Sorry, Jack Ma: 12-hour workdays are not a blessing

Jack Ma praised his staff. Credit PA

Jack Ma praised his staff. Credit PA

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. founder and billionaire Jack Ma has defended the gruelling overtime work culture at many of China's tech companies, calling it a "huge blessing" for young workers.

"To be able to work 996 is a huge bliss", China's richest man said.

"Many companies and many people don't have the opportunity to work 996", Ma continued, referring to under-performing firms. "If you don't work 996 when you are young, when can you ever work 996?", he posted on the company's WeChat account.

The topic has also prompted a broader debate about the kind of work-life balance - or lack of it - engendered by Chinese companies.

Ma, a former English teacher, who became one of the founders of "Alibaba" in 1999 and is now one of the richest people in China said that he and his eldest associates in their time also worked overtime. Programmers in China protested their labour conditions on the online code-sharing community Github in March under the banner 996. He said that dedication was vital to the company's success.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ma's comments were met with a backlash online, where many commentators argued that overtime hours are a huge blessing for employers only.

'Let me ask everyone, if you don't put out more time and energy than others, how can you achieve the success you want?' Burnout is one predictable side effect of working 12-hour days, six days a week, and studies have shown that overwork like the type Ma is promoting is killing people.

"Well, for him it is a blessing". "If you want to join Alibaba, you need to be prepared to work 12 hours a day, otherwise why even bother joining". "Just not for his employees", one contributor wrote on Reddit. Companies that try to force such practices are "foolish" and doomed to fail, he said. "Do you think you would feel proud if you don't experience 996 in a lifetime?" "Not only is it inhumane, it's unhealthy and even more unsustainable for long periods - plus workers, relatives and the law do not approve of it", he wrote.

"The people who stick to 996 must have found their passion there, and their happiness besides from money". The comments from Ma elicited some intense reaction. On Thursday, a Chinese newspaper published an article claiming that "996" violated the Chinese Labor Law, which states that the weekly working hours must not exceed 40 hours.

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