Editor’s Note: For a deeper look into the 996 phenomenon in 2019, check out our piece on the changing face of China’s workforce.
This post is contributed by Sean Konieczny, a tech entrepreneur and extensive traveller who believes that miles traveled is directly correlated to the level of EQ and decision making quality. While in Asia, he settled in Beijing and co-founded a digital health data company to provide precision healthcare services that correspond with user health data.
China’s always had the reputation for a work culture that puts work before life. In the early days of Jack Ma’s career, Alibaba management promoted back-braces for their engineers so they could sit in their chairs for days on end, without collapsing from back stress. In today’s war-like startup environment, Chinese companies are doing whatever they can to get an edge. A new productivity practice is becoming popularized. It’s called 996.
It’s not the Porsche Turbo, but still something along the same lines in speed and agility. It supposedly makes businesses run “twice as fast”. 996 at a Chinese company means the workday starts at 9am, finishes at 9pm, with an extended 6 day week. The schedule is mandatory and there is no overtime pay or bonuses. This is the new norm for internet companies in China.
Companies like 58.com, Xiaomi, overseas shopping tip app Xiaohongshu and a handful of others have adopted this new practice, some as early last year. The changes in policy at many of these powerhouse companies have caused a huge office rebellions, mass resignations, but for some, an enhanced sense of pride and team-spirit.
What we can’ seem to agree on: does 996 really work? Is it against human-rights? Do working longer hours really mean better efficiency?
Author of 4-Hour Workweek Tim Ferriss believes it’s not the number of work hours that creates productivity, it’s about the quality of the time spent.”By working only when you are most effective, life is both more productive and more enjoyable,” he says.
996 rebels argue that the policy fosters procrastination and a “no rush, plenty of time” mentality. Not only does it kill efficiency, but it also kills happiness. According to Feriss’ theories, 996 could actually have a negative impact on companies.
The godfather of business, Peter Drucker, 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.
Will 996 be a make-or-break situation? It’s affect on efficiency is still a mystery, and there might never be a method to accurately measure the outcome. Whether the motivation of 996 is expedited deadlines or a fabricated image of camaraderie, it seems that it only works when there’s an achievable end-goal in sight.
It’s not about the hours of work, but rather the motivation behind the job. It’s the end-goal that drives effectiveness. Some could even argue that with less time and more purpose, companies would see better results. In conclusion, 996 or not, internet companies should replace their back-braces with S.M.A.R.T. goals.
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