996 is not the formula Chinese companies need to rise above competition

By Luo Hao Source:Global Times Published: 2019/2/12 17:48:40

The 996 work ethic at Chinese Internet companies is common. For them, work begins at 9 am and finishes at 9 pm throughout a six-day work week. Many employees at tech powerhouse companies, including BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent), JD.com, Xiaomi, and Didi, say they even work overtime. Yet there remain social and legal issues behind such work conditions. 

Technically, the 996 work schedule is illegal. Companies must apply for special permission with the labor administration to implement it should their businesses warrant it. However, most tech companies do not meet the necessary requirements. 

Yet many companies have adopted 996, and their employees seem to be accepting it. The debate over this practice was reignited after the founder and chief executive of an e-commerce firm called on all employees to embrace 996 work culture.

Does it relate to the chill the entire Internet industry experienced in 2018? Why are companies adopting this work system and why are their employees accepting it?

From a macro perspective, some Internet companies did experience downward trends, prompting them to broaden income sources and economize expenditures. 

By adopting the 996 plan, these companies aimed to boost efficiency while forcing non-competitive employees to leave.

Within the industrial market, China's Internet sector is a highly competitive playing field. To survive in and dominate the market, companies have to stretch their production periods and work longer hours. 

Labor costs in China are rising, especially since the new tax reform went into effect this year. With such a big challenge ahead, companies can only resort to utilizing time in exchange for profit. 

There has been a high turnover of employees at China's tech companies. Big companies are arrogant and feel their employees can leave if they cannot handle 996 work culture.

Another issue is that companies and employees tend to follow others. At the beginning, only a few companies implemented 996. Eventually other companies followed out of concerns they would fall behind. Some employees dare not object to the work conditions especially when their colleagues do not complain.

Those who work at start-up companies are typically young males in their 20s and 30s who want to buy a house and get married. To chase high performance standards necessary to achieve such goals, everyone is willing to work harder under the leadership of their venture partners.

My company has not adopted the harsh 996 schedule. However, working overtime is common. The longest I have ever worked continuously was for 29 hours so me and my team could launch the latest version of our app. Although it was understood the conditions on the following day would not be favorable, I could not stop until the job was complete.

Companies should review whether their businesses really need the 996 work culture. Excellent business managers and operators should not exploit it as a bargaining chip for financing. 

They should make reasonable judgments based on industrial trends and market expectations. When employees have to work overtime to catch up, they should be paid extra or receive paid leave. 

Companies should pay attention to employee efficiency especially after they work long hours. Working for extended periods does not necessarily guarantee efficiency. 

On Quora, a Google engineer said he works on average nine to 10 hours a day, but 20 percent of each shift consists of free time, a lunch break and exercise in between. 

Google believes that a stress-free work environment boosts efficiency. They feel that during free time employees are able to create the most valuable products. To determine the best time to launch a "saturation attack," control the work rhythm, and maintain production, plus adding to the team's combat ability. This is essential for long-term growth. 

US companies feel their competitive strength lies in fostering creativity. Chinese companies should see beyond expense and time.

The author is chief technology officer of a start-up tech company based in Beijing. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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