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Bloomberg has a story about Jack Ma, the billionaire and co-founder of e-commerce behemoth Alibaba, who has created a bit of a firestorm by endorsing “the sector’s infamous 12-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week routine as de rigueur for passionate young workers” and dismissing “people who expect a typical eight-hour office lifestyle.”

Essentially, Ma has endorsed what is called “996” - a 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six-day a week work schedule. “Those who can stick to a 996 schedule are those who have found their passion beyond monetary gains,” Ma says. While he has conceded that forcing employees to work grueling hours was ‘inhumane,’ Ma has pointed out that some want to do so because that’s how they achieve personal and economic fulfillment.

The Bloomberg story points out that “beyond Ma, several of China’s most prominent industry figures have also weighed in on the controversy. Richard Liu, chief executive of Alibaba arch-foe JD.com Inc., said in a recent post on his WeChat moments that, while he would never force staff to work a 996 schedule, people who slacked off were not considered his ‘brothers’.”

Acknowledging the controversy, Ma says, “I could have said something that was ‘correct.’ But we don’t lack people saying ‘correct’ things in the world today, what we lack is truthful words that make people think.”
KC's View:
Well, he accomplished that.

It is worth pointing out that some of these words are being uttered from a defensive posture - tech workers in China have been protesting working conditions, in part because of stories about “programmers and founders dying from unrelenting stress.”

Look, I can’t remember the last time I worked a 40-hour week. I didn’t even do it when I worked for other people, whether management deserved that level of commitment or not. It just isn;’t how I’m built.

But I have to say that I find this managerial veiled embrace of a “996” work environment to be sort of medieval and exploitive … a way of taking advantage of people’s commitment. It also could be argued that maybe they need to hire more people to get the job done, and maybe pay people more money to compensate them, or force people not to work hours that can be unhealthy and unforgiving.