Imagine working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week. That’s exactly what Chinese billionaire Jack Ma expects from his employees who work at the Alibaba Group.
During a recent internal meeting, Ma said his company doesn’t need people who want an eight-hour workday. He wants those who adhere to the infamous 996 work culture that involves 12-hour work days (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.), six days a week.
“To be able to work 996 is a huge bliss,” Ma said (via Fortune). “If you want to join Alibaba, you need to be prepared to work 12 hours a day, otherwise why even bother joining.”
The country’s tech industry is renowned for its gruelling hours and stressful working conditions. Stories of programmers and start-up founders dying from being overworked are not uncommon.
Ma’s comments have triggered some serious backlash.
“A load of nonsense, and didn’t even mention whether the company provides overtime compensation for a 996 schedule,” one person commented on the post, which was originally published on Alibaba’s official Weibo account. “I hope people can stick more to the law, and not to their own reasoning.”
“The bosses do 996 because they’re working for themselves and their wealth is growing,” another person wrote. “We work 996 because we’re exploited without overtime compensation.”
“Did you ever think about the elderly at home who need care, (or) the children who need company?” a third added.
Critics also pointed out that no one will have children if they must endure a 996 schedule because they won’t have any time to raise them.
Last month, Chinese programmers complained about labour conditions on the code-sharing community Github under the topic “996.ICU.” ICU refers to “Intensive Care Unit.” “By following the ‘996’ work schedule, you are risking yourself getting into the ICU,” the description on the page explains. The anonymous topic creator asked tech workers to relay stories about abusive practices. Users mentioned both Alibaba and its financial affiliate Ant Financial.
Meanwhile, Chinese state media is opposed to companies that require long hours. “Advocating hard work and commitment does not mean forcing overtime,” the state-run newspaper People’s Daily stated in a commentary, reports CNN. “The mandatory enforcement of 996 overtime culture not only reflects the arrogance of business managers but also is unfair and impractical.”
Ma, 54, grew up in a poor family. He is currently one of China’s richest men with a fortune valued at nearly $40 billion. He recently resigned as CEO of Alibaba Group and plans on retiring later this year to focus on philanthropy.