China is now on its first full scale “golden week” since the pandemic. For five days between 29 April to 3 May, millions of people are travelling, camping or simply resting.
The recovery in consumption seems to be encouraging – every tourist site in the country seems to be packed with people. On Friday 28 April – Shanghai high speed railway station had completely run out of tickets – probably the first time in history. It displayed the following message on the notice board:
Greetings. All tickets from Shanghai Hongqiao Station today have been sold out. (Please do not believe touts who can help you buy tickets).
Shanghai Hongqiao station
28 April 2023”
One question many of Momentum Works’s friends asked us was: “Do tech companies, which are famous for their intensive working hours, give their employees days off as well?”
One friend asked a follow up question: “Actually does 996 still exist?”
Well, at least on the first day of the Golden week (29 Apr), Alibaba campus is quite empty:
In fact, Pinduoduo, the company behind Temu which is famous for its fiery working culture, issued an internal notice on 26 of April that its employees will be given 3 days of holidays instead of 5. The news went viral online with people criticising the practice. It is interesting that the government has not said anything about Pinduoduo’s 3 day leave policy. .
A few Pinduoduo employees told us recently that although the work is quite intense, it is rare for them to work more than 12 hours a day. Before the unfortunate death of a 22 year old employee from exhaustion in December 2020, working for 16 hours was quite common.
In 2021, ByteDance launched a “1075” work schedule to differentiate from the tech “996” stereotype. The “1075” scheme meant from 10am to 7pm, 5 days a week – any overtime work after 7pm will need to be applied, subject to approval.
At that time, our friends privy to the shift told us that for most departments overtime work was actually not necessary. In fact, the company was probably over-staffed that additional inputs in the number of hours did not actually generate positive output.
As growth opportunities become limited for major tech companies, and competition remains fierce – the companies have all realised efficiency beats sheer manhours. The recent restructuring of Alibaba and the return of founders for a few other major companies (including JD and Tencent) signify a desire and urgency to resolve such issues.
In fact, the very notion of “996” was not something most Chinese tech companies practised, as our friend argued in 2020.
Jack Ma, who put forward an argument for “996” in 2019, actually said the following:
“In this world, each of us would hope to be successful, to live a good life, and to be respected. Let me ask you all. If you do not give extra effort and time compared to others, how do you realise the success that you hope to have?”
In early days of Alibaba, those who put in the extra effort were handsomely rewarded in wealth and sometimes fame. The question is – in a society where growth is nowhere as fast as it used to be, what would be the motivation for young people to put in the extra hours, and dedication?