One of China’s richest men has been criticized for endorsing the controversial culture of 12-hour workdays in the country’s red-hot tech industry, saying employees who worked longer hours will get the “rewards of hard work.”
Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba (BABA), 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.
“If we find things we like, 996 is not a problem,” Ma said in a blog post Sunday on Chinese social media site Weibo. “If you don’t like [your work], every minute is torture,” he added.
Ma’s comments prompted criticism from Chinese social media users.
“Did you ever think about the elderly at home who need care, (or) the children who need company?” wrote a Weibo user with the online moniker stupidcan123, in response to Ma’s post. “If all enterprises enforce a 996 schedule, no one will have children” becaues of a lack of time, they added.
Chinese state media also slammed those companies that make staff put in long hours at the office, without referencing Ma’s post directly. “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.”
‘Not simply overtime work’
Ma said that he did not intend to defend the practice of working long hours, but wanted to “pay tribute” to employees who did.
“The real 996 is not simply overtime work,” he said, adding that 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.”
Ma is arguably China’s best-known entrepreneur. The tech tycoon was famously born into a poor family and did not succeed academically. He started Alibaba using cash scraped together from friends.
The 54-year old executive first waded into the debate over China’s long working hours on Thursday, when comments he made to 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 any prospective employees of Alibaba, one of the world’s biggest tech companies, 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,” he said.
Other high-profile figures in China’s tech industry have reportedly defended long working hours in the technology industry. Richard Liu, founder of Alibaba rival JD.com, reportedly criticized employees at the company who did not work hard enough as “slackers.”
A spokesperson for Alibaba did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Ma’s social media posts or the company’s policy on overtime.
Long workdays in the high tech sector are not unique to China. Tesla (TSLA) co-founder Elon Musk has previously said he worked up to 120 hours per week when the electric vehicle maker 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.