Beijing Targets Change in the 996 Work Week

by Joe

Chinese Labor Practices Part 2

Did you miss the first part of our blog about changes to the Chinese 996 work week?  

Read part one before you read the conclusion. 

Even with the PRC putting more pressure on Chinese businesses to comply with the official 44-hour work week, there are many employees in China who believe that businesses will continue to find ways around the labor laws.   In a recent Tech Crunch article, one Chinese worker was quoted saying, “ByteDance (a Chinese MNC in the internet tech space, parent company of TikTok, with a presence in over 150 markets, 60,000 employees and 15 R&D centers worldwide) is cutting back official hours and pay, but if nothing else changes, it doesn’t really matter.  People still want to keep their jobs and get promoted, so of course they will work as much as they can … or move to a company that will pay them more to do it.”

While there are still some serious misgivings about whether change and relief really are on the way, senior managers in many Chinese companies are paying close attention to the recent government mandates.  Corporate audits are on the way, and it’s expected that the result will be more employees hired into companies who have been operating a 996 schedule, and a reduction in the number of hours each employee is required to work.  Whether corporate titans like Jack Ma agree or not, Beijing is now signaling that it will no longer cast a blind eye in favor of business over labor. 

China High Resolution Demographic Concept

 

In part, Beijing is responding to the results of the most recent ten-year census.  China’s demographics are changing.  The population growth rate has dipped to its lowest point in many decades, and its society is aging.  To remain competitive in the world market, China’s younger workers must remain engaged.  Growing worker discontent is a potential landmine that could derail China economically, and the stability of the Chinese government relies on domestic peace.  Despite China’s status as a communist nation, Karl Marx and Vladimir are never referenced or discussed – keeping the workers happy is the best alternative to any consideration of things such as collectivization, and history has recorded what happened in Russia when the workers had decided they’d ‘had enough’ of feudalism.

To be fair, demanding work schedules are common practice in the United State, too.  Among salaried managers, it’s not uncommon to work anywhere between a 45 – 60 hour week, despite that fact that our own labor laws set maximum week at 40 hours.  Like the Chinese, this is a  generally understood truth, and not something one would find in any employee handbook.  Managers have similar reasons for making sacrifices as the Chinese do, and our work week has developed in a similar creeping way, and like the Chinese, American workers make the sacrifices because we know that if we don’t others will, and we do it because we now have a global marketplace, and our companies face tough competition.  Also like the Chinese, our younger workers are questioning the fairness of these requirements, and also like the Chinese, our younger workers are beginning to vote (at least about employment options) with their feet.

At the end of the day, it is a question of values, and ethics, and the kind of lives people want to live. 

A word from you sponsor: While my above article is intended to be accurate, factual, and fair I do feel it is important to close with a personal editorial comment. Call me “old school” if you choose but I take my hat off to anyone who is willing to WORK HARD.  One of the differences I observed in my early visits to the country side of China in contrast with MOST of the other countries in Asia was that people WORK. 

As we drive on gravel and dirt road you don’t find people sitting or lounging. They WORK. I have seen many people busy sweeping dirt. Not sure why but they are WORKING. 

I think this embedded work ethic is something to commend in the DNA of Chinese culture. Are there exceptions. Of course but the exceptions only prove the rule.So, please do not misconstrue anything said in this article as critical. Finding appropriate work expectations is an age-old challenge for every country

Word4Asia has been helping our US-based clients achieve their goals in China for over twenty years.  We’re able to do this because we have a keen understanding of the ever-changing social and legal landscape of our host nation, and because we only accept opportunities where we are convinced we can add value.  We are always interested to speak with new clients, as well as old acquaintances and friends who may be considering new opportunities and tactics in China.  We hope you’ll reach out to Dr. Gene Wood (gene@word4asia.com) for a friendly word of advice and opening conversation. 

 

 

Sources:
The future of China’s work culture

China steps in to regulate brutal ‘996’ work culture

What is China’s 996 work culture that is polarising its Silicon Valleys?

‘996’ Is China’s Version of Hustle Culture. Tech Workers Are Sick of It.

 

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