Employees of Chinese e-commerce firm JD.com have publicized its directive to “make full contributions” to the company by working 12 hours a day, five days a week as competition in the e-commerce sector heats up.

A number of JD.com employees posted on Chinese professional networking service Maimai on Tuesday, claiming that the company is adopting a compulsory “995” working schedule, which refers to work schedules on weekdays starting at 9 a.m. and finishing at 9 p.m. Netizens cited by Chinese media questioned whether this new initiative was part of the company’s layoff strategy, forcing resignations for employees reluctant to work mandatory overtime.

Liu Li, a director in JD.com’s public relations, responded on Maimai on Wednesday, saying the company was not making overtime compulsory, but rather encouraging efficiency in hopes that all employees make full contributions and create value for customers and for themselves, as well. “Devotion and passion are in JD.com’s DNA, and we have no better choice but to work harder for the future of the company,” Chinese media cited Liu as saying.

Any work hours beyond eight hours per day, 40 hours per week is considered overtime under Chinese labor laws. Employees who refuse to work overtime cannot be disciplined or fired for this reason. Regardless, the number, 996, is well-known shorthand for working hours at top Chinese technology companies, referring to 12 hours a day, six days a week.

JD.com is stepping up efforts to boost vitality within the organization amid slowing growth and mounting challenges. Last month, the company announced that it would be slashing the bottom-performing 10% of its executives by year-end.

In 2018, the US-listed e-commerce giant recorded total revenues of RMB 462 billion (around $69 billion), posting 27.5% year-on-year growth compared with 40.3% year-on-year growth in 2017. The company expects growth to further decelerate in the first quarter of 2019 to 18% to 22% year-on-year.

The push for performance comes as competition heightens in the sector. Analysts view JD.com rival, Pinduduo, as “best-positioned to benefit from growth” in late adopters to online shopping, according to a report from Swiss investment bank UBS report dated Mar. 5. Pinduoduo revenues rocketed 697% year-on-year in the third quarter of 2018. UBS analysts forecast that new shoppers in lower-tier cities could drive 24% growth in users in 2019.

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen

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