Biz / Tech

Push for work-life balance in high-tech industry

Zhu Shenshen
There is a growing backlash against 996.icu, which means working six days a week and ending up in hospital, in favor of 955.wlb for five days a week, with a work-life balance.
Zhu Shenshen

For a growing number of young people, especially in the high-tech sector, their careers are increasingly a blunt choice between 996.icu and 955.wlb — the intensive care unit or a work-life balance.

The debate in China has gone viral after first appearing on Microsoft's GitHub, which calls itself the world’s largest code host.

It has spread to Chinese social media sites such as Weibo and Zhihu, with millions of posts attacking or complaining about 996.icu ( 9am to 9pm, six days a week and ending up in the intensive care unit) as against 955.wlb (9am to 5pm, five days a week, with a work-life balance).

About 90 percent young people face overtime working in their first jobs in China, says LinkedIn, which has more than 610 million members globally. And about a third of overtime is unpaid.

“What’s the difference between these 996 companies and the old landlords who oppressed peasants?” said one post.

Posters accuse some of China's biggest tech companies, including Alibaba, JD.com and drone maker DJI Technology of pushing their workers 996.

The critics say the companies push employees, especially technical engineers, to work hard to “show their commitment.” Online comments and local media reports said some companies even offered beds and other facilities so workers could stay on-site.

Those accepting 996 are afraid of losing their jobs if they prefer 955.

“I am required to adopt 996 working system (in the new company) without any extra pay,” said Wendy Gao, who mentioned her interview experience for a Shanghai Internet startup.

Gao, who is seeking a job in Shanghai now, declined the “unfair” offer.

Seven of 10 most popular jobs are in the dot-com industry, especially BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent), ahead of the automotive sector and information services, said LinkedIn based on its Spring job trend survey.

Some critics suggest 996 breaks the country's labor laws,which say that employers can ask workers to work overtime for up to three hours a day, to a maximum of 36 hours a month — while 996ers work up to 100 hours a month.

But most employers said engineers work overtimes voluntarily. 

JD said that it was not a mandatory policy, but all employees should be fully committed to their work.

By Monday afternoon, 995 had more than 12,000 “Stars,” which means willingness to accept updates and comments on the campaign.

The campaign also listed firms which don’t take 996, from Autodesk (Beijing and Shanghai), eBay (Shanghai), Ericsson (Shanghai), Google (Beijing and Shanghai), Intel (Shanghai), Microsoft (Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou), Oracle (Shanghai), VMware (Beijing and Shanghai) and WeWork (Shanghai).

Many Shanghai offices of tech firms don’t require 996, said the campaign author, a programmer based in Shanghai.

“What you do” has more meaning than “how long you do it” in a job, said LinkedIn, adding overtime often brings low efficiency and has negative effects on workers.


 



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