China's Intense "996" Work Culture

by Danial
Dec 18, 2018 at 2:28 PM

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In China, there’s a work culture known as “996”. People work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. Young professionals are expected to stick to grueling work schedules that has become so pervasive in Chinese companies. The schedule is mandatory and there is no overtime pay or bonuses. This is the new norm for internet companies in China.

Companies such as 58, Xiaomi and others have adopted this new practice. Technode reported that the policy changes at many of these major companies have caused rebellions and mass resignations, but there are some that feel an enhanced sense of pride and team-spirit.


Does it work?

But does 996 actually work? Or is it against human-rights? Does working longer hours mean better efficiency?

Tim Ferriss, author of 4-Hour Workweek thinks that it’s not the working hours that creates productivity, it’s about the quality of time spent. “By working only when you are most effective, life is both more productive and more enjoyable,” he said.

996 opponents argue that the policy promotes procrastination and a “no rush, plenty of time” mentality. They believe that not only does it kill efficiency, but it also kills happiness. According to Feriss’ theories, 996 could have a negative effect on companies.

Peter Drucker, the political economist and author, also has a similar mindset. He believes “Efficiency is doing things right, effectiveness is doing the right things.” In his book The Effective Executive, Drucker talks about how efficiency is generated and how productivity is harnessed. He portrays the concept that a sense of purpose is what drives productivity.


The story behind 996

There are historical reasons behind the rise of the 996 culture.

According to BBC, back in the early 2000s during the early years of the tech and start-up scene in China, most companies sought employees willing to work overtime. This is something that helped some of them grow into the country’s biggest companies such as Tencent.

This has caused companies in other fields to start make their staffs work longer hours in a bid to match their success.

The normalisation of unpaid overtime led to the invention of the phrase 006 but the very existence of the phrase could be a sign that attitudes might be changing.

People who like their work environments are not complaining about the hours. Companies who inspire their employees usually offer good compensation packages and that are prestigious can find people to work 996 without complaint.

Will 996 make or break companies in China? It is still a mystery whether it’s efficient or not, and there might never be a method to accurately measure the outcome. '

According to WSJ, some startups have reversed the course. The founder of the WeChat-based social commerce platform Fmsecret tried to implement 996 last march but had to abandon it three months later. Five of his 32 employees quit because they didn’t feel the company trusted them and was trying to exploit them.


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