The results were promising: 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, the company said in a statement last week.
By shutting down earlier each week, the company was also able to save on other resources, such as electricity.
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.
The issue attracted international attention in 2015, when an employee at Japanese advertising giant Dentsu committed suicide on Christmas Day. Tokyo officials later said that the staffer had worked excessive amounts of overtime.
That has led businesses to start searching for solutions. Some companies have begun offering employees more flexibility, and the government has launched a campaign called "Premium Friday," which encourages workers to leave early every last Friday of the month.
Microsoft, for its part, says it will conduct another experiment in Japan later this year. It plans to ask employees to come up with new measures to improve work-life balance and efficiency, and will also ask other companies to join the initiative.