Generation Gap: On the Tech World's '996' Phenomenon

By Edoardo Donati Fogliazza, May 2, 2019

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'Generation Gap' is a monthly series where we talk to two Beijingers from two different generations about a random topic. This time we ask Wang, 40 and Rui, 30 their thoughts on the '996' working environment of the tech industry.

Recently a growing number of tech workers have been complaining about the “996” work schedule that forces them to be in the office from 9am to 9pm six days a week. What is your take on the issue?

Wang, 40


“People’s energy is limited – don’t they think with such a workload the workers’ productivity will quickly reach its limit, and then inevitably diminish? Plus, this kind of life is quite miserable. I myself have to work overtime, and I certainly don’t like it. For me, though, it’s not a requirement – depends on whether a project needs to be completed. I do not know many people who work in the tech industry, so I was not very familiar with their situation before. I believe they should be protected, but honestly, I don’t see how. In Beijing in particular, the competition in the job market is too great. If you refuse to do something, there will always be someone stepping up saying they can work overtime, that they can do without a weekend. Then what? If you were their boss yourself, how would you choose? I really think the origin of the problem lies in the extreme competition, and that nowadays for a worker to try to protect their rights, it has become really hard.”

Rui, 30


“I saw a video online, shot inside the Baidu headquarters. It showed that at 3 or 4am people were still at their desks. I think in China up until now we worked for the country’s GDP, not for ourselves. But I really believe there’s no need for this anymore. Aren’t companies large enough and profitable enough now? Furthermore, I think it’s all about value: If I think of myself doing a “996” work week, I would never think it would be worth it – it doesn’t matter how much I’m paid! But to work at these rhythms… How long can you really go on? After a few years how will your health be doing? You might make 40,000 or 50,000 kuai a month, but does it make sense to earn this much at the cost of one’s well-being? I have my own company, and yes, I often work just as much as the “996” workers do. But I would never be able to accept such conditions [as a policy] now. In China many companies treat you like a child – it feels like being at school. Management in these tech companies seems not to treat workers as adults. I am an adult, and sometimes I am late, sometimes I make mistakes, but this does not imply I am not good at what I do. I might work a lot sometimes, but at least this is the work schedule I chose for myself. I’m free.”

[Images by Edoardo Donati Fogliazza/That's]

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