Chinese billionaire and entrepreneur, Jack Ma’s recent statement over working hours sparked a global debate over whether long working hours are directly or inversely proportional to productivity. Jack Ma endorsed Chinese work culture known as “996”. 996 refers to working from 9 am to 9 pm for six days a week. This 12-hours work culture, which has been globally criticised, is said to be a common practise in the country.
In a social media post, shared on Sunday, at Weibo, Jack MA wrote, “If we find things we like, 996 is not a problem, If you don’t like [your work], every minute is torture.”
The comments coming from Ma, Chinese tech tycoon, will not shock those who know him. He can be called as an ardent believer of 996 culture. Ma was born into a poor family, did not succeed academically and later started Alibaba using cash given by his friends. He owes much of his success to the 12 hour work culture, but what took him to the top of his game might suck life out of some.
The 54-year executive landed into the debate over China’s long working hours on Thursday, when his comments shared with Alibaba employees about 996 were posted on the company’s Weibo account. Ma said he had never regretted working 12-hour days.
“I personally think that 996 is a huge blessing,” he said. “How do you achieve the success you want without paying extra effort and time?” Ma added that anyone who aspires to be part of Alibaba should be prepared to work 12 hours a day if they want to succeed, ‘Or why bother joining? We don’t lack those who work eight hours comfortably’.
His comment prompted criticism from various Weibo users. One user slammed him saying, “Did you ever think about the elderly at home who need care, (or) the children who need company?” The other said, “If all enterprises enforce a 996 schedule, no one will have children” because of a lack of time, they added.
Ma defended his comment saying that he did not intend to promote working long hours culture, but wanted to “pay tribute” to employees who did.
He said, that the real ‘996 is not simply overtime work’ and everyone has the right to choose their own lifestyle but those who work shorter hours “won’t taste the happiness and rewards of hard work.”
Chinese state media did not directly attack Ma’s post but condemned the companies who pay lip service to caring about employees but put in long hours at the office in the name of productivity. “Advocating hard work and commitment does not mean forcing overtime,” wrote state-run newspaper People’s Daily in a commentary published Sunday. “The mandatory enforcement of 996 overtime culture not only reflects the arrogance of business managers, but also is unfair and impractical.”
Ma is not the only propagator of 12 hour-6 days a week work culture. Tesla (TSLA) co-founder Elon Musk has reiterated a similar thought saying that he worked up to 120 hours per week when he struggled with production delays.
“There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week,” he posted on social media site Twitter in November last year.