The Controversial 996: A Closer Look at Today’s Hustle Culture

If you’re in the loop of global news, you’ve probably come across the name Jack Ma – founder of e-commerce company Alibaba and one of China’s richest men to date. Ma has inspired many with his speeches, with memorable quotes like “a good boss is better than a good company.” However, his favourable remarks towards the controversial 996 work schedule have raised quite a debate on the internet recently, and people are now wondering if he truly is a “good boss”.

996 refers to a 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week work schedule. Ma called this twelve-hour workday a “blessing” and a testament to passion. Indisputably, his statement caught heat among people in China and eventually spread to the West sparking greater criticisms.

996 is More Common Than You Think

Positions you see on job boards nowadays are typically nine to five by contract. Yet, most corporate environments have abolished the traditional clock-in-clock-out system; employees are given the flexibility to be at work for its required hours at any time as long as it falls within the “bandwidth” period (e.g. between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m.). Those who are keen to gain experience or make an impression on their new job tend to spend extra time to their responsibilities beyond office hours. During busy seasons when deadlines need to be fulfilled, employees inevitably end up staying longer than required. Look around at your friends and colleagues, or even at yourself, you may have been practicing the 996 at your own will without even realizing. In most occasions, we just call it “overtime”.

It All Depends on the Work

Agreeing to work in sales is analogous to signing a contract to long hours and hard work. They are always on call, traveling, and meeting with customers even after business hours. Imagine if a client called right when you were about to leave, would you risk leaving the phone ringing or take it and potentially seal the deal? Interestingly in a recent survey of the medical sales representatives, over 70% of the sales reps claim to be satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs. But despite loving their work, they still find their work-life balance somewhat lacking. In order for the 996 culture to succeed, companies should expect to provide additional supports and resources, including but not limited to:

  • Team building and collaboration
  • Employee wellness initiatives
  • Increased flexibility
  • Better perks and benefits

The list can be subjective, and we encourage it to be. Keep in mind that just because the 996 already exists obliquely in the global workforce, it doesn’t mean it can be or should be applied to everyone. Previously we’ve talked about the possibilities of a six-hour workday, and the key takeaway is that it all depends on the industries, professions, and manners of work. Every worker is different and has factors they value more over another. Thus, it is important to take time to know your employees, identify their needs, and find the right approaches to maintain their drive for success in the field.