996 and Chinese tech companies’ overtime culture is a practice that is common in many Chinese tech companies. Jack Ma’s famously waded in the 996 discussions to say  “ If you do not give extra effort and time compared to others, how do you realize the success that you hope to have?”  However, we are reading more and more outcry against these policies in media and public opinion. 

Recently, Bytedance, Tencent, and Kuaishou all announced an end to their overtime practice which was publicly known as the “big week/small week policy” (i.e. bi-weekly six-day work weeks) from 01 August 2021. You would think that this will be celebrated by the masses, but in fact, one-third of employees of ByteDance objected to the removal of this policy. 

The objection has released quite a lot of creative juices and we are seeing interesting articles pop out on Wechat. The below is a viral comic post originally from a WeChat post in Chinese (check out the post here) – which Crystal Yu and Katharine Soh have translated into English. 

  1. No more excuses for “no time to fall in love”

  2. For people who have a date, “exhausted from work” is no longer an excuse

  3. No overtime, no overtime pay
  4. Even though six-day work weeks are canceled, in fact, employees still need to work when they are home. Get off work = Change a place to work

  5. As long as there is a cell phone, employees are able to work at any time and anywhere

  6. As employees are getting used to working on weekends, they really don’t know what to do after the removal of the six-day workweek

  7. “I’ve treated my company as my home, now I don’t have home any more.”

  8. Nobody can work overtime any more!

  9. Those who insist on working overtime will be called “work thieves”

    (Reference to China’s Cultural revolution “evil landlords” who were the enemies of the people)
  10. Even if you don’t want to get off work, the company has countless ways to get you off work, including but not limited to: turning off AC, stopping the water, powering off, and locking the door…

  11. For every measure from above, there will be a countermeasure from below. Even though tech companies cancel the obligated OT policy, but do they actually?

  12. The horror legend of internet companies in the future

Jokes aside

So it seems that people are protesting because workload will still be the same regardless of whether someone works overtime or not. And you may not know, employees are being paid double/ triple for weekend work – and the removal of the 6 days work week is kind of a cut in salary. This shows that many many Chinese young professionals would rather have money compared to work-life balance, contrary to the trend of lying flat that is hot in the media. 

My personal view? I don’t think we should be counting the hours/ days we work, rather – find ways to be efficient, maximise our resources (i.e. our attention and time) and find creative ways to achieve our KPI.  So, as I’ve written before,  this means that it is ok sometimes to overwork to complete a project, and make sure the company has the right ingredients/ goals. 

At the end of the day, smart companies (and bosses) will find effective and sustainable ways to hit targets and keep employees satisfied.  

Big thanks to Crytal Yu and Katharine Soh for working on this article with me. It was fun! 

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].