What is China's 996 Work Culture

For the last decade, the Chinese economy has been increasing at a rapid speed. While the rise of technology created a huge impact on it, there are few other factors that played their roles like change in work culture and optimization of work resources. China's tech economy has witnessed fierce competition with other organizations, but the reason why it won the race is that it is not laid back like the others.

The 996 work culture among the Chinese companies made it possible with ease. While the whole world accused them of overtime, this culture is responsible for the success of big giants like Baidu, Tencent and the predominant Alibaba. Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, revealed that working overtime has helped his country to become what it's today and that the long hours are usually necessary for the startups to survive.

Definition of 996 Culture

996 is a work schedule that is commonly practiced by many companies in China. The name is derived from the employees' requirement of working from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM for 6 days in a week, which is almost 72 hours per week. Almost all Chinese companies have adopted this culture as their official schedule. There are few who oppose the 996 work culture saying that it is a clear violation of the Chinese law.

Adapting the 996 Culture

Whether the acceptance of long hours is official or not, it is certain that the founders and their employees do not want to be lazy. With the demand in the market, where consumers order and pay through computers and mobiles; the workers are expected to work for longer hours. Instant deliveries demand high effort and efficiency. However, it is also a known fact that over time tends to demolish creativity when people are working hard for long hours.

The 996 work culture can also create a negative impact on a person's health. As health is the insurance of productivity, the companies shall promote a work culture that focuses on improving the quality and productivity of the organisation. Additionally, the internet companies also have to comply with the Chinese Labour Law and pay the employees with compensations if they're working per 996 work schedules.

Working with passion

996 Culture by Jack Ma

According to Jack Ma, it is up to the laws to decide if the 996 schedule is right to adapt or not. But as workers, he wants us to ponder over our choices. The values of our lives are highly based on the things that we fight for. Once we have clear answers about what we want in life, one won’t regret or be torn while succumbing to new ideas that prompt growth.

If you’re doing a job that you like, the 996 problem is not an issue because you would be extremely passionate about it. But if you don’t find it interesting, every minute of work is torture. The 996 work culture is similar to a marriage where you feel the time flying in a happy marriage, and you feel that one day is as long as a year in an unhappy marriage.

Noone likes working six days a week. It might come off as an inhumane thing to do because of how unsustainable and unhealthy it is. The workers, their families and the laws do not approve of it. In the longer term, the employees will leave even when offered with high salaries. Despite all these factors, there are few people who are working in 996 culture as they are 24*7 available.

When you observe each working individually in the society, many entrepreneurs, artists, athletes, scientists, politicians and officials are living an intense schedule than this one. They do it because they’re passionate about their work, and they think that investing time and energy in it is only valid. These are the people who tend to get successful while compared to others. 

If you ask, why don’t they want something easier, it’s not because they don’t have choices but because they want to achieve something great in life. They want to do something that's more important than money to them. Jack Ma says that companies need such people. People who work hard so that the country can keep making outstanding achievements like it did in the last four decades. He stresses on paying tribute to such fighters and also highlights that he’s not entirely defending the 996 culture.

Everyone has the right to choose their living. They can either choose to work in an easy environment by refusing to invest time and energy, or they can choose to work hard. By choosing the first way, one can’t feel the happiness from the rewards they get by working hard. Sometimes, people also tend to work hard without results and get distressed. While it is not inevitable that fighting will bring success, you will not know your probability of success without fighting.

Jack Ma thinks it's silly that the companies can’t put the employees on the 996 schedules by paying high salaries. When the companies don’t share their success with the staff, they reduce the employees to mere resources where the 996 work culture is levied on them. A boss who believes that the staffers are idling their ways is a boss with a problem.

At Alibaba, the 996 is not working overtime. It is considered as the time spent in learning, thinking, transferring knowledge and improving oneself. People who follow the 996 culture are the ones that have found their passion for happiness and not just money. Those who work in a 996 culture for the overtime will not be able to do it for long.

He stresses that life is not fair. Some are just born with a silver spoon, and some are just plain smart. The only thing that’s fair is that we all have 24 hours a day. How you spend these hours will shape who you’re. By chasing a balance between life and work, one can turn the unfairness into fairness in the longer run.

996 Culture by Lin Chang'an 

Lin Chang'an, the founder of The Beijing News, says that working overtime for longer periods distorts the balance of work and personal life. It prevents younger people from having a social life, from taking care of children, from spending time with the family or from pursuing other habits. It triggers many occupational diseases that involve damage to mental and psychological health.

Working overtime can also be blamed for the frequent deaths and suicides in some sectors. Fundamentally, with 996 culture, companies force the staff to overtime in order to get their larger margins in the profits. But that's not the case. Working overtime also affects workers and corrodes their loyalty and productivity towards the company.

As any person's time is divided into healthy time and illness time, the 996 culture can shrink the health time and increase the illness time. In a few cases, it can even trigger job-hopping. 

According to the 2018 report, 35.8% white-collar workers were trying to change their jobs, and more than 70% are sending their resumes out from overtime work. Especially in sectors where overtime is common such as the internet, the telecom or the computers; the job-hopping after a year is more than 33%. As Lin says, it is important to regulate the 996 work schedule if you want to coerce it on the employees. It is important to work hard, that doesn’t mean you should do it at the cost of the humans’ right to rest.

He insists on having a legal system that safeguards the rights and interests of the labour in cases when there is invisible coercion on them. Companies shall regard their staff instead of burdening them. They shall not believe that overtime will expand their margins and start protecting the rights by resorting to their legal aids. 

996 Culture by Jiang Meng

As Jiang Meng of Opinion.people.com says that most of the companies don’t hire adequate employees. Even when the work is for 10 people, they only employ five and overwork them. This kind of recruitment process leads to delays in delivering goods. While the staff is under pressure, the employers tend to make profits.

A lot of founders say that programmers in their companies are highly compensated, which is why they must over time. But this argument doesn’t have any ground. The reason why they are offered high salaries is that the industry they’re emerging in has high valuation. Programming is not an easy task, and qualitative programmers are really hard to find.

The employers shall stop thinking that high salaries are gifts from bosses and must realize that they’re the results of market pricing. A high income shall never be an excuse to violate labour rights. 

He implies that the overtime work culture forces people into a race. When established, the enterprises are working so hard, but that doesn’t mean the startups can have an uncomfortable work schedule. The arguments of slacking off are ploys to dismiss the rights of workers under the pretext that overtime is the only way to succeed. Based on the economic growth, it is evident that the sustainability in the development is only achieved based on the talents and the skills.  

996 Culture by Ren Ran

Ren Ran, of China Youth Daily, says that the 996 schedule is basically over time, but it has been normalized as one of the important corporate cultures. People who accept this culture are hailed as passionate beings that are diligent about their dreams and people who don’t are denounced as lazy.  With such labelling, people are worried to say no.

While it is true that every human has their right to choose a lifestyle, tired workers can always go to other companies in other industries. The solution doesn’t safeguard the legitimate rights and often ignores that the 996 schedule is not just limited to the internet companies anymore. He highlights that the average time taken by the Chinese for relaxation is just 2.27 hours in a day. In comparison with the western country citizens, this is very less as they take 5 hours of leisure in a day. 

Due to the 996 culture, the rate of depression among the workers is also tremendously increasing. Young people are struggling and fighting for a better life, but the 996 culture turns them into a programmed robot. However, reducing pressure doesn’t mean the working hours shall be shortened. As 996 work culture is a collective issue, the companies shall figure out a way to balance its negative impacts from a macro perspective. 

Pros and Cons of 996 Culture

Pros of 996 Culture: 

There’s a fine line between overworking and putting some extra hours at work. 

Chinese labour laws have normalized the Chinese working week as 44 hours a week, i.e. an eight hour day.

Any additional hour spent at work is classified as overtime and can’t be imposed on any without their consultation. 

But when the 996 culture is implemented in larger companies, it is difficult to not stay back for 12 hours and perform at the same standard.

Working the standard 44 hours a week will not make you stand out as an employee.

Any edge over the competition is beneficial in a work culture that rewards hard work when you’re in a competitive industry. 

Usually, a minimum of at least 150% hourly rate is paid to the employees as overtime pay.

If you’re working on weekends on holidays, you will be paid more.

Longer working hours increase productivity where your probability of getting things is more.

Just like Elon Musk says – No one ever changed the world working 40 hours a week, strive and reap the benefits.

Cons of 996 Culture:

The mandatory coercion of 996 culture reflects the arrogance of the founders and managers.

It is extremely unfair and impractical.

The millennials tend to romanticize the culture and forget to prioritize the work-life balance.

The model will see the backlash as a result.

Employees will start seeking employment elsewhere.

A high rate of employee turnover emerges, which indeed is an expensive trend. 

Only employers get benefitted from working long hours.

The effects of working overtime reflect on mental, emotional and physical health.

It can create high levels of sleep deprivation, increased anxiety, extreme fatigue and stress among individuals.

The productivity drops in longer terms due to lowering of cognitive function.

The result of the overworked workforce is a less happy community with unhealthy employees.

996 Culture after Covid 19 (996 Culture after Corona)

The buckling effects of Covid-19 are already clearly visible among the working classes. Many countries have already passed orders allowing the lengthening of the working hours from 8-12 hours a day. Global norms usually mandate 48 hour work weeks, but in order to keep the economy running, it is needed that the companies operate in full capacity.

When there's a recession, businesses make lesser profits and workers are confronted with unemployment. But with Covid-19, workers are ready to work for longer hours since they want income. Given how businesses are already making the profits that they are expecting, they would only invest if their profits are getting bigger.

In economies with lower demand and higher employment, under the threat of a pandemic, businesses would not undertake larger investments because they can't see any increased profits in the nearby future. They would only be happy with the profits that are resulted in the extension of working hours without extra compensation. The situation will then bring unfairness to the employees as they are obligated to work for longer hours without any benefits under the fear of being laid off.

The idea that economic revival can only be done through the extension of work hours is a bit disconcerting. But if that's what is needed from us, across the globe, it shall only be implemented in its most feasible form. The standards shall be improved everywhere while adapting to the 996 culture. Employees shall be given an option to decide to choose the culture. Businesses shall not coerce the practice of 996 culture but rather place it simultaneously along with the hard-won rights of the labour with appropriate compensations and output growths.

Concluding, the 996 work culture, the by-product of China's tech economy is not as bad as it sounds. Post the pandemic; it is needed to survive amidst the market demand, the changing technology and the aggressive competition. All the employees will be provoked to work for longer hours to sustain in the companies.

As a result, they shall only be willing to adapt to such a culture when there is an environment that fosters rapid growth. If you think that the overtime culture will benefit you in the longer term, there’s no need to be speculative about it. One shall be able to learn new things from the job and work hard to strike a better balance of work-life.