Company's competitiveness can't rest on 996 overtime culture
Published: Apr 14, 2019 10:03 PM
With internet magnates including Alibaba founder Jack Ma and CEO of JD.com Richard Liu weighing in, discussions on the 996 work schedule, where the workday begins at 9 am and finishes at 9 pm, six days a week, have gotten even more heated, attracting a slew of celebrities to join in the discussion. 

The debate has led to attention on two values: One is the spirit of working hard to succeed; the other is respect for workers' rights to rest and leisure time.  

Both Ma and Liu talked about their true feelings and emphasized the positive values contained in the 996 phenomenon. Every entrepreneur must have struggled harder than the 996 schedule. They believe in utmost struggle and the success of their enterprises has bolstered their outlook on life. 

Objectively speaking, for Chinese society to move forward, it needs the spirit of struggle embodied in those entrepreneurs as well as workers who dedicate themselves to their job and never get tired of long working hours. Without them, the Chinese economy is very likely to lose vitality and impetus.  

However, we firmly believe that a 996 schedule should not be universally encouraged in the workplace. Even if you work for a company whose leader often does not take downtime, it is not supposed to be a value orientation promoted by management levels. The competitiveness of a company should not be built on the 996 scheme, which violates the Labour Law. This deserves the attention of the management of companies.  

Of course, it is inevitable that some key members will have to work overtime during special periods or for special tasks. As competition gets fiercer, it is necessary that employees are able to bear challenging tasks. But overtime should not be made mandatory as the basis for the company's competitiveness, nor should it be regarded as the main source of the company's vitality.  

The rights of companies' leaders and senior executives are different from those of ordinary employees, and so are their obligations. Senior executives can choose to work overtime out of their own interests or career ambition while employees, in a relatively passive position, should not be demanded to do likewise, because their links to the company and their salaries are not comparable to those of the former. It is unfair or unrealistic to demand them to make the same sacrifices as senior management. 

The criticism about the 996 schedule has positive significance. With China's annual per capita GDP reaching about $10,000, this pushback embodies a new understanding of what Chinese people want out of life. China's high-quality development actually includes the improvement of work efficiency and a more civilized and humane work-life balance. Having this better balance is a value orientation that should be continuously strengthened with the development of economic and social development.  

China is in a period of historical transition toward a rich and strong society. The whole country, including some of our outstanding conglomerates, is facing daunting challenges. 

We believe the Labour Law and market adjustments will play a role in helping us overcome the transition period and bring changes. We call on Chinese companies to attach importance to the irreversible changes that are taking place in social production, actively respond to them and make adjustments accordingly. Whoever maintains its vitality following the trend will be more able to win the next round of competition.