We spoke about the “996” culture, made famous by Jack Ma last year in our blog.  It’s a practice that is common in many Chinese tech companies, and these companies take pride in working hard to be successful. In Jack Ma’s words “ If you do not give extra effort and time compared to others, how do you realize the success that you hope to have?” Many of our parents tell us the same. 

I disagree. I don’t believe that by pushing yourself to the limit is the only way to earn better living. In my Gen-Z opinion, 996 is just pure slavery.

And I’m not the only one. We hear about two employees from Pinduoduo who died in the span of one month.  And it’s not only in China. Even in Jakarta, even though we are all working from home, we are being pushed harder, and working much longer. I hear the same stories from my friends and also my colleagues from Singapore and Malaysia. 

But this 996 culture doesn’t increase productivity. 


What does this pushing do to us? 

Most bosses want to maximize the output from their employees in a fixed amount of time. And since bosses don’t usually change deadlines, nor can they increase the number of employees – that leaves bosses only one option –  squeezing as much as they can out of their employees by getting us to work overtime, piling us with more responsibilities, setting short deadlines – all these effectively pushing us to our limit. They position this as “You are young, you need to experience this so that you can learn. ”

In my experience, this kind of practice is counterproductive. Getting someone to work overtime and/or piling us with more responsibilities than we can handle over a long period of time causes underproductivity, which leads to stress, which leads to depression and disappointment for both us and our bosses. 

An additional kicker is that when our bosses push us harder (when we underdeliver), they will often get the opposite of what they are looking for – even worse performance – and resentment. In the end, the bosses themselves will need to assign someone else to do the work or do it themselves.  I am sure this resonates with all the bosses reading this piece. 


Gen Z are not strawberries

Don’t get us wrong. We are not the “strawberry” generation.  We do understand that sometimes we have intense periods where we need to shift into high gear to cover multiple project deadlines, closing important deals, or fix unexpected urgent issues . We are cool with that. But it’s important to make sure that these situations should be temporary, and not a BAU.

Context: Strawberry, or Strawberry generation refers to Millennials and Generation Z who “bruise easily” like strawberries, the cannot withstand social pressure or work hard like their parents’ generation; 

And we are willing to push ourselves further – if the conditions are right. In the last few years working at Momentum Works, I have observed a few situations where I am willing to put in that extra effort and be happy about it. 


When is it worth it to work those extra hours… and what can bosses learn?

Ultimately, it’s important to put boundaries between work and personal life. Let me share my personal observations on some of the common traits which determine whether I will push myself harder: 

1. There is a common goal between myself, my team, and the company 

We all have our personal goals in life. It’s also important to have a common goal at work with my colleagues and bosses  (e.g. We want to hit xx subscribers by Q1, We want to run a great event). So -it’s important for our bosses to align the company’s goals to our personal goals. 

This kind of alignment is already in places like Alibaba, and has proven to be quite successful! It prevents staff from overtiring himself/ herself – and allows bosses to set clear directions. 

For me, this kind of environment removes unnecessary uncertainty ( we already are faced with so many ambiguities in startups). And when I can deliver clearly what is expected, and I get to decide how to achieve my and the company’s goals. This kind of clarity motivates me to run those extra miles. In essence, I am in control of my own future.

2. Teamwork is important but having a work partner that you can rely on is the key

As a gen-z, socializing is a big part of our lives. We love to work as a team but the best team should be one that does not always agree with us. 

Why is that? Having a team that always agrees with you is risky. Either everyone thinks alike (the Yes-man dilemma), or everyone is afraid of confrontation (the Emperor’s new clothes dilemma). This kind of environment becomes unproductive. You will still work very hard, but  your critical thinking stiffens, and you lose motivation to step out of your comfort zone (the opposite of pushing your boundaries!) 

In my opinion, this kind of environment actually demotivates me – as it derails me from my goal to experience, immerse and really understand how the real world works. 

I would rather have someone that disagrees and gives me feedback – so to achieve our common goals. Of course, it has to be constructive comments with the aim to help me solve my problems. So I will respond to comments like “I feel you can do this and this to reach  your goal”, instead of “this is stupid and it’s not going to work,” 

P.s. I hear that this is also one of the standards in “Netflix’s No Rules Rules”. 

3. Supportive leaders that always maintain an open communication

Imagine having to work without a good leader to support you. Horrible !  But this support isn’t god given. You, as an employee, have to work for it. 

Maintaining open communication from BOTH SIDES is very important. And yet , it is very hard to achieve. 

Most times (and especially in Asia), employees feel that it’s not their place to question their bosses. Employees feel that their role is just to follow orders. Do, not ask. On the other hand, most bosses feel that they need to show authority. “How can I lead my team if I do not know what I am doing?” And so- they lead, sometimes with not enough information. And when they hit a roadblock , what do they do? Push their employees harder. 

This kind of misunderstanding and outdated role in society causes a lot of unproductivity and burnout. 

My advice is that as a boss to Gen -Z, your job is to LEAD us into new, unknown territories. And by leading, it means that you have to always have an open mind to any comments or suggestions or even questions from your employees. You don’t also always have to agree, but at least hear us out and explain to us why you don’t agree. Maybe we are seeing things from a new perspective. 

On the other hand, as a Gen-Z employee,  I realize that I will also need to make an effort to explain clearly to my bosses my point of views, as well as where I am struggling, and where I need help. 

If we do not communicate clearly , misunderstandings build up, and of course, it will lead to dissatisfaction, pressure, stress and lead to burn out for both employees and bosses. We can avoid that. 

4. And the most importantly, be brave, don’t be scared to say NO

You know yourself the best, and you are your best protector. I am always a believer of gut feel or our sixth sense. If your sixth sense tells you that something is not right (at work, or personally), listen to it. So many times we try to silence our sixth sense with logic or some kind of other explanation. I realise that this is always a mistake. 

My advice to my fellow Gen Z is that even if you are afraid – learn to say NO. You are still young, you need to love yourself, you are brave, and compared to others, as a gen-z most of us got nothing to lose, we can still make mistakes, try to learn from our mistakes and just try to explore what we love out there.

Believe me, your boss will respect you even more because you say No. Good bosses are always trying to assess where you are in terms of your work, and how he/she can help you become better (and more productive). Bad bosses who give you a hard time if you stand up for yourself.. Well, you know what you should do. 

Whilst everyone’s circumstances are different, I hope that the above 4 observations will be helpful to anyone who are at cross roads, or trying to figure out how to be better at work. Remember that we need to put things into perspective. Work is just part of our live. We also need to take care of ourselves mentally, socially, and physically. This is the key to achieving long-term success!

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].