Employees of Microsoft China called out colleagues who had formerly worked at Huawei and Alibaba to stop the “996” work schedule, saying that they were disturbing the company’s work culture.

Why it matters: The conflict returns to the spotlight the controversial 996 practice, where tech company employees are encouraged to work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.

  • A Github post protesting the 996 work schedule among Chinese developers received widespread support on the open development platform in April last year.

Read more: 996 and China speed—Slowing growth in the face of a changing workforce

Details: Microsoft workers in the company’s Suzhou office are taking action against colleagues who previously worked at Alibaba and Huawei, saying that they continue to work the grueling 996 work schedule after joining Microsoft, local media outlet Jiemian reported (in Chinese).

Screenshot of the employee alert program shared by the Zhihu user (image credit: TechNode).
  • The former Huawei and Alibaba employees compete to work extra hours and often send messages in work chat groups around midnight, the report said citing Microsoft employees.
  • Some Microsoft employees have developed a program to spot people that are online late at night, which sends alerts asking them to stop working, according to the report.
  • However, an anonymous user who self-identified as one of the developers of the program posted on Quora-like platform Zhihu, saying the program was developed as a joke and was not intended to be launched.
  • The person also clarified in the post that there is no “boycott” within the company, and requested that people stop “spreading rumors.”
  • Alibaba and Huawei are known for embracing the 996 work schedule. With nearly everyone following this unspoken rule, no one leaves their seat when working hours end, the report said, citing an Alibaba employee.

Context: China Labor Law dictates that work schedules should not exceed eight hours per day and 44 hours on average per week. Given specific reasons, workers can put in a maximum of three hours per day and 36 hours per month of overtime. “Obviously, the 996 work schedule is illegal,” said state-backed media Xinhua (our translation).

  • At the height of last year’s 996 protests, employees at Microsoft have started a petition asking the company to pledge to protect the viral GitHub repository advocating against the Chinese tech industry’s 996 workweek from possible censorship. 
  • Jack Ma, the outspoken Alibaba founder, drew criticism after making controversial remarks on 996 last year.  “To be able to work 996 is a huge blessing,” he said in a blog post.

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via lixin@sixthtone.com or Twitter.