The challenge of 996 is not restricted to China alone, but is a much wider phenomena.
I have been intrigued by the recent conversations on the 996 work culture (work 9 to 9 for 6 days a week), which have been publicly endorsed by Jack Ma and apparently a norm in many Chinese companies. Within China itself, there has been resistance to the 996 work culture and recently anonymous activists put up a webpage 996.icu (icu for intensive care unit) on GitHub, listing companies which promoted a 996 culture. But the challenge of 996 is not restricted to China alone, but is a much wider phenomena.
The thrust on giving your life to work, if you want to succeed can at times have disastrous implications as indicated in the following incident.
“Bank intern who died after ‘working for 72 hours’ felt pressure to excel. An intern who died after allegedly working for 72 hours straight at a leading City bank had admitted that he felt “pressurised” to succeed.” These are the headlines of The Telegraph, London, 20th August 2013 sharing the story of a young intern who felt compelled to ‘over-work’ in a global & well known bank, resulting in the snuffing of a young, ambitious & precious life.
While the above may be an isolated incident, in most cases the damage of a 996 culture on employees is more gradual yet with equally devastating implications on their physical and mental health. A 2016 Work & Well Being survey done by American Psychological Association reported that one in three employees reported being ‘chronically’ stressed on the job. A November 2018 report by Korn Ferry Institute highlights that two-thirds of the professionals surveyed, indicated that their stress levels at work are higher than they were five years ago.
Some business leaders take the financial concept of ‘sweating your assets’ a bit too far by extending it to their employees who they consider as human assets which need to be sweated. This results in a 996 culture where they want their employees to have no life except a work life. Excuse me, but isn’t that akin to ‘slavery’ albeit in air-conditioned environments with loads of free coffee to keep the ‘slaves’ going. I am not at all dissuading from the concept of working hard, but rather than working hard just for your organization, I encourage employees to work hard for their own life. While I endorse the old saying ‘there is no substitute for hard work’, the interpretation needs to expand beyond the strait-jacketed concept of just your job.