July 24, 2021

996: Chinese bosses think it’s awesome

When we do what we love, can we still talk about work? This is more or less the line taken by Jack Ma, the Chinese leader of Alibaba and one of the biggest fortunes in China, in a blog post published on the Weibo platform addressing the issue of working time.

In China, in fact, the debate has been raging for several weeks on the “996” work rate set up by several large Chinese companies in the new technologies sector and which is proving to be very trying for their employees. “996” indeed means “From 9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week”, that is to say weeks of a little more than 60 hours.

For the manager, this pace of work is not a problem. In his first blog post, Jack Ma explained that “working by the rule of 996 is a huge joy. If you want to join Alibaba, you have to be prepared to work 12 hours a day, otherwise why bother to join? ours ?”.

Jack Ma’s stance on the matter is not new, but the publication of this blog post echoes criticism from many developers and employees in China’s e-commerce industry who have spoken out against the practice. illegal of 996 in Chinese companies. For Jack Ma, nothing is more natural than to practice the 996 in these companies where the average age is between 20 and 30 years: “if you don’t do it now, when are you going to do it?” the leader questioned in his publication.

Not in political correctness

Jack Ma’s initial post drew plenty of criticism and negative commentary, but in a second post the executive persisted and signed in a second blog post reacting to the criticism: “As expected, my internal comments a few days ago about of the “996” rule have sparked constant debate and criticism. I understand these people, and I could have said something ‘correct’. But there is no shortage of people saying ‘correct’ things in the in today’s world, what we lack are words full of truth, which make people think “. With lip service, Jack Ma concedes that he does not intend to “force” the workers to adopt 996, while very clearly inviting them to volunteer to subscribe to this at least restrictive regime.

As the developers of the 996.ICU movement explain, the “996” work pace is increasingly imposed by large Chinese companies in the new technology sector. But the law in force in China strictly regulates working time: beyond 40 hours per week, employees must be volunteers and be paid overtime. Details that large companies often forget. On Github, developers are nevertheless organizing and trying to list companies that try to impose illegal work rates.

Jack Ma is not the only one to adopt a point of view resolutely hostile to the criticisms leveled by Chinese developers. The head of JD.com, Alibaba’s main competitor, also took a stand on the debate. Not surprisingly, JD.com was one of the first companies targeted by the 996.ICU initiative for adopting this pace of work in some of its departments. Richard Liu, founder of JD.com, denied imposing this pace of work on his employees, but also took the opportunity to castigate the “lazy” within his teams, while the company announces job cuts to stay competitive.