Alibaba’s Jack Ma calls working 12 hour shifts six days a week a “blessing”

Chinese tech billionaire Jack Ma lash back against criticism of China’s harsh work schedule in the wake protests

Alibaba’s Jack Ma calls working 12 hour shifts six days a week a “blessing”

One of the biggest factors to consider when relocating to a new country is its work culture. For instance, China has what’s known as a 996 culture, meaning people work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week. While this pill could be tough to swallow to many UK entrepreneurs, native leaders are backing the intense work ethic. The latest of them is Jack Ma, co-founder and executive chairman of Chines e-commerce giant Alibaba.

The 996 culture has been criticised in the past after reports of people in the IT sector literally working themselves to death. However, this latest wave of protest began with an online protest against the 996 culture, known as 996.ICU – as in you’ll end up at the intensive care unit if you work a 996 schedule. The 996.ICU campaign was launched earlier in March on Microsoft GitHub, the software development platform, where tech workers shared stories from the frontiers of the 996 culture. Alibaba was named and shamed as one the companies that endorsed 996 work weeks.

Ma doesn’t agree with the negativity. In an internal speech, he argued he “personally think that being able to work 996 is a huge blessing” and attributed his own long hours to his personal success, Reuters reported. “If you don’t work 996 when you are young, when can you ever work 996?” he stated. 

Understandably, Ma received backlash for his comments. According to CEO Magazine, stupidcan123, a user of microblogging site Sina Weibo, said: “If all enterprises enforce a 996 schedule, no one will have children.” 

Far from discouraged, Ma defended his views in a blog post on Sina Weibo. “As I expected, my comments internally a few days ago about the 996 schedule caused a debate and non-stop criticism,” he argued, according to Bloomberg. “I understand these people and I could have said something that was ‘correct.’ But we don’t lack people saying ‘correct’ things in the world today, what we lack are truthful words that make people think.”

Ma also stated that while forcing workers into a 996 schedule is “inhumane”, he felt the hours shouldn’t be an issue if they were in a career they were passionate about.

Interestingly, Ma garnered some support for his opinions. According to Business Insider, Richard Liu, founder and CEO of e-commerce company, added a snappy line to the discussion: “Slackers are not my brothers!” 

Despite entrepreneurs like Ma, Liu and even Elon Musk believing in lengthy shifts, there seems to be a  growing push against it. Not only are the protests happening in China but in the west similar concerns were raised when it was revealed in October 2018 that video game developer Rockstar Games pushed its employees to do 100-hour weeks to complete Red Dead Redemption 2. 

On the other hand, there seems to be more awareness about the negative impact long hours can have on both employees and employers. In countries like Sweden, some are even trialling six-hour working days. One thing’s for certain though, this discussion won’t be solved any time soon. 

Louisa Cook
Louisa Cook

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