At the end of March, a challenge to overtime-heavy working conditions at China’s tech giants appeared in an unlikely place. Github repositories are usually used by developers to share, contribute and test code, but the 996.ICU repo and official site are protests against “996” culture—the expectation that employees will work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. The viral repo contains materials encouraging others to raise awareness of overwork in China’s tech companies, including a blacklist of 996-requiring companies and a whitelist of 955 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week) companies. Tech leaders, including Alibaba’s Jack Ma, and JD.com’s Richard Liu have all come out in support of the grueling work schedule. They have, however, been met with scorn and censure in both online discussions and official state media for being tone-deaf and uncaring.
Sogou founder Wang Xiaochuan took to social media to dismiss claims made by some company employees that they were required to work longer than normal hours, adding that if people didn’t agree with the company’s culture, they were free to leave. Separately, a statement from Sogou said it “strictly complies” with Chinese labor laws.
Bottom line: China’s workforce is changing. As younger generations enter the labor force, they are no longer willing to trade their personal lives and health for a paycheck. Industry leaders, government officials and managers need to realign expectations and inefficient management systems to adapt to evolving employee demands for better work-life balance. As wages rise, Chinese productivity is lagging behind global averages. 996 schedules are an ad hoc solution for companies that don’t know how to manage workers effectively.
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