In China, the the laws limit work to 44 hours a week and require overtime for anything above that. But many do not follow the rules and a rare online movement highlights the long hours of work in the booming technology sector in China. People from all walks of life have mobilized to improve working conditions in start-up companies, while some people warn of obstacles in a culture rooted in the belief that more work leads to more success .
In late March, anonymous activists introduced 996.ICU, a domain name that represents the grueling life of Chinese programmers: who work from 9 am to 9 pm 6 days a week, with the threat of ending up at the USI. , the intensive care unit of a hospital. . The site details local labor laws that explicitly prohibit overtime without pay. The slogan "The Life of the Developers Counts" appears below in solemn silence.
A project called 996.ICU quickly followed on GitHub, Microsoft's code sharing site and tools. Programmers flocked to express their grievances, compiling a list of Chinese companies that would have 996 employees. Among them were personalities such as online business leaders Alibaba, JD.com and Pinduoduo, as well as telecommunications equipment manufacturer Huawei and Bytedance, the parent company of the short and hot video application TikTok.
In an email response to TechCrunch, JD said it does not force employees to work overtime.
"JD.com is a competitive workplace that rewards initiative and hard work, in keeping with our entrepreneurial roots. We find these roots as we seek, develop and reward employees who share the same hunger and values, "said the spokesperson.
Alibaba declined to comment on the GitHub movement, although founder Jack Ma shared Friday at Weibo his views on the 996 regime.
"No company should nor can it force employees to work 996," wrote Ma. "But young people need to understand that happiness comes from hard work. I do not defend 996, but I respect the workers! "
Bytedance declined to say whether its employees work 996 people. We contacted Huawei but we had not heard from the company at the time of writing this document.
996.UIC quickly exploded into the most starred project of GitHub, which claims to be the largest set of source codes in the world. The protest surely turned heads of technology leaders, as users based in China quickly noticed that a number of browsers owned by companies practicing 996 people had restricted access to the web page.
The dilemma 996
The 996 list is by no means exhaustive as it includes voluntary entries from GitHub users. It is also difficult to define the average hours of work in a company, especially a monster with tens of thousands of employees whose policies may vary from one department to another. For example, it is widely recognized that developers work longer than their counterparts in other units. Anecdotally, TechCrunch has heard that the leaders of some organizations often find ways to exploit loopholes, such as setting unrealistic key performance indicators without explicitly writing into employee contracts.
"Although our society does not require us to go into 996, sometimes poor planning on the part of management forces us to work long hours to meet arbitrary management deadlines," a Beijing-based engineer told TechCrunch. working on a professional networking site. This person is one of many sources who spoke anonymously because they are not allowed to talk to the media.
Other companies speak more often of 996 and are proud of their overly assiduous culture. Youzan, Tencent support, Shopify as a provider of e-commerce solutions, has explicitly asked staff to live 996 work styles. Employees then lodged a complaint in January with the local labor authorities, who allegedly opened an investigation into Youzan.
Many companies look like Youzan, which means that long hours of work are synonymous with success. This state of mind can easily entice programmers or other staff members to accept extra hours of work. But employees are rarely the only ones to exhaust themselves, with entrepreneurs being put under even greater pressure to grow their business from scratch.
"The recent debate on 996 highlights the fierce competition in the technology sector in China. To survive, startups and large companies have no choice but to work extremely hard. Some reputable contractors are even working more than 100 hours a week, "Jake Xie, vice president of investment at China Growth Capital, a start-up venture capital fund, told TechCrunch.
"Overtime is a standard in many Internet businesses. If we do not work more, we are lagging behind, "said a founder of a Shenzhen-based mobile game development startup. Competition is particularly fierce in the mobile gaming sector in China, where creativity is rare and where a popular shortcut to success is to bring down an already viral title. Speed is all that matters.
In addition, a high-performance culture in China could neutralize the resistance of society to 996. Motivated individuals gather in gyms and yoga studios to relieve stress. Having group dinners before returning to work every night becomes essential for social life, especially for those who do not have children yet.
"We think that more hours equals more learning. I think a certain percentage of people want to work more, and that percentage is the highest in 22 to 30 years, "TechCrunch told a senior executive based in Shanghai. "Some people in my team have expressed the feeling that they can not grow as quickly as their friends who work in 996 companies."
"If you do not work 996 when you're young, when will you do it?", Writes Jack Ma, 54, in his article on Weibo. "To this day, I am definitely working at least 12 to 12 years, not to mention 996 … All those who practice the 996 do not have the chance to do things that are valuable and that make sense with the sense of success. So I think that being able to work in 996 is a blessing for China's BAT. "
(BAT is the abbreviation of Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent for their numerical dominance in China, similar to FANNG in the West.)
The demanding hours are certainly not unique to the technology sector. The media and literature have long documented the harsh working conditions of the Chinese manufacturing sector. Neighboring Japan suffers karoshi or "overwork death" among its employees. Korean companies are also known to force workers off-peak, forcing the government to intervene.
Tent to change
Despite these apparent blockages, the anti-996 movement has attracted national attention. The news item "996ICU blocked by big business" generated nearly 2,000 messages and 6.3 million views on Weibo. Chinese public television channel CCTV recounted the incident and accused overtime of causing "significant physical and psychological consequences" to employees. Outside China, Guido van Rossum, creator of Python, raised public awareness of China's 996 routine in a tweet and on a forum.
"Can we do something for 996 programmers in China?", He wrote in a thread consulted 16,700 times.
The 996 campaign that began with a verbal outcry quickly led to material acts. Shanghai-based lawyer Katt Gu and founder of the startup Suji Yan, who say they are not involved in the 996.ICU project, have proposed an anti-996 license that would prevent companies in violation of national or global labor law from using its open source software.
But some warned that the restriction might undermine the spirit of open source, which means that software is distributed free of charge and that the underlying source code of the open source is accessible to other users. can study, share and modify the work of the creator.
"I strongly oppose and condemn 996, but at the same time, I do not agree with the addition of discretionary clauses to an open source project or the use of 39, an open source project for the political game ", You Yuxi, creator of the open source project Vue, which was released under the MIT license, said on the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, Weibo. (Gu denies that his project has "political factors".)
Others adopt a less aggressive approach, applauding companies that adopt the more humane program of "9 am to 5 pm 5 days a week" via the "995.WLB" project GitHub. (WLB is the abbreviation for "work-life balance".) On this list are companies like Douban, This book and film review site is known for its "slow" growth but its enduring popularity among self-proclaimed hippies. WeWork, the workplace service provider who boasts of respecting the lives of employees outside of work, was also nominated.
While many candidates on the 996 list appear to be commercially successful, others point to a selection bias in the notion that more work is more fruitful.
"If a business is big enough and it is shown that it practices 996 people, the problem attracts more attention." Take Youzan and JD for example, "TechCrunch told a Shanghai-based developer based at a start-up of enterprise software.
"Conversely, many companies that practice 996 but have not had commercial success are neglected. There is not enough evidence that the growth of a business is tied to 996 … What employers should value is productivity, not hours. "
Or, as some might suggest, managers should encourage more employees to ask for money, rather than blindly asking for more hours.
"As long as [China’s] the economy does not stagnate, it can be difficult to stop the 996. This is not an individual problem. It's an economic problem. What we can do is provide more humane care and inspire the workers to think: "Do I work at will and with passion?" Instead of looking at their work hours, "suggested Xie from China Growth Capital.
While progress towards more disciplined work schedules may be slow to arrive, experts have suggested another area in which workers can strive for better treatment.
"It seems that almost all start-ups in China are underfunding the social security or housing fund, especially when they are young, that is, before funding Series A or B" said Benjamin Qiu, partner of the law firm Loeb & Loeb LLP, at TechCrunch.
"Compared to 996, employees have an even stronger right to challenge because it violates the regulations and financially harms the employee. That said, the official requirement for social credit and housing funds in China appears to be an undue burden on the employer compared to Silicon Valley, but if it were met, this could be interpreted as compensation of the 996 culture ".
A number of my interlocutors talked about conditions of anonymity, not because their companies promote them, but curiously, because their employers do not want to get bogged down in the discussions. "We do not need to tell people that we support work-life balance. We show it with action, "said a spokeswoman for a company.