‘996’ work culture drives online movement for workers in China’s tech industry

China 24

‘996’ work culture drives online movement for workers in China’s tech industry

China’s technology industry is driving part of the country’s economic growth. But that push to produce has driven some to a breaking point.

An online movement is gaining steam as it rails against companies demanding long work hours.

CGTN’s Frances Kuo has more.

You’ve probably heard of 9 to 5. But, what about ‘996′?

“Working 996 every day makes your overtime longer than 20 or 30 hours,” said Zhao Xuetan, a programmer.  “It surely harms your body.”

That has become a popular sentiment towards ‘996,’ the culture of working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.

It’s become more common in China’s super-competitive tech industry.

It’s sparked a nationwide debate about work-life balance, much of it playing out on social media.

Last month, a movement of dissent took off on Microsoft’s code-sharing platform, GitHub.

It’s dubbed 996.ICU, implying that working 996 will land you in the Intensive Care Unit.

The hashtag #YOUNG_PEOPLE_TRAPPED_BY_996# has also made the rounds on Chinese social media as a way to share stressful work experiences and call out companies that implement the grueling schedule.

Reactions towards 996 work culture varied among professionals.

“For some start-ups and big companies, they need their work to compete with other companies, and employees are at the core of that competitiveness,” said Wang Dao, a media worker.

“It is acceptable to struggle for your career once in a while, but don’t make it a norm,” said Jin Linyan, a financial practitioner.  “I think the best way is to increase efficiency.”

The heads of some of China’s biggest companies have also joined the debate.

Alibaba’s Jack Ma posted on Weibo: “I personally think that being able to work 996 is a huge blessing if you don’t put out more time and energy than others, how can you achieve the success you want?”

Ma later clarified, saying he didn’t condone mandatory 996 schedules but just wanted to praise those who put in the hours voluntarily.

Richard Liu, CEO and Co-Founder of e-commerce giant, JD.com, put it more bluntly in his Weibo post, saying “Slackers are not my brothers.”

996 is not unique to China.

Elon Musk, CEO and Founder of Space-X, said on Twitter that he often clocks 120 hours a week. 

“Nobody ever changed the world on 40,” he said.

But choosing to work long hours, or being forced, are two issues entirely.

One Chinese attorney said there is a legal red line.

“According to Chinese Labor Law, most employees are subject to standard working time, which is no more than eight hours per day, no more than 40 hours per week, and at least one day off every week,” said Yang Baoquan of the Zhong Yin Law Firm.  “So the 996 working time violates the law in terms of both working time every day and every week.”

It’s a cost that some said just isn’t worth it.

“For young people, after many years, they may think they had a valuable work opportunity, but they may also regret they had sold themselves cheaply,” said Jessica Qi, a human resources worker.