Billionaire Jack Ma again encouraged tech workers to embrace the industry’s extreme-overtime culture, defying a growing social media backlash just days after he made the first controversial comment.
The Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. co-founder once more endorsed the sector’s infamous 12-hours-a-day, six-days-a- week routine as de rigueur for passionate young workers. In a lengthy Sunday blog post, China’s richest man expanded on comments from last week, in which he dismissed people who expect a typical eight- hour office lifestyle.
“As I expected, my comments internally a few days ago about the 996 schedule caused a debate and non-stop criticism,” Ma wrote. “I understand these people, and 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.”
Ma’s earlier comments stoked a fierce ongoing debate over tales of programmers and founders dying from unrelenting stress.
Ma told an internal meeting that Alibaba doesn’t need people who look forward to a typical eight-hour office lifestyle, according to a post on Alibaba’s official Weibo account. Instead, he endorsed the industry’s notorious 996 work culture – that is, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.
“To be able to work 996 is a huge bliss,” China’s richest man said. “If you want to join Alibaba, you need to be prepared to work 12 hours a day, otherwise why even bother joining.”
China’s tech industry is littered with tales of programmers and startup founders dying unexpectedly due to long hours and grueling stress. The comments from Ma elicited some intense reaction.
“A load of nonsense, and didn’t even mention whether the company provides overtime compensation for a 996 schedule,” wrote one commenter on the Weibo post. “I hope people can stick more to the law, and not to their own reasoning.”
“The bosses do 996 because they’re working for themselves and their wealth is growing,” another comment read. “We work 996 because we’re exploited without overtime compensation.”
Ma’s comments come amid a fierce debate. Programmers in China protested their labor conditions on the online code-sharing community Github in March under the banner 996.ICU, a topic that quickly became the site’s most popular, with more than 211,000 stars.
“By following the ’996’ work schedule, you are risking yourself getting into the ICU [Intensive Care Unit],” according to a description posted on the “996.ICU” project page. The creator, whose identity is unknown, called on tech workers to come forward with examples of companies abusing staff by demanding uncompensated overtime. Alibaba and its financial affiliate Ant Financial were both named.
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.” MDT/Bloomberg