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In the sitcom “The Office,” a bumbling manager spends much of his time distracting the hapless employees of a paper company’s local sales branch. Somehow, despite all the antics that seem to interfere with getting anything done, the branch consistently manages to be the company’s most profitable. Though that must have seemed laughably unrealistic to many fans of the show, it turns out to have some basis in reality.

Last summer, Microsoft Corp. conducted an experiment in Japan. In a country where people put in long hours, the U.S. software company gave its employees five consecutive three-day weekends. Astonishingly, Microsoft’s sales per employee soared 40 percent from the previous year. The company also saved money on electricity bills and paper-copying costs.

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