Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma’s remarks that young people should work 12-hour days, six days a week if they wanted financial success have prompted a public debate over work-life balance in the country.
Jack Ma is one of China’s richest men and his comments last week brought both condemnation and support as China’s more mature economy enters a period of slower growth.
Even the newspaper People’s Daily issued an editorial this week, saying mandatory overtime reflects managerial arrogance and was also “impractical and unfair” to workers. Online complaints included blaming long work hours for a lower birth rate.
“Companies’ anxiety is understandable, but the way to alleviate anxiety is not making employees work overtime as much as possible,” the People’s Daily said.
The debate has exposed contradictions in modern Chinese society, where the Communist Party was officially founded on improving conditions for workers and peasants but also calls for huge sacrifices to build a powerful and prosperous nation.
Jack Ma who has a fortune estimated at around US $ 40 billion, has responded to the criticism by saying work should be a joy and also include time for study, reflection and self-improvement.
“Real ‘996’ is not simply working overtime,” Ma posted on his Weibo microblog this week, referring to the concept of working from 9 am to 9 pm, six days out of the week.
Just as Chinese schools require hours of homework and extra study from students, Chinese companies demand overtime from their workers without putting that in writing, said Yang Baoquan, senior partner at the Zhong Yin Law Firm in Beijing.