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China’s Grueling Formula for Success: 9-9-6 (wsj.com)
55 points by shubhamjain 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments



> Chinese labor law dictates a 40-hour workweek and extra pay for overtime, but many companies circumvent those rules by asking employees to sign contracts that say their jobs require flexible work schedules.

Being able to supersede labor laws by forcing^Wasking employees to sign a contract that nullifies them is suspect at best. I get that office tech workers aren't the factory assembly line workers for which these laws were originally designed but the exclusions need to come from the other direction.

> Huawei Technologies employees work on the last Saturday of each month, and that earns them an extra 12 days by the end of the year that they can take in pay or days off. A year into their jobs, Huawei’s Chinese staff can sign a “dedicated employee agreement,” voluntarily forgoing paid vacation days and overtime.

That quote links to a different article[1] explaining this further:

> A year into their jobs, Chinese staff may sign a “dedicated employee agreement,” voluntarily forgoing paid vacation days and overtime. One Huawei engineer said he signed the agreement four years ago to start receiving shares as part of his compensation. The closely held firm says its shares are owned entirely by its executives and employees.

So the deal is "Work an extra 12 days per year for 12 days of pay/vacation. Then give it up along with all the rest of your vacation days and maybe we'll give you some equity. Also, we can probably claw back the equity. Also, you'll probably never be able to actually cash it out.

[1]: https://www.wsj.com/articles/huaweis-founder-casts-a-long-sh...


> I get that office tech workers aren't the factory assembly line workers for which these laws were originally designed but the exclusions need to come from the other direction.

Maybe they're not operating the machines, but even in the U.S., white-collar engineers at a fab will often find themselves working north of 60h every week. Because you're salaried, there's no overtime pay. Also, you'll carry a pager and be responsible for answering it 24 hours a day, every day. And since the fab doesn't stop on weekends, you either work a shift or rotate weekends with your team. PTO is usually approved, but using a substantial fraction of it will result in a bad review. A capped portion of the remainder gets cashed out at the end of the year, and the rest evaporates.

And that's the United States. I'm sure China takes this to a whole other level.

(Source: recovering semiconductor process engineer.)


>(Source: recovering semiconductor process engineer.)

I nearly had a panic attack reading this. Exactly the same background and experience working in FABs. I honestly had a moment where I thought I may have had a had some form of break and written this under a different account.

On call at family weddings, asked to cancel vacations at the last minute (that was the final straw for me), working 6-6 followed by calls at 1am...yeah, no more.

US employment laws leave a lot a lot to be desired. I can't even fathom those in China.


Glad I'm not the only semiconductor industry refugee on here! Most people don't believe half of my stories about it. I don't even tell the other half.


I did a talk at a conference (it pops up on HN every year or so) that was basically storytelling from my semiconductor days. If I hadn't lived some of it, I would find it hard to believe.

My 'favorite' story was three years after I left the industry having to leave a movie theater because a characters ring tone was the one I had on my on call phone and it caused a panic attack.


Most of a decade later, I still reach for a pager that's not there whenever the lights flicker.


Also, you'll make 2-3x the average salary in the US. TANSTAAFL


Honestly its not worth it. I know that is a privileged position, but the quality of life was so bad that I just ended up with a ton of savings that I used to take 6 months off and travel and decompress/deal with all the mental health stuff resulting from the job after I quit.


There are quite many routes to making 2-3x the national average salary that don’t require 24/7 pager duty. I’ve done on-call rotations, but being ‘on’ nonstop sounds like torture and a recipe for burnout.


I did 11 months of 24x7. My managers were so normed to it they actually documented it. No one seemed to notice my contract called for that time to be compensated.

After I ended my employment they seemed shocked when I asked for that compensation to be paid out. They then denied that I had been 'actually on call' (note: managers, don't lie to your HR department - especially the investigations people). Thankfully I had documented all the listings of me being on call and pointed out that their policy required an on call engineer to be available and noted that no one else in the group was certified to be on cal.

We settled before I had to take it to court.


Yikes, you were the only person in your group who was competent to answer pages? We had several, and there were a number of factors that determined who would get paged first for a given issue, including whether you were in a fight with manufacturing. (Don't ever get in a fight with people whose job description includes paging you at odd hours.) I usually got woken up a couple times a week. Sounds like you had it a lot worse.


True that. It's still a backup plan if I'm ever really desperate for money. It's brutal if you have a family though.


I’ve worked in three Western countries and all of them found a way to make me work more than 40 hours for free...

UK brought in laws to protect workers from unpaid excessive overtime but employees were asked to sign waivers. Those who didn’t sign or didn’t work OT would not progress.

Canada. Tech employees are exempt from normal overtime laws whether they like it or not. Tech employees being applied very broadly.

USA. Company requires straight up rejection of employment law in the form of At Will Employment.

That’s not to condone or justify the 9 9 6 thing in China and the culture in many asian countries in general of long hours at the office. I hope they move away from that in time


> that earns them an extra 12 days by the end of the year that they can take in pay or days off

That line is hilarious. How exactly are they "earning" anything? They're just getting deferred pay for those days or deferred day offs, which were supposed to be day-offs in the first place, as they were saturdays.


> That line is hilarious. How exactly are they "earning" anything? They're just getting deferred pay for those days or deferred day offs, which were supposed to be day-offs in the first place, as they were saturdays.

Well done, trying to claim/protect rights for Huawei engineers who just happen to be the best paid tech workers in China getting 20 times of the national average.

Have a look at their online discussions which are free to view, just check the sheer number of Groupon style shopping frenzy for investment properties -

http://xinsheng.huawei.com/cn/index.php?app=forum&mod=Detail...

http://xinsheng.huawei.com/cn/index.php?app=forum&mod=Detail...

http://xinsheng.huawei.com/cn/index.php?app=forum&mod=Detail...

there are hundreds more, if not thousands more.

Trust yourself one thing - when their average pay is like 20 times of the national average, they don't need you to jump up and argue for their annual leave related rights.


> argue for their rights.

Pointing out such semantic plays isn't fighting for their rights, it's calling a spade a spade. Which can be entirely self-interested, given how such schemes are imitated wherever possible.


I put the keywords "Huawei group buy property" (in Chinese) in google and it returned almost 300 results from their company's discussion forum xinsheng.huawei.com. Now you can factor in those organised offline and those using other social media such as WeChat groups.

You can paint it whatever you like. The point here is clear - you don't jump up and argue Wall St analysts deserve better pay and more annual leaves, for the exact same reason, when Huawei engineers are getting 20 times of the national average pay, it is not a smart call to point out such stupidities seen in one of Huawei's internal docs.


> The point here is clear - you don't jump up and argue Wall St analysts deserve better pay and more annual leaves

Nowhere did the grand-poster do that for the Huawei folks. And Huawei paying "outrageous" money doesn't exempt them from questions and/or ridicule when doing stupid stunts (even if related to the very same money) like promoting deferred vacation as "extra". I'd expect Huawei execs to be able to count.


Human rights are human rights. The scheme is an immoral play to get work out of workers and crush them. The money is inconsequential. you bring up wallstreet, well I think their workers should have guaranteed time off and strict weekly work hours also. Anything over 40 hours should be paid with extra money or extra time off as far as I am concerned.


You are immediately combative to a comment that merely points of the ridiculousness of the marketed "benefit" of working extras days for these employees.

Which horse do you have in this race?


Does anyone actually believe this kind of schedule is actually effective?

I don't see how anyone performs well under these circumstances unless they are horribly overqualified for the job. In order for a programmer to be even 60% effective at this kind of schedule, the work has to be essentially trivial. I don't see any debugging happening in this kind of situation.

The only explanation I see is that there is a 'social status' for bosses to have their employees work a lot. Because I do not believe this actually yields decent commercial results for anyone.


Nope

I worked with a team of Korean engineers (Samsung) to integrate one of my employer's products (MobiTV) into their first true touch screen phone. This was in 2007 at Sprint's headquarters in Kansas.

They all worked very very long hours, will get in around 9-10am and stay until 10pm in the office, with Saturdays being half days. It was cultural to show you working hard, and "sleeping" in your desk was seen as a badge of honor: (so tired form working hard, that I have to sleep on the desk).

The code they produced was shit, and full of bugs. For every fix, there was another bug introduced. But whatever, they eventually ended up shipping an "ok" product, but they way they went to it was horribly inefficient.

I personally would not recommend.

In addition, now that I am working on my own app full time, I have seen that once I start spending a lot of time coding/in front of the computer, my efficiency (amount of work down per hour) goes down.

It seems that there is a natural limit on how much 'intelectual' work can be done in a week, and spending more time is counter productive. On the other hand, if the tasks are easy and don't require brainpower (i.e. small UI tweaks, adjustments, etc), spending more time doesn't necessary reduce efficiency.

My strategy has been work on the hard tasks first (usually 3-4 hours), then spend the rest of your time on low intensity items.


> I have seen that once I start spending a lot of time coding/in front of the computer, my efficiency (amount of work down per hour) goes down.

In addition to decreasing efficiency at code-production (ie fewer lines being written), the major killer with tired coding is that adrenaline takes over and you get into 'go mode'... suddenly you're punching out widgets and no longer stopping to question your approach. It's doubly bad because that kind of work tends to mate with deadlines to create higher stress and a feeling of having no time to try out alternatives...

Head down and plowing though is a good approach to some problems sometimes. But for IT work? There's a good chance that OT work isn't just poor quality and slow, but also contains a lot of unnecessary effort that never needed to be done at all.

A good Engineer will solve your problem in 5 days. A great Engineer will spend 4 days figuring out how to solve your problem in 1... A tired Engineer under a deadline will work a 110 hour week cranking out a half-assed bare-minimum solution only to find it replaced in less than 10 hours by someone who was awake enough to consider some alternatives and needed something that worked :/


The mindset involved in complex programming feels quite similar to writing long-form fiction to me.

It seems common for people writing novels to consider 4 hours of actual writing a day to be a maximum, beyond which their productivity plummets. Sure, they may be thinking about the novel outside that, but they're not actually sat at a keyboard typing.


Seems to correspond to what is said in "A Mathematician's Apology" by G. H. Hardy:

"Then, from about nine to one, unless he was giving a lecture, he worked at his own mathematics. Four hours creative work a day is about the limit for a mathematician, he used to say."


I’m currently working from about 8am until 10pm every day, and usually in bed reading something that applies to my job between 10p and 12p and yes, 6 days a week. I’ve got a day job but am also spinning up a hardware manufacturing business.

Been doing this for over a year. My clarity and productivity haven’t suffered that I notice, but I do not anticipate doing this forever. I’d burned out once before ten years ago doing even more hours and days. This is about my limit.

You have a point though. Look at the crap China churns out.

Edited to add: Having experience the burnout lesson the hard way, I do pace myself. Sundays are for friends, church, and family. I get all the sleep I want. I stop at times to read YC news and talk to others :-) I get bike rides and watch a movie now and again. Life is not all about work.


Passion and interest can keep you going at a high pace for quite some time. However, you're statistically more likely to eventually burn out with a job that you truly enjoy, than you are with a job that's easy to put down at the end of the day. There's more incentive to eat in to your long-term energy storage in the former case.

In the case of 996, it's almost as if the employees are being asked to behave as if they are wildly passionate about what they do, as if it is their destiny and calling. I can only presume that they will burn out all the more quickly.

Although I suppose, if, as others have implied, the job is actually a non-complex assembly line-ish thing, then perhaps employees are easily replaceable, and it makes economic sense to use one up until it is empty, and then proceed to the next one.

On the other hand, if the job truly is easily represented by some simple algorithm, why not teach a machine to do it cheaper and more consistently?

Seems more likely that they are fooling themselves, and that the entire setup is there to give upper management a sense of satisfaction rather than to create actual productivity.


> On the other hand, if the job truly is easily represented by some simple algorithm, why not teach a machine to do it cheaper and more consistently?

Because in a country with a large population of poor people such as China, unskilled and semi-skilled (as in a typical factory job) labor has got to be dirt cheap, such that it makes sense to have humans performing trivial tasks that could be easily automated.


There's a lot of variables surrounding employing humans that can make automation worthwhile even if pay is very low. The "maintenance" of people, such as hiring, managing, loss of production because of absence—those sort of things.

I'm just speculating, I've no idea how they are reasoning. But I do suspect it's more cultural/personal rather than practical or to maximize productivity.


I work similar hours, have forever. The only way to work such hours is if you have points, equity, ownership of the revenues or your name in bold on the product. That incentive creates the will to perform for your benefit. Working such hours for mere salary is insanity.


I learned early in my career that there is no reward for working insanely hard as a mere salaried programmer in the middle of the cube-farm (or worse, open office). "You're a real workhorse! Here, have some more work..."

Now, if my title were 'Co-Founder' or some equivalent such that excelling at my job could very well translate into financial freedom for myself (and my family), that would be different :)


Yeah but you're doing this for your own business. If it works out well you'll end up reaping most of the rewards.

I seriously doubt these companies pay these guys that much. At the end of the day, these are just jobs and businesses shouldn't expect their employees to sacrifice so much for something they don't even own.


"businesses shouldn't expect their employees to sacrifice so much for something they don't even own" hahaha Business owners tend to think their employees have a sense of "ownership" and use that to drive them as hard as they drive themselves. It is astounding the low EQ of many business owners.


I did 100 hr weeks for my first startup 3 decades ago for about 4.5 months, then wound up in a hospital. The code turned out OK but my body was pretty much used up. After that I decided becoming more efficient in 40 hrs or less is much better.


Having experience the burnout lesson the hard way, I do pace myself. Sundays are for friends, church, and family. I get all the sleep I want. I stop at times to read YC news and talk to others :-) I get bike rides and watch a movie now and again. Life is not all about work.


I've worked 12+ hours 6-7 days a week at multiple points in my career for an extended period (the longest lasting 8 months). In my most recent case (which was 10 years ago), I was starting a company with a friend and we signed client contracts very early. We knew what we were obligated to build. I learned Javascript, CSS, and PHP (coming from a background of embedded C/C++, Python scripting, and Linux/Unix administration) at the same time as I shipped a vertical-specific CMS. I didn't have a family, significant other, or other time commitments and so I could focus 100% of my energy on the joys of learning and building.

I don't know that building a large CMS tuned to a specific vertical is trivial, but it wasn't the most technically challenging problem I have ever worked on. There were a boatload of details (especially in the analytics and traffic arbitrage modules), very tight deadlines, and entirely new technologies to learn. I was getting normal amounts of sleep per night (5-7 depending on how I felt) and when I was tired, I'd take a half day or day off. I communicated mainly via SIP phone, IRC, and email with my cofounder and both of us understood when the other needed some time to decompress. The thing was, working for ourselves building something we wanted to exist, we didn't need much time for decompression.

I made enough off that business to be debt-free (from a starting point of about -140K USD), build up savings and retirement accounts I ignored before, and coast for the next 18 months doing whatever I felt like (which was a self-directed study of computer science and a lot of Magic: the Gathering). I didn't get rich, but I did improve my situation substantially. If I didn't have commitments to my family, I would jump at a chance to do something like this again.


I've worked with Chinese people, on this schedule.

It's not effective. As you mentioned, it's about social signalling.


This is horrific, inefficient and stupid.

Multiple speculative causes:

- Social pressure. The bosses want to be able to say "look at how hard I can make my workers work", probably without comparing productivity in any way

- Social pressure. People competing with each other for how hard working they are. This seems prevalent in many cultures. "Oh I am so tired / stressed". When you claim those things, you can stop worrying about other issues, like doing good work. I have always noticed that the busier I appear, the less people would hold me to account for problems. Ridiculous.

- A tired / overworked populace doesn't have the energy to get any revolutionary ideas. The status quo is maintained, no matter what the cost. This suits almost nobody, other than a select few. But, we do it to ourselves. Like the herd of bison running from the lion, we do not realise our power and instead accept whatever the oppressors (companies) force on us. So, we made our bed and are lying in it. No point complaining unless we are willing to do something about it. See points 1 and 2, this has never been about productivity.


In the words of Alibaba's Jack Ma:

“ If we go to work at 8am and go home at 5pm, this is not a high tech company and Alibaba will never be successful...If we are a good team and know what we want to do, one of us can defeat ten of them.”

It's even more incredible watching him say it: https://twitter.com/humanismusic/status/963714910269079552


The older I get, the more I find that making the right decisions, even in day-to-day programming, makes your far more efficient and effective than throwing time at a problem.


Years ago I read a blog that I always remembered, very summarised it stated that even though developers logging a lot of overtime are generally considered to be hard workers most of them actually are horrible at planning their work.

The developers who don't log extra hours don't have to be less motivated, sometimes they are just a lot better at prioritising their work.


Isn't prioritizing work a manager's job ?


I had worked as an European engineer in China. I worked European hours and days.

IMHO the secret of success of China, if there is one(China is way poorer than EU or USA), is accepting capitalism after centuries of stagnation with systems that worked very bad for most people(worked for Emperors, communist dictators and people in power thought).

To say that working 996 is the secret to success is just manipulation of the wsj, which does not surprise me coming from this newspaper.

Not accepting patents in practice like US did with England could be the secret of China industry advancing very fast but working too much is not.

Chinese spend a long time in work, they even sleep there but the energy they have most of the time is very low precisely because of that. European system is far superior.


Finally had a manager at my employer (in MO, USA) dumb enough to mandate 48 hrs/week in writing. It’s illegal in the state to expect continual, uncompensated hours > 40. The managers with 2 digit IQs demand it verbally, once with a company wide voicemail.


Not just state law, federal law as well.


please tell me somebody reported them to the government.


Welcome to the race to the bottom


It only takes a few smart managers to start this in the USA.


I frequently see WSJ articles on the HN front page. Is there a secret for getting past the paywall that I don't know? How are y'all reading these? Or are many HN readers WSJ subscribers?


I just went on incognito mode and googled the title of the article. From google search results, I followed the WSJ link that showed up.


Incognito, google title of article, click on it... I still get a paywall. Doh!


still better than a postdoc




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