[China] Turning point for China tech’s ‘996’ work culture

Software engineers are pushing back against pressure to work 9am-9pm 6 days a week, under tech’s ‘996’ work culture, South China Morning Post reports.

China tech has followed the intense schedule - typified by Silicon Valley start-ups during the dot-com boom - throughout its high growth phase. As internet growth slows, workers laid off and venture capital funds drying up, software engineers are questioning whether it is time to take Silicon Valley’s lead again by cutting down the working week.

Complaints reportedly aired following a post on Microsoft’s Github - the code-sharing and collaboration platform - expanded into a wider conversation on productivity and work-life balance. This month Japan capped overtime at 45 hours a month, while South Korea reduced maximum weekly working hours from 68 to 52 in 2018.

The 996 work schedule was considered necessary for start-ups to survive when China’s mobile internet population more than doubled. Going from around 300 million in 2010 to 788 million in 2018, according to the China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC), a branch of the country's Ministry of Industry andInformation.

The movement against 996 hours in China gained traction after Suji Yan - CEO of Shanghai-based digital privacy start-up Dimension - and tech industry lawyer Katt Gu launched their Anti-996 License on Github. Companies that use Dimension’s open source software and codes must comply with international labour laws prohibiting 996 hours unless appropriate compensation is given.

Yan said, “This protest might become a turning point for China tech and transform it from a labour-intensive industry to an innovation and creation driven business.”  Adding, “Working long hours isn’t a competitive edge for Chinese tech companies. It’s not productive either.”

Gu said, “Technology shouldn’t be a labour-intensive industry, it should be a creative industry. Creative people need to take a rest”.