time zones) isn’t the same as needing 100% hands on deck.

Collaboration is often limited by the pace of a human interaction: a design review, a question about some code etc. The only way to not have this speed limit is to remove all such interactions which is very difficult (and probably not desirable either). If I worked on off dates and my colleagues on even dates, the shortest time for me to get a code review would be 24h! Most communication can (and often should) be async, but there is a difference between a 10 minute turnaround and a day. Also, if something is very urgent one should be able to get hold of someone e.g give them a call. Developers hate being interrupted, for good reason, but that doesn’t mean developers should never expect to be interrupted.

I think a shorter and flexible workweek is a good idea but having time zone overlap or “required work days” to maximize overlapping work time is probably required in most cases.

It's not that you need all hands on deck 100% of the time. It's that having people take random days off week to week is very sub-optimal and youre liable to get outcompeted. You're no longer a well oiled machine at that point, but more of a janky chaotic mess.

Consistency is good.

That’s not true at all. Look at open source. Some of the most important software in the world was written when the devs were motivated to write it, not 9-5 m-f.

An open source project isn't the same thing as a several thousand person corporation with not only engineers, but business analysts, legal departments, accounting, sales, client services, human resources, IT, management, and so on and so forth. Each has deadlines they have to abide by, some set by their bosses, some set by the government, and others implicitly imposed by competitors.

That's much different than a pet project that's being given away for free.

I don't think gp was unaware of those conditions at corporates, but rather suggests that the layers of management, meetings and deadlines make for worse software.

Also remember that opens source includes things like the Linux kernel. That "pet" project underpins almost all software that the hypothetical corporate uses and makes, and does it without the meetings and the deadlines.

Bear in mind that the modal Linux kernel dev is closer to a cubicle dweller than a basement dweller. For large, important projects it absolutely is 9-5.

The biggest and widest used open source projects have billions in corporate investment in them. None were simply the product of devs working in off hours for free for fun.

Most of the open source developers who created 'most important software in the world' were paid to do it. There are very few oss projects that were developed only by volunteers.

I think Linus and 90% of GitHub projects would disagree.

You should probably do some research about Linus net worth. He has been employed to work on kernel for a few decades.

And if we are talking about some of the most important software projects, approx. zero of them are run by hobbyists. Some niche aplications - sure. But not the most important pieces.

(Disclosure: for the last few years I employ 4-8 people to work on GNU GPL licensed products, so I know a thing or two about how it works)

Do you really think Linus works 9-5? I assure you he doesn’t.

I’ve also developed and led teams that developed many OSS projects and very successful consumer applications. Not once did I micromanage my team’s working hours. They make their own schedules as people know best when they can produce good output.

Linus is very disciplined, so yeah, he likely does work 9-5, like most organized people with a family do.

As for 'micromanaging working hours', it's not a question of micromanagement, but of communication. It is far easier for everyone to work in the same rythm, knowing that you aren't distracting a person you need to contact from his private life.

For flex time to work it needs to be the same day, Friday. Half the team is on one Friday and the other half the next Friday.

> For flex time to work it needs to be the same day, Friday. Half the team is on one Friday and the other half the next Friday.

That’s not flex time at all, that’s a fixed schedule where everyone has either even or odd Fridays off.

I work at an office that does 9 80. At first they tried the half one Friday, half the other, but switched to everyone in on the same Friday. Basically it annoyed and confused customers trying to reach people. It is just easier to say the joint is closed every other Friday than have the customer try to remember if they need to call Bill or John on Friday.

> It is just easier to say the joint is closed every other Friday than have the customer try to remember if they need to call Bill or John on Friday.

If your coverage plan relies on the customer knowing who to call when, your problem isn’t flex time.

That isn't flex time, which allows workers to change their own work hours.

This is a cool idea - are these jobs treated as full time positions, or is it technically part time / contractor in your experience of listing them?

Ye most of the jobs offer full time benefits (healthcare etc) but are for 32 hours per week (4 days x 8 hours usually)

It's a fairly small number of companies atm but it's growing fast

Might want to check out "weekend Wednesday": https://youtu.be/ALaTm6VzTBw

yes . soon will have the 3day work week followed by the 2day, the 1day and finally the 0day. each time productivity will skyrocket

I know your laughing at the idea, because of a lack of imagination I suppose, but to reach the point in having 0 day workweeks would mean every job can be fully automated. Most likely productivity will skyrocket in that case!

Construction should be a 4 day work week.

I remember my father telling me about a push to a 4 day work week in the 80's at local 6 in San Francisco.

For some reason, the union officials didn't want it. Looking back the contractors probally nixed it?)

I remember how sad my father was over that. He was getting older, and wanted a job easier on his body, and he thought the 4 day work week would be enough time to start a side business.

I did electrical for awhile, and mirrored his thinking. I used to think 10 hr days were not a problem. (Union construction. Mon-union construction is way harder work.)

Manual Labor will incredibly benefit from shorter work weeks. More rest = fresher bodies = less mistakes.

There is a definite drop off point where a technician/mechanic/welder isn’t working at even 80% normal capacity, and that’s where mistakes begin to happen. And unlike software, mistakes can be costly to undo or perhaps even impossible.

The flipside of course is that their hourly wages must go up to match the decrease in hours worked. And overtime pay is a big motivator for many skilled manual labor jobs.

Treeplanting up north in Canada for a decade in the nineties. You get paid piecework (how much you plant) and there are only a fixed number of trees for the whole contract. The idea is to get the millions of trees in the ground as fast as possible and get out. We tried 3-1, 4-1, 5,6 and so on. Even worked 14 day shift once. The '1' being the day off.

The most productive cadence over a season was 5-1 with 9 hour days. 4-1 at ten hour days was a close second. We would switch to 4-1 when drives got longer.

It felt like a sport more than a manual labor job. Your trying everything you can to maximize your tally.

Was this tested for quality somehow?

Also after time wouldnt there be inprovement due to experience? (Or is it cancelled out by injury?)

You have checkers from the forest service (gov), the forestry company that cut the timber and your own treeplanting company. They use stats and gps and survey every block by throwing 3.99m plots randomly about. Inside that circle they need to find 7 or 8 trees all well planted. You need a certain percent to be expected to live, high ninties of percent, or your piece rate per tree gets reduced. They check for lean, depth, spacing, microsite selection, root placement and other things. Quality is constantly a worry and I would get checked at least a couple of times a day.

Two or three years after it is checked again and will be scheduled for fill planting if it doesn't have good enough density.

You improve your speed a lot at first. 100 trees your first day, 1000 by the end of your tenth day. Meanwhile vets are putting in four thousand on the same ground at 12 cents a tree. Definitely pay your dues and a company won't pay you minimum wage top ups for very long.

It takes about five or six seasons to reach your peak in terms of knowledge and skill. Some would argue longer. There's efficiency of movement, controlling your emotions and mental aspects, reading the ground and spacing in triangles instead of straight lines. Not many planters get to triangles. There's also different ground to learn. Trenches in Alberta vs steep snarpy old growth blocks on the coast are completely different worlds. Coastal planting is hard to get hired for, mostly older lifers, interior you'd find many students on crews.

Everyone gets minor injuries and sore nagging pains that steadily get worse. It's often just a matter of how many days you last before you quit. Seasons can last from twenty to a hundred days, probably fifty is the most common. Being in good shape or even a little pudgy at the start helps but it's more a matter of pain tolerance and being able to set those thoughts aside and tune it out until you are numb to it. I came back to the truck one time with a three inch piece of stick jammed an inch in my shin. My pants were ripped, leg all bloody, didn't even notice it.

Like coding there's 10x planters too. They are called high ballers. Typically they are more fit but they still come in all shapes and sizes and male and female too. A top planter can make almost twenty grand CAD in a month, reliably 10-15k.

It's a great summer job, you meet genuine people, you learn a lot about yourself. It can fund a lot of travel or other adventure the rest of the year if you play it right. And there's others that would say it was the worst x weeks of their life.

Even in Software I see a lot of rushed, deadline driven work resulting in bitrot. Code bases become unusable because everyone is forced to keep shipping and they get exhausted. They are incentived to make a mess.

"for some reason"? Their wages are hours-based. Of course they wouldn't want it.

My experience wasn't in the trades, but I've worked 10-12 hour days with short weeks and had good results. 4 day weeks do work if you can arrange them. Especially for developers frequently in the flow state where interruptions just cost money. Then you put the long meetings at the start and/or end of the work week.

I worked in construction for some years. Your father was right. There's absurd amount of efficiency to be gained in construction without a need to sacrifice productivity. Optimised supply chain, better utilisation of human resource, improved communication between subcontractors can make up for more than a day.

I know and have know many people with trades jobs that do 4 10 hour shifts. This isn't that uncommon. Even I had a job like this back in college.

However, it is 4 10 hour shits and not a more reasonable 4-8 hours.

Most productive time of my life was when I was forced to book 8 outstanding vacation days and I took two months’ worth of Fridays.

I had enough energy to do a week’s work in four days, plus people got so used to me not being around on Friday that I pretty much got the rest of the year free of Friday meetings as well.

(I also just came back from two week’s worth of bank holidays on Thursdays and Fridays, which seems to be having the same effect).

It's crazy how it works out that if you own your own business, you realize you need every hour you can get your hands on but when you're an employee then you just magically become more productive working only 4 days instead 5 or more.

That's because you are under staffed. You decided to do the job of many people wearing many hats to save money. Once you reach a certain revenue you will hand those jobs off to other people. They will be able to focus and will do a better job compared to someone who is constantly running on fumes.

The business owner isn't more productive at 5 days vs 4 but they make up for it by working 16 hours and 7 days a week.

Because... You own the business, the buck should stop with you and if you are understaffed of course you will be having to get your hands on all the time to play all the different hats you are wearing.

It's not too dissimilar from working in a very early stage startup as a very experienced engineer: you know that there are lots to do, from infrastructure to the product code. You need to get your hands dirty all the time, playing multiple positions, to beat time to market.

As an employee of an organisation that you have no other vested interest apart from your salary? Yeah, this stress will only grind you, not motivate you, at least it did to me, the thought of "why am I sacrificing my life for a paycheck so someone else's grand vision [and ultimately, profits] come to them?".

So yeah, as an employee I'm much more productive and creative to my employer if I have time for myself out of work and good rest. As a business owner: you are running the risk all the time, some people cope with it by overworking to not feel like they are "falling behind".

Is it possible that you don’t actually need every one of those hours? Is there something you could optimize to gain some of them back?

I also run my own business and have never once felt the need to work 40 hours in a single week.

It’s your business so you can design it to work any way you like.

I'm totally open to the possibility that this result could be sustainable over longer time periods and persist in other countries and even (some) other types of work. However, it seems prudent to discount the odds of broader applicability due to all the obvious confounding factors.

* Cultural norms.

* Poorer pre-existing efficiency.

* Introduction of new focus on time and efficiency creating optimization which fades over time.

* Gains on shorter-term metrics offset by longer-term, hidden costs (eg sufficient 'slack time' is asserted to sometimes enable innovation or tasks which management may prioritize lower but which have yield important benefits).

Over several decades I've been either an early employee or founder in four startups where I was able to help imagine, specify and implement what eventually became high-performing organizations. I'm often asked about "secrets of success" but all four had substantial enough differences that the only constant is they each were either created or evolved to have uniquely effective set of parameters including structure, style, culture, personnel, etc. Each org was uniquely adapted to it's competencies, customers, context and even era. Obviously, "good people" are "good" but figuring out what that looks like in advance for any particular problem set is error-prone and rife with confirmation bias upon post-hoc rationalization.

The best meta-advice I'm confident enough in to share are things like adaptability, the right metrics, perceptive leaders willing to question assumptions and change course based on new evidence. Unfortunately, these come across as vague platitudes. As near as I can tell, the magic is more in custom fitting a sufficiently winning mix of org parameters, from team to metrics to work hours and more, to succeed against the specific challenges and context the org must solve to succeed.

In light of my world-view that dozens or hundreds of interacting parameters need to fit (and that there are many workable "solves"), I feel that this experiment, at best, exposes another possible lever to put into your "solve" that might be beneficial contingent on a bunch of other factors.

I haven't worked a 5-day week in decades. It was always 5 days (9-12 hours per day. 8 hours? HAH!), and then my "nights and weekends" work.

Since leaving my last job, I've been working seven days a week, but at my pace. Lots of breaks and downtime (naps, even), and I don't mind taking full days, every now and then.

Amazingly, I get more done, in less time, than I ever did before.

In Japan, the traditional salaryman workweek is 6 days, with Saturday being "casual," and sometimes, a "half day" (only 6-8 hours).

We'll have to see how this works out. Lots of cultural hysteresis.

> In Japan, the traditional salaryman workweek is 6 days, with Saturday being "casual," and sometimes, a "half day" (only 6-8 hours).

The traditional office layout is also totally open-plan with no sound deadening and your manager staring at you from the side. Of course, I'm not sure there's much expectation to get any work done, but I always wondered if people too picky for cubicles knew what other countries were like.

No sound-deadening, but the offices can be dead quiet. You're in a room with 200 people, and can hear someone fart, across the room.

I do not consider Japanese business to be very productive. An engineer I worked with explained his extreme hours to me, by saying that during the "workday," he was in meetings the whole day, and needed the "after hours" to get tech work done.

Sounds about right.

> In Japan, the traditional salaryman workweek is 6 days

It seems it's starting to change. Currently I'm leaving the company which indeed has 6 days work week (with the 6 hr Saturday) and literally every opening I'm seeing right now is 5d.

Maybe I'm biased though as I'm looking for jobs in IT companies or departments.

The killer, for me, was the meetings. Oh. My. God. Japanese corporations run on meetings as fuel.

I don’t miss those cramped conference rooms, one tiny bit.

Did one’s ability to run meetings effectively (or at least perceived as effectively run meetings) factor significantly in promotion opportunities?

Probably. I was a Yank, and not in the main food chain.

But they run their meetings in a very organized fashion. Everyone has their marching orders, when the meeting is done.

Japanese corporations tend to use a consensus-based system, where meetings are confirmation of consensus. Being at a meeting, meant that you were part of the stakeholders, and also part of the accountable parties.

Many times, people sleep in meetings. Their presence is all that is required.

It's an old article, so did they continue it?

We see reports like this all the time but barely any companies actually have the balls to go through with it long term.

The top comment in the third link points out that Microsoft Japan later walked back the productivity claim:

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.

I guess they had to attribute this boost to something, but it was politically unsavory for it to be the number of days worked

Yeah. I'm interested if it was extended or not. I cannot really tell from the article.

I expect this works great for 2 to 3 months when it is novel and everyone is keen to prove it works, but will begin to regress back after that. Where it ends up longterm is the big deal.

Hopefully the results out of Spain's trial are positive!

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/15/spain-to-launc... (March 2021: Spain to launch trial of four-day working week)

Shouldn't productivity increase mathematically when reducing number of hours?

Like if you reduce everyone to 10h per week. Sales may go down from 4M to 3M but because hours went 4x less you can still claim 300% increase in productivity. It doesn't meant anything in term of efficiency, creativity, or actual performance of the organization. I would be interested to see actual studies on this.

You're confusing efficiency and productivity. Your example is correct but is about efficiency. In the case of Microsoft Japan, 40% more work was done in four fifths of the time, which is a greater than 40% increase in efficiency.

But that's not what they were measuring. They measured sales revenue per employee and then admitted in errata that the claim was misleading anyway since other factors also contributed to sales revenue increase.

> But that's not what they were measuring. They measured sales revenue per employee

How is that not a measure of productivity?

You can’t say 40% more work was done from their conclusions.

Sales depends mostly on sales tram ability.

In software it is much easier to scale sales: the infrastructure costs when selling 1M copies and 1.4M copies are quite similar. Maybe some devops will have to spin more servers. But programmers allready did their job.

Compare this to selling physical objects. If you can make 1M cars per month, you cannot easily make 1.4M per month: it requires more workers, machines, supply. Those are quite neglible in software.

Also your workers can make cars 2x faster than everyone else (better productivity) but nobody will buy them, since they are poor quality

That would be a 200% increase (to 300% of the prior value) in sales per labor hour.

Productivity increased per week, not just per hour which is significantly different.

> they printed nearly 60 percent fewer pages

What on earth are they printing at Microsoft?

Unfortunately, everything is printed in the work culture in Japan.

Unfortunately? These kinds of cultural differences are what make countries different. We could use more variety like this. There are probably a lot of downsides to having everything digital as is done in America.

That moment when the the Jira server goes down but no one cares because the production teams were all working off of good ol' whiteboards to do their Kanban.

Better from ecology point of view. More trees are cut than planted (also new trees are very small / often dont survive).

From https://theconversation.com/is-the-paper-industry-getting-gr...:

> Each year the amount of wood harvested from U.S. forests is much less than annual forest growth. Land covered by forests in the United States increased by 4.5 percent between 1997 and 2012, even as suburban development expanded.

> We could use more variety like this.

I don't think anyone 'could use more' paper work.

One of my previous projects included replacing an Excel/email based approval process with an online process within the system of record. One goal was to reduce outdated offline copies of approval records being stored in people’s inboxes.

Actual result: everyone began printing screenshots from the system and storing these in file cabinets.

I quite enjoy working with paper when it’s convenient and fun. From what I read, much of the paperwork in Japan is handwritten, which sounds a lot better than sending Word docs all day.

Draft resumes?


Japan still makes extensive use of old school technologies like fax. Once you are using fax, you'll have many paper documents to scan and copy.

Paperwork is the national sport of Japan.

Hello world

Real reason 10 x 4 works is because every day you lose an hour of focus at the beginning and end of the day.

Typical work week 6 x 5 = 30hrs.

8x4 work week = 32 hrs.

Longer periods for developers to hit technical strides or remain in flow.

For me a 4 day work week boosts my motivation and efficiency, because there is less time to get the work done. It stops me from procrastinating.

I had the deal with my boss that I will come in on Friday, if there was some important work left undone. I never had to come in on Friday :D

When I've got holiday to use up, I book Wednesdays off. It means I've never got more than two work days in a row, and I also get the benefit of the general slow-down on Friday afternoons to actually get stuff done uninterrupted.

Me too! This is why it works imo

p.s. that phenomena is called "Parkinson's Law" i.e. work expands to fill the time allotted to it

In April and May 2021 I worked 4 days a week because I had holidays to use up but could not leave the office for an extended period time. It was truly great! I much more appreciated my weekends and was more focused at work. I am pretty sure I had a higher productivity, in the sense of amount of work per time unit. I am of the type that needs deadlines to remain motivated. That condensed work week suited me.

Four 10 hour days was always preferable for me to five 8 hour days every time. The extra two hours ends up barely noticed. You miss rush hour after work so travel time is almost halved at the end of the day meaning you get home not much later than normal anyway. That extra day off more than makes up for it. If you've gotta work a 40 hour a week schedule, 4x10 is what i prefer for sure.

Impossible for those with kids.

Also if you want to have some "life" during week (gym? hobbies?) it is problematic.

I dont say that this is bad, but one of the things that works for young, single people.

I had to work 5x10 (then add 1 more for travel..) and even basic stuff like buying and cooking food could become a problem, especially if some day was 12h.

I feel like they're trying to sell me 4 day work weeks when they include cut electricity cost and paper usage in their opening paragraph.

There is something strange going on with the numbers in the article. People worked 20% less, but electricity costs fell by 23% and the "number of printed pages" fell by 60%?

Scrolling through the Google Translated version of the original Japanese article, it seems a bunch of other changes were implemented at the same time, including more remote meetings, pushing text chat over meetings, and paying back more expenses. Also the number of printed pages just followed a trend that had been going on for several years, and the electricity usage was also already decreasing [1].

[1] https://news.microsoft.com/wp-content/uploads/prod/sites/47/...

4-day workweeks would be nice but what I really want is 50 hour weeks (2hr extra per day) with a summer vacation in June/July/August.

Let's say the typical job has 3w vacation: 40hr x (52w - 3w vacation) => 1960hr/yr

Now to get back to that same territory: 50hr x (52w - 12w vacation) => 2000hr/yr

Yes please.

Maybe you should move to France where something very similar to the above is pretty much encoded in law (with caveats of course).

I have not worked in France but as far as I understand, if you work more than 35 hours a week you will get the extra hours as additional time towards your annual leave:


Most countries in Europe have similar schemes. In Belgium, a work week is 38 hours. If your contract states that you work 40 hour weeks, you get 12 extra days off every year.

In practice the extra time worked above the 35 hours goes into a different counter that you typically take one or two days at a time rather than batch it along the rest. Also it's fairly rare for people to take their 5 vacation weeks in one setting, the employer still has a say and you still have to coordinate with colleagues.

That is a good point, although I used to work for a US multinational with people based in France and they often took 3-4 weeks in one go. More than that might be pushing it a bit.

Perhaps move to Finland? We have a default 37,5 hour work weeks and a 1mo summer vacation.

Japan is famous for excessive overtime and overwork, which both make productivity drop in the long run.

So this isn't surprising. It would be interesting to know if those 4 days are filled with similar hours to a normal working week in western countries because of the overtime culture.

I don't get it. What's the catch. I've been led to believe that corporations operate on purely logic and seek only profit. If this statistic is true why isn't every corporation immediacy switching to a 4-day work week?

One explanation would be that corporations are acting on imperfect information, either unaware of or disbelieving the study. Another is that the study is wrong (but your question posits the study is correct).

But, more likely, there are a host of well-known reasons that corporations don't operate like that. Primarily based around the fact that corporations don't make decisions, people in corporations do. And their interests may conflict.

Because the statistic isn't true.

Take the following quote from the article. It's laughable.

> The question was straightforward, as Schawbel recalls: "If your pay is constant, how many days a week do you want to work?" One of the potential replies to that question was simply, "None." But only 4% of the workers chose that answer.

I guess it depends on the person, I'm not sure my own output would adjust tbh.. I'm generally a slow burner, and if I had a day less to do stuff, I don't think I'd get as much done.

And our company says we are more productive working from home. Guess what? They are making us come back into the office...

This is obviously a topic that a lot of people have an opinion on, but in my mind both of what you're writing above are compatible with each other.

"Raw output" by which I mean things on the level of "code written/tickets resolved" probably scales pretty directly with undisturbed hours of work, which WFH isolation + no commute is great for. So I can see that type of productivity going up.

However there's a short term trap involved in that - since by optimizing for the above, you are neglecting the ability to get stuff done as an organization - ie benefit from everyone's insight, have things properly stress-tested and socialized, planning company-wide programs, etc.

The second bucket of things benefits from activities that hurt the first bucket (namely, in person meetings.)

Now, it's possible that most of the company is in role that are measured for #1 only, however #2 matters to the overall health of the company and long term excellence. So it may seem weird, if one is accountable for churning out tickets, that they are being asked to work in a way that's not optimized for that, but the answer may be - this enables other work to happen in the company which is required for your work to be meaningful.

"ability to get stuff done as an organization - ie benefit from everyone's insight, have things properly stress-tested and socialized, planning company-wide programs, etc."

Unless they're running a good ol boys network, I really dont see that as a valid concern. They certainly dont care about us lower people's insight and the important people socialize things virtually.

I have worked in both huge market leaders and start ups and what you're saying is false. If yout org is like that, too bad and sorry

Unless you eat lunch with senior leadership your in person socializing through meetings is meaningless and relationship can be fostered over slack.

// Unless you eat lunch with senior leadership your in person socializing through meetings is meaningless and relationship can be fostered over slack.

Objectively not true. Say hi to someone at the coffee machine, chat, what do you do, etc - learn he's worked on something similar to what I am trying to do now - get some help.

If not for coffee-machine run-in, wouldn't know he exists, wouldn't know he's done that thing. Multiplied by a hundred micro-interactions like this a day.

Zoom/slack is less serendipitous, more planned. But if I don't know I need to meet you ahead of time, I won't.

100 times each day you are saying hi and finding out someone is working on the same project you are and now that you connected you can get help?

Would you be better off in support forums for your specific issue.. reading about how others solved similiar issues? or asking a collection of people around the world going through similiar problems?

Talking to a 100 people a day for 5 minutes would be 500 minutes a day. Hard to get any work in.

I don't believe that. When you are working with a group of people that you don't know very well, real face-to-face meetings work better. A lot of our communication is non-verbal. You lose that when you are using slack.

Amazing. I’m working ( in hard core ( read unscalable ) manufacturing industry ) almost 70 hours a week since about ~12 years, barely increasing income and wealth by about interest rate. How do I achieve 4 days a week ? With couple of months of vacation ?

As someone who is for the first time ever starting a 20 hour a week project I can't help but wonder if I won't feel like doing an extra 2-5 hours in the week just making things better and thus increasing my productivity.

For a salaried position, it would be cool to have a system where you can "deposit" time by working extra one week when you're in the zone, then later "withdraw" some of that time when you need a break. Rather than "we're paying you for your results, not your time, but uhhh you still need to be here from 9-5, k?"

In some countries that's the case. I mean, from what I can tell, in (most of?) Europe, salaried position means you're supposed to work for X hours a week. Anything above is overtime. Depending on the local regulations, they often have to be paid or compensated in kind (work less later). They're pretty much never paid, but being able to work less after a big week is not uncommon.

Yeah we have this in the UK. It's called Time Off In Lieu (TOIL).

I would also be careful generalizing this as Japan is likely to have a very outsized improvement because of culture.

Japan is noted for having to be "at work doing nothing" for obscene number of hours because the boss is also "at work doing nothing" and then having to go drinking afterward.

This is a recipe for unproductiveness.

Being able to actually have the day off because you don't have to emulate the boss breaks this significantly and is likely to have an outsized improvement on productivity.

I guess this will never happen in India and even if it happens, it'll be like 12 hr for 4days.. which will negate the point

Thinking this initiative can be extended to every country may not be a good idea. Comparing most countries to Japan will not be an apples to apples comparison.

In terms of work-life balance and job satisfaction, Japan does not rank very high. Not every country is in that situation.

So an initiative like having a 4-day workweek will likely be an improvement given those conditions.

As long as 4 day weeks don’t come at a pay cut, and I can’t believe I’ve seen people on HN even be okay with it.

If your company continues to make more profit while you work less it’s in your interest to not lose your wage position. It would be stupid to work 4 days to make more money for the company and make less than if you worked 5…

So this 4 day work/week pays less or pay remains the same?

Pays the same ideally. It's 10 hours/day instead of 8. Much more doable. Helps if you're an early riser.

What a sad, poor measure. ‘Productivity’.

Everyone knows the ‘eight hour’ day was invented and has no particular meaning. So—make a human decision, and stop pretending you can science your way to something else.

We know that, say, 60 hours is too many. And 10 hours is too little. So there must be a most efficient number in between; why would it be a round number like 40, the exact number we happened to decide on decades ago? Science sounds like the best way to find that number.

That's still a 50 hr workweek over there :-)

Here is where it is okay to ignore science, folks.

Vaccines, nah? You get yelled at for that.

More work life balance? It's okay not to trust science.

7-minute-abs! </something-about-Mary>

Npr repeating the PR lies...

Imagine how many companies would give their workers 4 day work weeks and enjoy greater productivity, if we introduced a UBI (and abolished labor unions and minimum wage laws).

I am skeptical of this narrative that shorter workweeks boost productivity . Shorter workweeks means less possible productivity at the endpoints of the shorter week, due to people slacking off or being hungover due to long weekend. It also means time wasted trying to resume where one left off, similar to children returning to school from Summer break. For these reasons, the discontinuity of a long weekend cannot be beneficial to productivity. I am sure any employer can attest that productivity tends to fall off a cliff before and after 3-day weekends. I hypothesize that productivity can be maximized with a 7-day workweek but a shorter workday to keep the # of hours constant, eliminating the loss of productivity between weekends. I think this is also why productivity boomed during the pandemic, thanks to Zoom and remote working, again, by eliminating or minimizing the discontinuity.

> I hypothesize that productivity can be maximized with a 7-day workweek but a shorter workday to keep the # of hours constant, eliminating the loss of productivity between weekends.

I take it you don't have children, elderly or disabled family, other responsibilities outside work, or even hobbies?

Having a day free to go shopping, take a hike, do laundry, and even just not have to worry about stresses from work is critical. Having two of them sequentially provides even more benefit because for one of them you don't have to plan to get up the next day and go back to work.

The answer is obviously not 7 day work weeks, and obviously not 0 day work weeks, but is 5 on 2 off optimal, or is there room for improvement?

I have family who switched from 5 8 hour days (plus substantial overtime and on-call) to 3 12 hour days, and the difference in their health, mood, and energy levels is enormous. They get more done better at work than they did before, their job satisfaction is way up, and even their personal finances are night and day compared to before, even though they're making the same exact yearly dollar amount.

> 7-day workweek but a shorter workday to keep the # of hours constant

Why is 40 hours a sacred value? Why is it important that employees perform exactly 40 hours of labor per 168 hour period?

> eliminating the loss of productivity between weekends.

As a software developer with pretty free reign to do whatever helps the business the most, I would bet a paycheck that weekends create more productivity than they "lose". Over the weekend I've come up with ideas that saved hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. If I didn't have time to myself to relax and gather my thoughts, if every day was sitting there churning out code, I can't imagine I'd have even considered those things.

Thinking about it I bet I could even go over my past work and compare average productivity to weeks where I was just on-call over the weekend. I imagine there'd be a measurable drop after on-call weekends, even if I never was actually called.

3 12-hour days? I’ve never even considered that, but… I can totally try that

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