Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, has spoken out on social media in recent days in support of the Chinese work practice known as “996.” The number refers to working from 9 am to 9 pm six days a week and is said to be common among the country’s big technology companies and start-ups.
Ma said on the Chinese social media Weibo: “If we find things we like, 996 is not a problem; If you don’t like, every minute is torture.”
In his conclusion, Ma said he would rather not give a politically correct speech to please those who want to have achievements but don’t want to work hard. He said companies should not force their employees to work overtime but young people should understand “no pain, no gain”.
Ma’s comments prompted criticism from Chinese social media users. One of the main objections has been: “Did you ever think about the elderly at home who need care, or the children who need company? If all enterprises enforce a 996 schedule, no one will have children because of a lack of time”.
Beyond Ma, several of China’s most prominent industry figures have also weighed in on the controversy. Richard Liu, chief executive of Alibaba arch-foe JD.com Inc., said in a recent post on his WeChat moments that, while he would never force staff to work a 996 schedule, people who slacked off were not considered his “brothers”.
The country has enjoyed economic growth averaging 10% for more than 25 years – from the late 1970s to the mid 2000s – but in subsequent years that has slowed to nearer 6%.
Mr Ma co-founded Alibaba, sometimes called China’s eBay, in 1999 and has seen it become one of the world’s biggest internet companies. The company’s market value is now approximately $490bn (£374bn), and Mr Ma’s personal wealth is estimated at around $40bn.
He Bin, a public policy expert, told Caixin, a financial magazine, that a lack of individual labor rights also drives the continuation of 996 culture in China. If job candidates who are against 996 are not considered for roles at certain companies, then that work culture will remain regardless of labor laws.
by Sophie Bianchi