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Jack Ma Again Endorses Extreme Overtime as Furor Rages On (bloomberg.com)
259 points by bryanwbh 5 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 249 comments

I'm beginning to suspect that the 996 schedule (and its equivalents in other cultures) aren't actually about productivity; they're about devotion. Devotion isn't something a CEO can explicitly ask for, but a 996 schedule is, so that becomes the expectation even if it actually has a neutral-to-negative impact on productivity.

Richard Liu almost made this explicit when he stated that people who didn't adhere to it were not his "brothers".

The mystery to me is that if my suspicion is correct, then the CEOs and upper management must think that devotion is ultimately (long-term) more important than productivity is to the bottom line... and I have no idea why. I don't buy the explanation that all of this is just "dumb". Something is up with this.

Your conclusion is absolutely correct.

The explanation is that Homo economicus, the economic optimizing agent, is a leaky abstraction on top of a killer ape. In the modern environment, it's easy to forget that our brains did not actually evolve to deal with money, let alone the high-tech infrastructure of a modern corporation. They evolved to dominate other apes on the African savanna.

But evolution does not document its handiwork. Our genes did not give our brains an explanation of game theory and the evolutionary utility function. They gave our brains a propensity to seek power and to feel pleasure when successfully wielding that power to hurt other people. That this behavior was adaptive in the ancestral environment is a historical fact, not represented anywhere in our neurons.

So yes, it's not about productivity, it's not about profit. It is, as Orwell put it, about the end goal of a boot trampling a human face, forever. That is the default fate of humanity unless that fate is actively and continually opposed.

Lately I have the vague opinion that half-baked scientific reasoning and the tendency to come up with evolutionary just so stories is a horrible detriment to modern society. Humanity has come up with a reasonable way to interpret human behavior by human standards through the humanities. I feel content to evaluate other humans by human standards rather than speculating on how he’s actually highly adapted for the African savannah. If he acts like an ape, he belongs in a zoo.

What is the nature of that horrible detriment to society?

There are myriad ways that humans tend to make bad decisions in the course of modern life. Psychology and evolutionary biology currently provide the best answer to "why".

If you want to understand yourself well enough to be able to avoid having marketers and advertisers make your most important life choices for you, or want to raise your children to think critically about statements they hear even when it means overcoming confirmation bias, or want to think about how to help society escape detrimental Nash equilibria that lead catastrophic global warming, a deep and accurate understanding of human behavior seems to me to be clearly better than simply operating under the wildly simplistic assumption that people always behave rationally in the pursuit of well defined goals.

Well, my personal opinion is that a better understanding of human nature will come from the traditional means (interacting with people, study of literature and history and human institutions, and, even more controversially, maybe even religion) than trying to analyze human behavior from the point of view of apes dominating each other. I don’t think anyone with any reasonably sound theory of human nature would hold the assumption of “people [behaving] rationally in pursuit of well defined goals”.

Ironically, this comment comes across a denial of human nature.

I think it’s wrong to assume that evolutionary psychology and sociology are mutually exclusive.

To force an analogy that I think is frankly stupid but may sort of work here, I believe that almost everyone who is an engineer or programmer or something is going to be much better served by thinking of intuitive notions of continuity, linear approximations, etc. when trying to do or apply calculus than by imagining infinite seas of power sets of the empty set and building up from ZFC axioms to dedekind cuts

This is my favorite all time comment on HN. Thank you for these words. I agree!

"Homo economicus, the economic optimizing agent, is a leaky abstraction on top of a killer ape."

Amazing phrase.

Keep in mind these are all salaried workers. From an economics point of view, companies don't need to get anywhere near a linear increase in productivity from those extra work hours. They just need to not get negative gains from burnout or apathy.

All those people on 996 could fuck around for 5 hours a day doing nothing useful, and as long as a small percentage of them bring themselves to do 30 minutes work every now and then, it could still be a net win for the company.

Profit also doesn't scale proportionally to productivity. In some of these big business markets you probably just need to be a bit more productive than your competition to reap huge rewards. Most employers aren't going to throw their workforce under the bus for a 5% gain, but if that's all you need to corner an entire market or roll your next biggest rival, then suddenly it might look like a fine deal.

It's simple: you can pay a "passionate" person less, and generally subject them to worse working conditions, and they won't leave.

> The mystery to me is that if my suspicion is correct, then the CEOs and upper management must think that devotion is ultimately (long-term) more important than productivity is to the bottom line.

That's actually what Jack Ma asked for in his original WeChat posts. You simply can't ask a passionate employee to work in a fixed schedule, because they prefer working MUCH LONGER than 996.

I don't think that these 12 hour days are full of productivity. My partner spent some time in the summer as a researcher at a key lab in Shanghai. She observed that researchers put in long hours (if the boss was around) but often spent time on their phones and repeated experiments mindlessly.

Kai-Fu Lee discusses this culture in the Founders Fund podcast Anatomy of Next. He suggests that many of the workers will be the only ones in their family who have high paid office jobs. The rest work in factories, farms and other manual labor. Thus, they see an opportunity to be successful and lift their family out of poverty.

Reminds me of a few business trips I did to Korea about 8 years ago. Loooooong hours, but lots of 'make work' projects and redoing everything because a manager didn't like or approve of some minor subset.

The redoing my partner saw was often because an experiment didn't result in what the researcher expected. Rather than try to figure out what went wrong (or why their expectations were wrong), they'd spend lots of time repeating exactly the same thing.

That's equal parts hilarious and frightening and sad at the same time.

>but often spent time on their phones and repeated experiments mindlessly

For some people this is called breaks.

Yes, you shouldn't do 12 hours full working, you should take sufficient number of breaks in between.

This will fit the 996 system.

You could look at it that way. Hours of time would be spent like this toward the end of the day so why not just go home?

In addition, mindlessly repeating experiments isn't a break.

During breaks you can go home as well

What constitutes a breaks of course different for each person. Maybe some prefer go to gym instead or going for coffee, or simply just strolling around.

> During breaks you can go home as well

Not always true. In the US, you can be required to stay on premises, but it must be paid.

Reminds me of Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani / Theranos / Bad Blood. Blind devotion to "the mission." "We're saving lives!" or "We're changing the world!" is pretty easy to sniff out as cultish posturing, IMHO. I blame it on the cult of personality, personally.

It’s interesting to compare the Bloomberg article with this one from the South China Morning Post, titled “Alibaba founder Jack Ma says companies forcing staff to work overtime are ‘foolish’”. Two articles reporting on the same statements and drawing completely different conclusions. It’s getting harder to find the truth.

[1]: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3006127/alib...

It will be easier to understand if you've followed the movement.

Most of those companies are not forcing their employees to work 996 on paper. But if you don't, then first, your team leader will give you some hint to ask you to stay longer. If you still don't, you will be fired for any number of reasons (KPI is too low for example).

Because of that, the company actually don't need to force it's employees. It just keep giving them tasks which cannot be finished without work 996, plus some peer pressures (One of it is "Boss's still here, you can't leave").

Jack Ma's "forcing staff to work overtime are ‘foolish’" statement is basically the same thing: You need to fight for your own future. On the surface, it's correct, but underneath it, he's trying to make you believe Personal strive === Overwork.

It worth notice that Jack Ma also said "If you love your job, 12 hours is not very long" (“如果你热爱(工作),其实12个小时不算太长”[0]) just days ago. Hit: If you don't work 12 hours a day, you don't love your job.

Some background: Jack Ma is a lair who also likes to pretend to be a Life Advisor, he will sometime throw out some bullshit to convince others to sacrifice for him. You need to read between lines.

> “Those who can stick to a 996 schedule are those who have found their passion beyond monetary gains,” Ma wrote.

You see what's going on here :)

[0] https://finance.sina.com.cn/china/gncj/2019-04-12/doc-ihvhie...

Edited to fix some grammar problem. Hope that will make it easier to read. Thanks for pointing out :)

Yes, I fixed it again.

Because of that, the company actually don't need to force it's employees. It just keep giving them tasks which cannot be finished without...

This sounds exactly like the accounts of what it’s like to work as an Amazon delivery driver.

Or a drive thru employee.

Or an Uber driver trying to make minimum wage.


A drive thru employee works a scheduled shift and when it's over they're done.

I don't see how that example works with this topic of overtime/overwork.

Every foodservice place I ever worked in my youth got quite irate when someone worked more than 40 hours, because overtime is a lot more expensive than just hiring another worker.

Most drive thru chains are using stopclocks to time how fast they get your food to you, from speaker to pull off..and it's not a reasonable metric.

Some fast-food employees even get benefits.

But like, if you were more passionate about your job, it would be more rewarding! Maybe not monetarily; but think of all the interesting people you get to talk to as an Uber driver!

Do you think tough working conditions are leading Chinese tech workers to leave China in search of better work/life balance?

The most recent episode of the Motley Fool Money podcast featured an interview with David Kuo in which he said manufacturers are leaving China for other asian countries because wages in China are rising. Rising wages is typically correlated with falling unemployment, which forces employers to provide better working conditions. So I wouldn't be surprised if we started seeing Chinese tech workers moving to employers who treat them with more respect. That will be the end of 996.

> "If you love your job, 12 hours is not very long... Hit: If you don't work 12 hours a day, you don't love your job."

First up, I'm not arguing against the fact that there are many many managers, bosses, directors and CEOs that use emotional manipulation to blackmail employees to do their bidding even though on paper they claim differently. They give it all sorts of names to make you believe this behaviour is okay. The most damaging use of emotive language makes you feel crazy for feeling the way you feel. This invalidation of your experience, of your feelings, is pulled straight out of the narcissist's playbook and it has a name - it's called gaslighting. Making you feel crazy and invalidating you for feeling the way you do. "If you loved this job, you'd do this for me. If you don't do this for me, you can't possibly love this job." Anyone who has escaped an emotionally abusive relationship will attest to how damaging this one technique is. It's often the tool of choice for a narcissist to maintain emotional control of their target.

It's tough to spot because usually the people at the top got there by being charismatic and motivational. They're charming and make you want to follow them... the same way they treat their partners to get them into a relationship before they invalidate them and make them feel crazy to keep control of them and keep them from leaving. The language they're using to make you follow them is manipulation and is also another tool lifted directly from the narcissist's playbook. Beware of the way people make you feel to get you to play along. When you start to feel like your feelings are crazy and that you feel guilty for not wanting to play along, chances are you're being manipulated using these tools.


Secondly, the first part of the statement Ma made, given my own experience is, to an extent, true: "if you love your job, 12 hours is not very long."

I tend to agree that if you're occupied by something you love to do or are fascinated by, 12 hours doesn't seem very long. My experience has been that it tends to go by in the blink of an eye. This statement can stand alone without any implication. I frequently work for 12-18 hours straight without even realizing I've done it and then wonder how I didn't even notice it had got dark and I've missed dinner.

However, the opposing statement that if you don't work 12 hours, you don't love your job just isn't true in my experience. There are days, honestly, where I'm fairly apathetic towards work and I struggle to sit in front of my computer for even an hour. This doesn't mean I don't love my job. It just means I don't love what needs to be done right now.

Just because all cats are mammals does not mean that all mammals are cats.

> This statement can stand alone without any implication

Here is the part of statement from Jack Ma for better context, you can judge it by yourself (full: https://finance.sina.com.cn/china/gncj/2019-04-12/doc-ihvhie...):

(Notice I have difficulties when translating Chinese word by word to English, because expression of the two language is different. But I'll make marks to help you understand)

> 今天我们拥有这么多资源,我们带着巨大的使命,希望在未来能够让天下没有难做的生意,你不付出可以吗?不可以。所以我们说,加入阿里,你要做好准备一天12个小时,否则你来阿里干什么?我们不缺8小时上班很舒服的人。今天我们要招一些8小时上班,每天坐在一个好的办公室,条件很好,食堂也不错,出去荣誉感也不错,这样的人满大街能找到。

> Today we have this huge amount of resource, and a heavily mission, a mission to build a world where people can do trade with ease. Can we do that without effort? No. Because of that, if you plan to join Alibaba, you have to get ready to work 12 hours a day, otherwise, what do you come here for? We have many people who work 8 hours a day comfortably (in the society. maybe? translator's guess). If today we going to hire some people for 8 hours/day job, and provide such good office, good condition ('condition' means "our company is better than others", translator's mark), good cafeteria and honourable title, a street full of people would wanted the job. (Translator's note: What he meant was: The job is honourable/decent, the office is good, the cafeteria is good, and all of those is not here for somebody who could only work 8 hours a day.)

> 但是我们需要的是什么?我们问你来这个公司到底想做什么?是改变自己、帮助别人、实现使命。

> But what we need? We ask you what you wanted when you join this company? The answer is to change yourself, help others, and make our mission a reality.

> 阿里早年也加班,但是我们加什么班?加学习的班,我们8小时工作以后,最主要晚上是复盘、学习。我们今天做错了什么、什么事情应该修复,我们应该互相怎么学习。我们8小时以外的两个小时、三个小时是学习、提升,而不是去加班。

> During the early years, we at Alibaba also work long hours, why? We have to learn after a day's work is done. We learn what we did wrong, what need to be fixed, and how we learn from each other (Translator's note: Should be "Learn from our mistakes, learn how to fix the mistakes and learn from each others"). The extra 2 to 3 hours after work is for learning and advancing our knowledge, not overwork.

> 我希望阿里人热爱你做的工作,如果你不热爱,哪怕8个小时你都嫌很长,如果你热爱,其实12个小时不算太长。

> I hope Alibabaers (Translator's note: employees) love the work you do, if you don't, even 8 hours is too long for you, but if you do (love your job), 12 hours is not very long.

Loose interpretation of your translation: We want you to sacrifice your personal life to make Alibaba's dream come true. If you don't want to, that's fine, there's plenty of people on the street who will.

That's fine, I don't want to work at a place like that. I work hard, really fucking hard. I'm good at what I do. I've made a name for myself because I work hard to be the best I can be at what I do. I give back every time I can. I mentor. I send the elevator back down as often as I can. If a company doesn't come looking for me because of the reputation of commitment I've spent the last 35 years pouring my blood, sweat and tears into building, I don't want to work for them.

You can have your people on the street and treat them as slaves and you'll get the quality of work out of them you can expect out of a sweatshop. I will go somewhere that my contribution is valued.

> During the early years, we at Alibaba also work long hours, why?

A hell of a lot more equity than the average Alibaba worker gets today?

Nice comments, but may I suggest that you check your spellings before posting? Lots of things I had to interpret what you meant to say based on mispellings.

Sorry, I'm not a native speaker, that may lead to some problem because Chinese grammar can be very different to English. Maybe I should start to use grammarly from now on.

Sum up the post:

1. What Jack Ma is trying to do, is equalizing Personal strive and overwork (for him).

2. In China, company have many ways to force employees stay in long hour without literally say so. For example "When boss don't leave, you don't leave", and/or giving out tasks that you can't finish without overwork.

I have to assume drunkenemo is trolling because your English is as good as many native speakers (at least when it comes to casual online communication). There are signs you aren't a native speaker, but nothing that makes your post hard to understand or in any way distracting.

Maybe that's because I got my English mode fully warmed up during the editing process. Don't blame drunkenemo :)

Your English is fine. Native English speakers' writing is often replete with typos and misspellings and improper grammar.

Think twice about Grammarly, especially if you're a professional...

You're doing fine for nonnative, just still mildly noticeable.

In case you're not trolling, it's likely that the commenter you're replying to doesn't speak English as a first language.

Considering the topic of this post (and the hanzi in their comment), I'd venture to say s/he speaks some dialect of Chinese as a first language.

I’m not trolling, can’t I give feedback to someone? It didn’t look like misspellings from a non native (e.g. catle vs cattle), but from rushed typing (e.g. he truned back). He fixed his post now, so I’m making due with examples to illustrate where I was coming from.

The headlines are different, but the content is the same. If you read into the SCMP headline, what it's actually saying is that Jack Ma expects employees to want to work 12 hour days, 6 days a week, without being forced.

Apparently, SCMP is owned by Alibaba. This could be interpreted as a conflict of interest to report anything about Alibaba founder in this context.

Shouldn’t that make them even more likely to express his actual opinion?

Should make them most likely to try to please their owner. Whoever gets to write something for Jack that is charitable without even being asked to do has a lot to gain.

I think that what they write has little connection to truth in a situation like this but with that said I have no idea nor do I really care to form an opinion yet.

Sure but isn’t Ma smart enough to say what he wants to say, I don’t think he wants newspapers to alter his message.

Both pieces cover what he said without altering his message, they just highlight different parts to completely change the tone and fit their editorial guidelines. Ignore anything that isn't a quote, and he is saying people that don't want to work extreme hours just don't love money.

Seems almost tautological.

This is why I wish we had a topics based news aggregator. A site which lists topics and under each topic, you get a list of different headlines and sources ( hopefully from different countries and with different perspectives and ideologies ). That way, we can see what different media groups are saying about the same event.

Google news and other social media used to do this until they got pressured to "localize" the news and favor "authoritative" sources.

What is shocking is how the same event is covered so differently by different countries and media groups. But the only way you would know this is if you actively search for news which is getting more difficult and which hardly anyone does.

Sounds like a potential startup ... if you can do it right (how would you identity the "same event": algorithmically? Curated? Crowd-sourced (tags)?)

Perhaps one part curation, two parts crowd source and three parts algorithm? I don't think you can entirely automate this because there are nuances and issues of categorization.

I'd like to see it user/community driven. A user generates a topic and one headline. Then other users and the algorithm add headlines to the topic. And if there are two similar topics, it would require a curator intervention to join the topics.

Also, "sourcing + hashing" the articles and headlines so that you can see a "diff" of the articles and headlines in case the media companies change or alter the articles/headlines without informing their customers would be nice.

But if anyone tried this, I'm sure the media companies would attack the startup and of course with the new EU copyright laws, it might open the startup to lawsuits or takedown requests. Not to mention many countries might simply ban it outright.

edit: seems like there are contradicting statements from him on this so I'll remove the stuff I had written earlier. It appears he is generally against forced hours but highly encourages his employees to work those hours anyways.

This single quote misrepresents his opinion, here are some extra quotes:

> But in a speech to Alibaba staff on Thursday, Ma said the company expected people to be ready to work 12 hours a day since it had huge commitments to its clients.

> “If you don’t work 996 when you are young, when will you? Do you think never having to work 996 in your life is an honour to boast about?” he said in the speech.

> Do you think never having to work 996 in your life is an honour to boast about?” he said

Why wouldn't you think this?

> Why wouldn't you think this?

Because you’re Asian? (My dad once asked me, when he perceived I was slacking as a teenager: “Do you know how to work a sixteen hour day?” Worked fine for him—he grew up in a village in Bangladesh and sent two kids to college in the United States. Writ large, it seemed to work pretty well for Japan and Korea as well, which went from developing nations to developed nations in a few generations.

In a place like China, you have to work hard. Most do it on a farm or factory. You’re lucky if you can do it in an office.)

I'm genuinely not seeking to troll or start a flame war here, so I apologize profusely if I speak out of line, I'm just looking to understand the current Chinese mindset.

All that working hard is to catch up to a country that pushed the envelope on a 40 hour work week, and at least made an effort to respect the right of the worker to have a life outside the office?

I find the argunent/cultural value unconvincing when most of the country's innovation has been fostered through copycatting, IP theft, and exploitative market gatekeeping.

I don't mean any offense, nor do I assert the United States is saintly in the non-abuse of workforce, or in any trade related department really, but given what we've been finding out about Chinese IP hijacking, their hostile trade practices, and personal experience working with Chinese H-1B's (whom if I catch trying to pull that 996 nonsense, I send home after 40 hours), I do think it's just an underhanded tactic used by authority figures on a vulnerable population.

The fruits of passion are best grown without compulsion. Play unites artist and engineer as Tao does one in the state of no mind.

One cannot be moved or inspired by heaven and earth stuck behind a screen toiling for one's master.

Hell, weren't the Chinese the same culture who brought us the gem of wisdom that "one who lacks control of oneself brings only strife when faced with the responsibility to control something larger than themselves"[Confucius paraphrased]? Where have these workers had the time to develop as healthy individuals? Not just to gather academic knowledge, but the wisdom born of personal folly to employ that intelligence well?

For a wealthy man in a purportedly communist regime, Mr. Ma seens, at least to me, whether he realizes it or not, to be falling into the worst tendencies of capitalistic practices hook, line, and sinker. The People suffer under the boot of a man who has grown so accustomed to the creature comforts afforded by his position that he has forgotten the reason he is where he is in the first place.

To usher the Chinese people to a new age of glory and prosperity.

At least, that's the Party line, is it not?

Surely others see the disconnect here, or am I just mad, and completely out of tune with the zeitgeist/realpolitik?

I’m not Chinese, but the sentiment is pan-Asian. You can’t build an industrial superpower from a country of rice farmers by working 40 hours a week. (Nor did the rice farmers work 40 days a week before industrialization!) Certainly, the US didn’t do it. (See: “Protestant work ethic.”) The 40-hour work week is something we adopted after our ascendency. It’s a luxury for the already rich. It’s possibly a luxury for those who face little outside competition—we will see if it survives the rest of the world catching up.

There's a difference, even in the "Protestant Work Ethic" though. You're expected to work for yourself, to get what needs to be done, done. That "work" includes living righteously, starting a/serving a family, contributing to and propping up your community, and making yourself a better person.

Nowhere in that is a blanket "Thou shalt do and ask no questions, lest you be punished."

There isn't Japan. Blind obedience went out of style in 1945, and should stay gone. We all know where that leads.

"A son who does not admonish an unreasonable father leads his family to ruin.", Confucius [paraphrased] again.

The 40 hour work week isn't even a luxury. It's required if you want some semblance of social stability. Industrialization was revolutionary in that tooling, factories, and infrastructure created an environment where work could happen 24/7/365. That doesn't mean it should, especially to the benefit of a few, at the cost of the livability of life for everyone else. Industry is meant to cure societal ills, not to act as a building block for exponential manufacture of new societal ills to be fixed by the very root cause of the original malaise.

I may not be Chinese, and may not fully understand current pan-Asian culture, but I weep at the tragedy I see unfolding whereby a culture seems to be cannibalizing itself into something nigh-unrecognizable from what it once was.

It seems to be happening everywhere nowadays.

>> Do you think never having to work 996 in your life is an honour to boast about?

> It’s a luxury for the already rich.

This sounds like you think it is an honor to boast about.

It sounded more like its a necessirty in some developing economies.

From my time in China, I get the feeling from many of those working massive hours that it's a lot of work, but there is a lot of opportunity there, and for those who find a way, they can achieve success and riches. There's a bit of gold rush euphoria driving the whole thing.

Korea had a different feel. It was more of a feeling of banding together and weathering the hard times for a brighter future. Korea doesn't really have natural resources, and they don't have a lot of manpower, so the only thing they can do is work massive hours. Now that the nation has achieved some kind of success, it's getting harder and harder to get the younger generation to buy into that mentality, in addition to the lack of jobs and security of the previous generations.

Different culture. Even here in HK, people wear their overtime as a badge of honour (if you check IG before bedtime, everyone is taking pics of their nearly empty office with a timestamp). Your standing is society is elevated by being important enough that you had to stay at work until midnight and people will say "oh they're so hard working"

“everyone is taking pics of their nearly empty office”

Do they all coordinate to get out of the way of each other’s photos, or how exactly does this work?

You wouldn't believe the lengths people go to in order to get the best shot for IG.

Recently, I have seen multiple Bloomberg articles that were way outside the normal margins of journalistic prose, and far into the territory of clickbait and even misinformation. A while back I thought Bloomberg was a high quality source.

Either Bloomberg got a lot worse; or I was too dumb to realize how bad they were in the past.

They compensate their journalists based on how much the articles move the market, so that may explain things.

This is the essence of “fake news”.

Most people think fake news is reporting false information. But nowadays it’s relatively easy to fact-check something. Much more onerous is selecting facts to report on so as to tell a story that fits an agenda. It’s harder to recognize, and hey—it’s facts! What could go wrong?

> This is the essence of “fake news”.

No, it's opinions and editorializing. Because if all news that are made to fit an agenda are "fake news", all news would be "fake"

What exactly about this is fake news?

That's his point - both pieces are factually correct, but give completely opposing interpretations of those facts. It's harder to recognize "fake news" when the "fake" part is heavy editorializing of an otherwise truthful set of news.

"News" has always been heavily editorialized from the start.

"Fake news" is just propaganda presented as "news."

There used to be some news outlets that were mostly even-keeled with their interpretation of facts. That's decreasingly the case.

Fake news is generally understood to be baseless lies. Incorrect or misleading news describes most of all genuine news coverage.

He said two things: people should work extreme overtime, and companies should not force them. These two articles are each focusing on one. They’re not contradictory.

Journalists making a story more controversial by tailoring which bits of a speech to quote? How incredibly unusual.

Oh wait, no. The other thing. The thing about never trusting anything you read, especially if it was written by someone who has something to gain by manipulating your emotions.

What does a badly paid Bloomberg reporter have to gain by making me feel like Jack Ma is a mean person?

I ran a newspaper for a while, so this is how the business model goes:

reporters write stories. Those stories are judged on "traction" - how much interaction and general "buzz" they get. The more views, comments, shares, likes, etc, that a story gets, the better the journalist has done their job. Truth doesn't come into it. The best stories are the most controversial ones, because people share them more.

the paper gets paid for adverts and subscriptions. Adverts are viewed when people read stories. The stories that get the most views are controversial ones that people share.

All stories are passed through an editorial process. That process does things like correct typos and grammar mistakes, but it also edits for "punchiness" and potential engagement. It's very common for a "boring" story to get edited (or the journalist told to re-edit) to make it more interesting, more controversial, more engaging.

So by taking a fairly banal story of Jack Ma saying some obvious things, and editing it so that it appears that he's saying some outrageous things, the journalist gets the buzz they need, and the newspaper gets a bunch of "free" advert views when people share the story on social media.

No-one's lying - Jack Ma did say those things. The journalists involved can maintain a straight face while saying they're just reporting the truth. Meanwhile, everyone gets paid and they get another day in a very, very threatened industry. Jack Ma's pissed off, of course, but he's a billionaire, he can cope.

Emotional response -> clicks. They need clicks to keep their job.

Bloomberg reporters get bonuses for writing stories that affect the market. Seriously.

I've heard this so many times and it just seems so ludicrous. How does one even prove that a specific article "affected the market". What degree need an article "affect the market" in order to qualify? How does one measure this? To whom does a reporter submit a "reimbursement for market effect" form?

I mean I guess if I saw some proof of these claims I might change my mind, but at the moment it seems totally naive.

edit: Here's an article that discusses it (for the moment I'll just assume their anonymous sources are correct which is a bit ridiculous to assume coming from a rival news source):


> There's nothing wrong with a news story moving the market: It means a story is important.

I think this is really the key. Bloomberg's news is financial in nature. Basically any big story will have a market effect. So basically in this instance "moving the market" might just be equivalent to "being a big story". So if it's bad to give bonuses based upon market-moving stories, it's bad to give bonuses on big stories.

Regardless the whole thing side-steps the important question anyway. Are the articles they post actually true? That's the only thing people should concern themselves with.

They don't care about the reason it moves the market.

They just know people will feel compelled to read their publications if they're consistently affecting the market.

Nope, this is not true (from someone I know who's working at Bloomberg).

Market manipulation is illegal and it would be pretty obvious if Bloomberg was participating in this activity

It's not market manipulation to research and publish novel and important business stories.

That's a serious accusation. Do you have evidence to back that up?

Bloomberg did it again - false reporting?* It is very weird.

Others reports this:

“No one likes working at a company that forces you to do ‘996’. 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 said. “In the long term, even if you pay a higher salary, employees will all leave.”


* https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-10-04/the-big-h...

You're still not covering the core of his argument. He also says:

>“If you find a job you like, the 996 problem does not exist; if you’re not passionate about it, every minute of going to work is a torment,” Ma said in a post on his Weibo account on Sunday.

The point he's making is not that 996 is bad, he's saying it's bad for people who aren't passionate about what they do. It only works for people who are passionate about their jobs.

Now let's take that into consideration shall we, do you think he's saying that it's fine for you to turn up to BABA and do a 9-5 and tell your boss that you're not passionate enough to do 996? Hell No! In fact he says:

> if you’re not passionate about it, every minute of going to work is a torment

So here's the choice he's laying out - either you're passionate and you're happy to work 996 (and by corollary you need to work 996 to demonstrate your passion or commitment) or every moment is a torment and clearly you shouldn't be employed there.

So no, he's not endorsing forcing people to work 996. He's endorsing forcing people to pretend they want to work 996. Which by the way, isn't sustainable for most people no matter how passionate they are.

Hah, I’m passionate enough, but if I had to work 996 I would be destroyed in a week.

Sounds very B/W. "You either love it, or it's a torment."

I think there's a lot of gray space between, that is actually fine. "I don't completely love the job, but it can be fun sometimes, and it pays the bills."

It sounds like something someone trying to manipulate you would say, if I think about it. The usual: "taking two extreme sides and creating a false dichotomy".

Passionate or not, there's only a certain amount of real productive work you can do in a certain amount of time, and there's more to life than spending all of it working and barely recovering from that work. At some point, I'd still like to hang out with friends or family, do sports, go drinking, live life.

I find 12 hours a day to be too much. And 6 days a week is throwing the mental health of a person off a cliff.

I’ve frequently found, personally and observing others, that productivity drops after 6h of continuous work especially if it forces you to think a lot (which is pretty much always in software - you still need to apply your brain to connect the plumbing between APIs)

Anything after 6h should either be menial work, cleanup or something else. I’ve found it is usually better to postpone any intense work to the next day. As a solo founder who tried to keep up 12h+ days, I’ve had the same amount of productivity by shutting down my day after 7h. You usually end up stretching things into hours for what would take a couple of minutes with a fresh brain.

People in workspaces with crazy work hours pad the remaining hours with meetings, email, going from here to there and back here.

Humans only work so many hours a day. Outlier humans who can work more won't waste their talent/superpower at an employer where their extra time isn't compensated.

I have to say (as a person currently on a 25-30 hour work week), that I often times find meetings to be the most exhausting part of my job, especially when I am very engaged in them. Coding is like meditation compared to that (thought I couldn't dream of doing it more than 50 hours per week for more than a week or two).

Agree. The best way to work tons of hours is to spend tons of time on low-effort things that can be presented as difficult or important in meetings.

>Outlier humans who can work more won't waste their talent/superpower at an employer where their extra time isn't compensated.

Yes and no. Some might compromise the hourly rates for salary, if it comes with fringe benefits - say, having an FAANG on your resume, for example.

I fully agree! Have found exactly the same thing for me, i.e., I can do about 6h of mentally consuming things a day.

I can do more if I'm allowed to make my own schedule. Throw a couple hour workout + lunch in the middle of the day and I can go back to mentally consuming work. Too few companies recognize that they are shooting themselves in the foot with the strict 9-5 or whatever hours.

I'm actually kind of afraid to comment because I'm generally afraid of the Chinese government and I have a feeling they like Jack Ma and also like wage slavery just as much as him. Plus even if there is no government involved Jack Ma has quite a lot of power because of his money.

But I feel this is a moral issue. The thing is, the system of employment is the evolution of plain old fashioned slavery. That is where Ma is coming from. He believes that he owns those people. Class is still a very strong part of global society.

Just look at the etymology of the word 'employ'. It means using something. Earlier it came from

late 14c., implien, emplien "to enfold, enwrap, entangle"

The thing that is really tough about this is that it's a subtle form of violence as the vast majority of people (even programmers) are in fact dependant upon keeping their jobs.

So in fact the forced overtime is forced labor and is a human rights issue.

I think it's going to get worse rather than better because AI, robotics and automation in general are gradually picking up steam.

Maybe we can be optimistic though and imagine a time where using people ("employing" them) is recognized as unethical. Maybe we will have that luxury someday if we have machines that are smart and dextrous enough to replace human workers. That probably won't end class structures on it's own though.

Not sure applying old English words or even western ideas onto a completely different culture helps here.

Some things are fairly universal and pertain to human condition in general, even if expressed in very western framework.

Jack Ma's comment on this matter is full of logical fallacy. Forcing employees to stick to the 996 schedule with no overtime pay is not equivalent to someone finding their own passion and work restless towards their own goal. He somehow mixed up these two completely different things while avoided talking about the lack of overtime pay or even basic respect for employees in many corporations.

Labeling people who demand reasonable work-life balance as "slackers" (from JD's CEO) or lazy is utterly disgusting.

I understand sometimes people might need to work a bit overtime to get things done or have on-call duties. We all do, but working 12 hours a day/6 days a week is not sustainable whatsoever. Of all these Chinese entrepreneurs, none of them mentioned even the slightest of their total rewards systems, which makes me think they are avoiding this topic on purpose and all their comments are attempts to put out fire while keeping the status quo, sneaky indeed.

To be honest, if someone I manage constantly works crazy hours with no rest for a long period of time, voluntarily or not, I won't even let him/her push any piece of code to production.

Fried brains == Disaster

Edit: had a discussion with some of my friends from China on this. One of the common arguments is "why are developers whining about work conditions while tons of other occupations such as factory/delivery workers and nurses work long hours with lower pay?"

First of all, other occupations having bad work condition does not justify the legitimacy of 996. This is yet another common logical fallacy when it comes to arguments like this. Also, how can people assume workers of other occupations are fine with endless long hours? Did anyone consider the possibility that they never had a systematic way to express their dissatisfaction and just tried going along with it for as long as possible before they were burnt out and got replaced?

996 is fine if you're a founder of a company. It's not okay for ill-compensated workers that will never become billionaires.

We don't have much time on this planet. Why should he expect others to be droning slaves for him? People should enjoy what little life they have, not spend most of their time as cogs in a machine.

>996 is fine if you’re a founder

Is it?

You have production access to the company’s most important relationships. If you’re falling asleep in meetings or just unable to exercise emotional intelligence, that seems pretty bad for the company.

EDIT: falling asleep in meetings is bad, not good.

I think it's worth defining what "fine" is in this context.

It's fine in as much as it's your gig, it's on you to decide what is right or not. If you believe that working extreme hours at the cost of your own wellbeing and rational performance will end up being a benefit to you in the long run then it's "fine" for you to make that choice and you either reap the benefits of suffer the consequences and hopefully learn from it.

It's not fine to project your notion of drive and passion onto people who are employees and expect them to match your personal standards when the potential rewards are magnitudes different.

It is. Because then the overtime is completely self-imposed.

If a sysadmin comes to work drunk, that would also be self-imposed. Would that be acceptable for the company?

If not, why is it okay to come to work drunk-with-fatigue?

I always wonder about cases where a person's work depresses them as such that they start self-medicating (for example, with alcohol). Would that still be self-imposed, or a result of the circumstances?

We always have a choice.

It's just how easy the choice is that defines how good our conditions are.

I'm not an investor, but if I were an investor I would want my stewards of capital to be awake and aware and full on. Airline pilots and professional drivers (truckers) have mandated rest, for a reason.

I'm an investor and former VC-backed founder and I'd like my stewards of capital, who are typically the best work force in the early days of startups, to work more than 40 hours. I'm sure that they do in the overwhelming majority of successful startups.

I work in finance and am sorry but you don't sound like a legit investor if you measure the effectiveness of your capital towards startups by work hours. What about their revenue models, plans for growth, talent structure and market niche? Why do you expect them to work longer hours as long as they have deliverables on time? Also, working longer hours may introduce potential compliance/HR costs (mental/physical problems due to overwork, people leaving due to work-life balance issue), which could be deadly for early startups.

> I'm sure that they do in the overwhelming majority of successful startups

You would need to back up this statement with evidence and show positive correlation between longer work hours and success of startups.

> I work in finance and am sorry but you don't sound like a legit investor

I don't care what I sound like to someone who develops software and pretends to be some sort of financial expert.

You can prove me wrong by actually arguing/answering the questions I had but instead you fell into Tu quoque...don't think this is how a healthy argument should be.


> someone who develops software and pretends to be some sort of financial expert

Your assumption is baseless and does not help your argument. Commenting on HN does not mean someone develops software for a living. HN is open for everyone.

> Commenting on HN does not mean someone develops software for a living. HN is open for everyone.

You don't even understand that I can read all your comments on HN, as well as your profile, where you claim to be doing exactly that.

You're just wasting time and space with your insults and rhetoric.

> You're just wasting time and space with your insults and rhetoric

I engage in arguments but where do you see insults?

I know very well you can read comments and profiles. I've had an HN account since 2011 and it gave me enough time to become well versed in finance. Plus I call myself software engineer because I work in quantitative finance and software engineering is big part of it. I'm also a CFA charterholder and not putting it on my HN profile doesn't make me less versed in finance.

It's ok if you don't want to engage in arguments, but don't assume you know someone by simply skimming through their HN profiles.

Truckers are mandated (in the USA) to do 60 hours in 7 days, which is more than 40 hours. If your founder works 96 hours a week for 6mths what do you think their state of mind will be?

I worked 96 hours a week for eight weeks finishing off my dissertation. I finished it, but basically went crazy - I needed some time off, which was good because I crossed the line. Startups used to be like that I suppose, but now it takes far longer to cross the line to an exit than it used to, are you making the best use of the human capital you are deploying?

> Truckers are mandated (in the USA) to do 60 hours in 7 days, which is more than 40 hours. If your founder works 96 hours a week for 6mths what do you think their state of mind will be?

What does that have to do with anything? 60 hours is 50% more than 40 hours, it's regulation and not science and it's a totally different job with different risks.

> are you making the best use of the human capital you are deploying?

If they are working 40 hours or less, the answer is "no" with 100% certainty. Above that, it depends.

Well - the example I used was set to 60 hours not 40 - which was a number that you used.

On the other hand are you sure that you are reasoning correctly? Have any of the companies that you have worked with failed because the founders have worked too little?

What was the least working that you saw? What was the outcome and the driver there?

> Well - the example I used was set to 60 hours not 40 - which was a number that you used.

So what is your conclusion from this? That 60 hours are too much? Or is it OK to work 60 hours (i.e. more than 40)? Why bring it up if your example basically confirms that my expectations aren't unreasonable?

> Have any of the companies that you have worked with failed because the founders have worked too little?

Yes. And I know a couple more.

> What was the least working that you saw? What was the outcome and the driver there?

15-30 hours/week. No product after a few financing rounds. Lack of grit. Also, very poor decisions.

>15-30 hours/week. No product after a few financing rounds. Lack of grit. Also, very poor decisions.

Oh crumbs - sounds like a disaster! Why were you invested? Didn't the managing board raise some red flags and seek liquidation early?

To what degree?

There is a difference between regularly working 50-hour weeks and setting those up well, and always working 72-hour weeks, which doesn’t leave you time to do the life-admin, exercise, cooking, and sleep you need to keep a clear head.

Founders are already 'working' more than that. They are typically thinking about their company with every waking hour.

With that said, it doesn't mean they are not getting plenty of sleep. What it means is that when they are not sleeping, they are probably working. At the gym, they are probably thinking about work. At social events, they are probably thinking about work. Etc... It's just the nature of getting a company off the ground.

Only because it is your choice to undertake the extra working time, not because it is expected.

That doesn't change how much it messes up your performance and judgement.

I'm not saying it's a good idea just that it's done through choice and not forced in them.

> It's not okay for ill-compensated workers that will never become billionaires.

What if everyone who does it will become millionaires?

What if everyone who does it understands the tradeoffs involved and makes an informed decision that you disagree with?

Neither of things are true, so what's your point?

Ali Baba is the Amazon of China. It is enormously profitable. I assume that in return for working so hard, the employees are paid quite well, or else they would find better jobs.

I guess the unsupported claim that they're "ill-compensated" out of the blue was what annoyed me.

It looks like the average senior software engineer salary at Alibaba is around $30k.

That's well above the average annual salary in China, but it's about average for a software developer, and no one is going going to become a millionaire working for those wages.

Also long hours are normal in China. If your choice is to work for one of 50 companies that all have insane schedules, it's hardly informed consent.

This Fortune article speculates in much higher numbers for their stock compensation: http://fortune.com/2016/02/05/alibaba-stock-pay-disturbing/

If long hours is the industry standard, to me that is exactly informed consent. I mean, no one will be surprised by the standard workplace arrangement.

There's no way Alibaba is giving away 15% of their revenue in stock grants, so I'd take that with a huge grain of salt. Regardless the vast majority of their employees aren't going to become millionaires working there.

>If long hours is the industry standard, to me that is exactly informed consent. I mean, no one will be surprised by the standard workplace arrangement.

That's not what informed consent means--informed consent has to be voluntary or it's not consent. If 72 hour weeks are standard and your choice is long hours or being unemployed, it's not informed consent.

The logical conclusion to this argument is that there is literally no limit on how bad you make your working conditions so long as everyone else is doing it. A century ago it was common to pay employees in company scrip and to not pay them enough to live so that they ended up permanently indebted to the company. It was the standard work environment in many places so by your argument all the employees freely consented to it.

Your consent argument makes no sense to me. We're probably too far apart to communicate, but I'll make an attempt:

I agree that "informed consent has to be voluntary or it's not consent".

But this is absurd: "If 72 hour weeks are standard and your choice is long hours or being unemployed, it's not informed consent."

Note that you can replace "72 hour weeks" with "40 hour weeks" or "10 hour work weeks" without changing the argument. I'm guessing your silent assumption is that anything worse than your current middle class American expectations are by definition inhumane. This implies that poor people across the world can't consent to anything.

To me, as long as you can freely walk away from something, you are there by consent. No other definition makes logical sense.

There is obviously a large gray area between coercive and completely consensual when it comes to employment. Even 40 hour a week employment in the western world isn't completely without coercion in every case--only if the person has other alternatives.

>This implies that poor people across the world can't consent to anything.

In many situations they can't. When the power differential between 2 people is too great, there can be no consent. If the president asks an intern to sleep with him and he tells her she is free to walk away with no repercussion, there's still an element of coercion to the proposal.

>To me, as long as you can freely walk away from something, you are there by consent. No other definition makes logical sense.

How far does this belief go? If you come across a dying man in the desert and offer to sell him water in exchange for everything he owns, I'd say that's obviously not a consensual agreement. Despite the fact that he can freely walk away from it.

These two assumptions don't really contribute to the whole 996 discussion.

Plus for many people, at certain stage, family/relationship/life/health becomes much more important than making millions.

That's like if you said "what if everyone won a lottery". You know full well this sweatshop bullshit produces very few millionaires, and millions of burn-outs.

What if everyone who used chemo was cured of cancer?

and nurses work long hours with lower pay

The Longer The Shifts For Hospital Nurses, The Higher The Levels Of Burnout And Patient Dissatisfaction


Nurses seek to reduce long hours and fatigue


January 31, 2012 — State laws against mandatory overtime hours for nurses are effective, researchers reported in an article published online August 29, 2011, in Nursing Outlook.

"Nurses routinely work long shifts, often as long as 12 hours straight," said Carol Brewer, PhD, RN, FAAN, a professor at the School of Nursing, University at Buffalo, New York, in a news release. "These laws were intended to prevent hospitals from piling mandatory overtime on top of such shifts, a practice that research shows can increase the likelihood of mistakes."


As a doctor you are 1 mistake away from potentially killing somebody, which can easily end up you being in jail, your license permanently removed and life ruined. And lets be honest, most doctors have killed by negligence/mistake in their lives, this is pure statistics and reality that few want to admit. After screwup everybody just hopes family/hospital will not investigate and move on.

Treatment of medical staff, mainly doctors is pretty ridiculous compared to easy life we (most of us) have in IT. What I mean by example - the by far the biggest employer - university hospital is forcing employers overtime, nightshifts which are properly debilitating, and not 1, but easily 4-5 in a row. At the end of such a row, the doctor feels drunk and sluggish when discussed with.

Which 3rd world country do you think I discuss? One of the biggest hospitals in Switzerland.

I have tons of stories from friends of us - like cantonal hospital in Bern, where chef of whole department set up the badge-sharing system that forced his doctors to share badges over weekend with others who didn't work,so they could do more overtime (unpaid of course) because the Swiss laws prohibited them from doing so, and entrance badge system was programmed accordingly). You don't want to participate, good bye (also to your career in whole country). 2018 story.

My advice - stay healthy, just don't go to hospital unless you have to. At the end, just drop dead.

From my second link, above:

with researchers likening the performance of someone awake for at least 17 hours to that of a drunk person.

those who worked shifts 12.5 hours or longer were three times more likely than others to make an error in patient care.

From your comment:

My advice - stay healthy, just don't go to hospital unless you have to. At the end, just drop dead.

The natives in Africa put a stop to the Ebola epidemic with a few policies to limit the spread. For starters:

1. If you got sick, they quarantined you. You were not to leave your hut. They would leave food on your doorstep. If three days of food piled up, they burned the hut to the ground without going inside to check if you were really dead or not.

2. They told their people "Don't go to the white man's hospital." Because you would show up with something fixable, like a broken leg, and die of Ebola contracted at the hospital.

They also put up road blocks to control who could come into their territory. There may be a few other things I'm not remembering.

I have a serious medical condition. I haven't seen a doctor in years. When I was seeing a doctor for it, the waiting room was always full of sick people and it was one of the more hazardous things I did. I sometimes spoke with people online who told stories that (for example) their kid with the same condition as me had picked up MRSA in their last hospital stay.

We need some better models. The current system seems inherently flawed in important ways.

Id be more worried about tired medical staff missing things like detecting sepsis.

Worked at Alibaba. Not trying to defend the company, just offering my observation.

They do work much longer hour as compared to most American companies (like Google, I worked at too), even longer than the average Chinese ones. However, 9-to-9 doesn't mean people work 12 hour straight and nobody forcing anyone to stay at work until 9. Chinese work schedule includes 30 minutes to 1 hour extra napping time at noon, and Alibaba has on-campus canteens and facilities so employees go gym/game after dinner then back to work a little longer before leaving.

When I was working there I usually leave right after dinner so the actual work hour was around 8.5-9 hours a day. And our team never work on weekends (except for around 11.11 the annual shopping craze). However I do work at night and weekends at home, voluntarily.

They do pay well though.

The keyword is "voluntary". Alibaba doesn't have this problem but many other companies do. The fact anti-996 has gained tons of attention makes me doubt it's just an immature movement started by a couple of crybabies.

Definitely not immature. People have all the right to do so, and Chinese laws protect labor rights. And I do agree that the reason you are working overtime and whether it's voluntary make a big difference.

But does it matter if you work continuously 9-9? If I stay on premise 9-9 I still regard that as work -- that still is my time that I'm selling to the company.

Can you raise a child if you are away 9-9? You wake up at 7AM, return home at 10PM, how is that even considered a life worth living?

That's just insane if you ask me.

> But does it matter if you work continuously 9-9? If I stay on premise 9-9 I still regard that as work -- that still is my time that I'm selling to the company.

In many countries, lunch and dinner breaks are unpaid time - in theory you are free to go home and do whatever you want. In China, noon break can be two hour long including napping. And the free dinners of IT companies are actually incentives to lure you staying longer on campus. Of course you can leave earlier or even on your own schedule if raising a child, however, for young people most prefer staying overtime enjoying free facilities companies provide them, like food and gyms they have to pay off-campus otherwise.

I think that Jack Ma his trying his best to reduce the Chinese population. Today Chinese population is already almost shrinking, and policies like that will make sure that having a child will be left out of the equation. Can you imagine having a child with such a work schedule? Even if one the partners stays at home, it will mean that you will barely now your child (a few hours on Sunday). What is strange is that the communist party realized that this will be a big problem in the future, but don't link that to company policies like that...

Ironic that selfish capitalist policies such as this will likely be the beginning of the downfall of the Chinese Communist party.

It's not for everyone.

While I agree that it's not for everyone and people should have a right to decide how they spend their time, I think it's detrimental even for those who claim it is good for themselves.

If you actually ask, "Who is this for then?" -- I think you'll be hard pressed not to answer "For the young, socially less inclined(men)", just like drugs are for certain demographics or polygamy is for certain demographics, teenage marriage can work for certain people and so on (sorry if my examples are too extreme).

And by accepting such horrendous work hours you are pressuring people who actually want a better work-life balance, that's why I think it's better for society in the long run to forbid such (predatory) practices.

Just because it's detrimental or suck for you doesn't mean it also the case for other. Likewise for drugs and polygamy.

That's just reality of life.

And if you outlawing the practice, its sucks for those people who want to prefer those you think "horrendous" work hour.

I think you have to compare to this other organizations with up-or-out mentality like the big name consultancies and so on.

The point is not to offer a "sustainable worklife". The whole point is to chew through fresh graduates as fast as you can. They are fuel for the fire. And China has many, many hungry and young graduates.

It's kinda fair to say this out loud. People know what they are getting into. Some people actually enjoy this and thrive in such a high strain environment. The losers are the people who think they have to do this to "prove themselves" and just suffer and burn out.

Those who survive get promoted, and perpetuate the culture.

The only pathology I see is that if people think this is the only way to run a technology company and start aping the practice - which is a likely outcome.

> Labeling people who demand reasonable work-life balance as "slackers" or lazy is utterly disgusting.

Worth clarifying that the "slackers" comment came from JD.com's founder Richard Liu, not Jack Ma.

edit: removed comments on whether he endorses it or not since it seems like there are contradicting statements from him. My current impression is that he disagrees with forced overtime but wants his employees to work similar hours voluntarily (although I suspect this is a common sentiment among business execs).

I actually read Jack Ma's initial memo on this matter in Chinese. His stance was pretty clear that he endorses 996. He later "clarified" that he disagrees with this sentiment after people became enraged by his words.

"My current impression is that he disagrees with forced overtime but wants his employees to work similar hours voluntarily"

If your boss says they want you to work overtime 'voluntarily', what do you do? Doesn't sound very voluntary, and middle managers actually doing the enforcement aren't going to treat it like that, especially when they get targets.

corrected. Thanks.

Sounds almost funny in light of how much the company is messed up on tech side.

It has one of the biggest tech workforce in China, but they can't make Taobao frontpage work moderately well. It is almost as if they felt "giving up" on that.

Having worked with them on their DC project in 2016, I can attest that the rest of the company is not different.

They are constantly loosing managerial cadres, and almost all Alibabers I knew can attest of the company feeling "ungoverned" and "in state of Brownian motion"

Well you have got all the logic correct except that there are millions upon millions looking for 'cushy' IT jobs in developing world. So when IT worker complains about being burnt they can be replaced before they even spell 'overtime'. This is true in India, China or Korea. At least these are ones I am directly aware of.

Also as much employee or employers claim that they are developing and maintaining a hugely complex systems. Most of it are age old 3-tier applications. Employers can easily replace most of the grunt workers with another lot. Average employees know this and that's why they put up with these demands. It is not like companies are lining up to hire run of the mill CRUD devs in these countries. I personally know many folks once they are laid off it would take anywhere between 3-12 month to get next job.

So what remains are few exceptional developers/engineers who can negotiate better benefits and working hours independently with companies. Companies absolutely do not feel any need to extend same level of respect and perks to everyone.

> He somehow mixed up these two completely different things while avoided talking about the lack of overtime pay or even basic respect for employees in many corporations.

When the excuse is feeble, it's because it isn't an excuse, it's just an expression of indifference

Well, 996 is good thing to balance the imbalance. There are plenty of people looking for positions with good pay, and for those who can afford to worry about 'quality of life', they can simply move on to other positions and have other people enjoy these good paid jobs. So everyone will have their chance to get exploited and move on afterwards. Once most people are happy with what they have, no one would work for 996 companies and things will change. It is exactly the same thing as manufacture jobs moving to Asian countries. It is very good for Asian workers.

Can someone explain to me how you can be productive for 12 hours on a single day?

When I do concentrated programming work, I can maybe do 4 hours, at best 6 hours. It seems I can stretch it when doing more mundane work when I know what needs to be done. But this time is seriously reduced when I have to think about architecture or more complex stuff.

The literature also point into this direction, where writers and serious thinkers do these kind of few hours (also see Cal Newport on deep work).

I know John Carmack said you can be more productive when you can do more easy tasks to fill up the day, but it ends somewhere.

I have a master degree in computer science, and during the exams, my head was full at 20:00. Nothing could get in after that. I know people who could study until 3 in the morning. But you know what, after questioning them, they didn't do shit in the morning.

At work, I always had great reviews and my employers loved me (I'm almost 40 now). I always felt I was slacking off because I worked too little. But then I understood, if I work so little and get great reviews, what are those other guys doing?

So 12 hours a day? You are just lying to yourself. Those people are slacking off like crazy, and probably can't get anything done during the day. And at the end of the day, they are angry at themselves that they didn't do shit and wasted most of those 12 hours slacking off.

But I am sincerely asking to prove me wrong. Is it possible to work 12 productive hours a day? I was always searching for this how some people claim to be able to pull this off. But after investigation, they never really were able to do this.

I've had trouble finding a workplace that understood this. Even on the days where I put in 5-6 hours of high quality work I'd attract the suspicion of managers.

After that they typically begin to "check on me" regularly to make sure I'm not "slacking." This would go on long-term.

I have never worked anywhere where this didn't happen.

What I think is fundamental is that employees are not payed for their work, but for their time. The implicit thought pattern is that they feel they own your time.

You're right. However, being there and doing low-impact work like planning the next day in my head yields the same suspicion.

I was able to go through a short period when I did 7-8 hours of productive work, but I also lost 15 pounds. I would just work until I was too hungry to think and only eat then. It definitely wasn't sustainable long term.

I think it's a mistake to force people to stay in the office and work for this long. Even if it isn't 100% productive work hours, it still deprives them of opportunities to do other things with their lives such as family, hobbies and fitness activities.

It's as if he doesn't realize he's doing tangible harm to thousands of lives.

I also find it strange that someone that is currently retired at the early age of 54 can demand that other people (earning salaries) work 996. If working is so great and virtuous then why did Jack Ma retire early?

I entirely agree with you, with one caveat: I have met one, maybe two persons in my life who were able to work and be intellectually productive 12 hours a day on a prolonged basis, but they are the absolute exception. Building an entire company on the assumption that they are the norm is insane.

You don't work full 12 hour continuously. You'll take numbers of breaks in between, for example lunch, snacks, napping, coffee, stroll around, exercise, gym, meditation, games, etc.

What's the difference between that and working 7-8 hours with fewer breaks? Answer: The 7-8 hour person will create better products with fewer bugs (all else being equal).

The difference is it enable you to work more (for those who want it).

> The 7-8 hour person will create better products with fewer bugs

the 12 hour person with sufficient breaks can't do that ? whats the reasoning ?

The 12 hour person might actually be a 3 hour person. It's just fooling yourself that you "work" 12 hours a day.

Maybe I'll put my bed in the office, that way I can "work" the full 8 hours ;).

Sure, if you prefer that, whatever works for you.

When people with equity asks regular employees with salaries to work their ass off unsustainably it is just very insensitive to the inherent difference between them.

If owners and top executives were doing an amazing job directing the company then front line employees would not even have to work that hard because the company already has a strategic advantage.

I'll work those hours, no problem. You will, however, have to make it worth my while.

Oh, what's that? You want to pay me the same total compensation as any other company, but make me spend twice as many hours working?

No thank you. I'll seek employment elsewhere.

I agree with you, but I suspect the people in China subjected to these inhumane work hours don't have the option for a job with better working conditions. I would not be surprised in companies were colluding such that the 996 is the default work week.

Those who can stick with a 996 are either stupid or desperate (I assume mostly desperate with enough stupid sprinkled in to keep this going). This idea of working your life away for a piece of shit like Ma needs to die. The culture in such places is absolutely toxic and frankly disgusting, not to mention detrimental to the final product. It's amazing to me that this is the norm in much of Asia and the US. I don't know what exactly is wrong with cultures who share this stupid idea, but it's something very serious. The desperation that drives people to almost kill themselves for work is incredible. It seems to be a form of self enslavement. The alternatives must be truly horrific for people to do this to themselves. They definitely are in the US and I imagine they are worse in China. I think people probably know this and don't need assholes like Ma to not only demand this enslavement of themselves, but also to demand that they enjoy their own enslavement and torture. What a scumbag.

'“Those who can stick to a 996 schedule are those who have found their passion beyond monetary gains,” Ma wrote.' says a billionaire...

That's a pretty wild assumption, especially coming from a billionaire, but I guess he needs to justify treating his employees like crap to himself somehow.

I assert that there are a great numbers of CEOs who would absolutely love their employees to be working 996 without overtime pay, only most of them won't admit it directly. We cannot expect CEOs to be paragons of virtue - part of the reason they succeed because they discard virtue in favor of profit. Having said that, the solution is not simple. In places like China, it's probably up to the government.

Exactly that is why there are laws (in China I guess not). I can't work more than 200h overtime in a year or 48h in 4weeks (meaning that after four 52h weeks I can't do anymore overtime), regardless of whether I'm paid for it or not. So after two 996 weeks my manager would be in criminal territory if I don't get two very short weeks afterwards. In my experience, this seems to actually work too. Crunch time is replaced by slipping or hiring, as it should.

These laws don't require that anyone forced anyone to do it - the manager is literally responsible to make sure people don't work too much. Obviously this will happen occasionally anyway, but now it is at least llegal.

where are you?


Jack Ma will be surprised to find out that it doesn't matter how many hours you spend at the office. Actual productive activities will total only 2-3 hours per day. So spending 12 hours per day at the office actually means more time for social media, news sites, gossip, etc (i'm not going to dwell on the negative effects of his comments since they're well understood - less time spent at the office = better productivity).

> Jack Ma will be surprised to find out that it doesn't matter how many hours you spend at the office.

Yes, the richest self-made man in China will soon be lectured by a random commenter on the Internet about how he got it all wrong.

is this a joke? Jack Ma obviously doesn't read comments off the Internet.

I'm bit worried about the person(or the group) manning the 996.ICU github. The page states,"This is not a political movement".

But, the Chinese govt won't ignore for long, any kind of movement which maligns the reputation of China.

If the chinese gov't wants to protect their reputation, wouldn't they do better to abolish 996-type working conditions?

You only need take a look at what's happening to human-rights lawyers and the victims of the melamine-contaminated infant formula scandal in China.

Jack Ma is right about working overtime and have work consume your life when 'passion is not limited to monetary gains', but more often than not, these people that are full of passion realise that it was the wrong choice all along, esp considering how short a healthy life is. The regrets people have on their death bed isn't of not having worked hard, but not having had more time for friends and family.


I sometimes think that there's only ever been one economic model - slavery. Various excuses are periodically found to justify it, like aristocracy, caste system, slavery, Gulag, meritocracy, passion, etc. - ultimately, as a society, we do not want fair wages to be given to workers, so that we can consume more, cheaper goods, and glorify a few billionaires as super(wo)men.

Imagine if you will, a textile mill in North Carolina in the year 1864.

Unpaid labor performing most of the factory's value-added activities, along similar lines to how the cotton was raised agriculturally on nearby plantations.

Company accountant complains about "$9,800 of total labor cost" for the year, which is about $800 more than it was the year before. "When is it going to end?" is often heard, even though the actual workers recieve no payment and never have, there is still a fundamental cost of labor even in a pure slavery situation.

Another year comes & goes, the Civil War ends, slaves are emancipated, and the factory is then required to actually divert some cash directly to the newly christened "employees" for the first time, in the form of a regular paycheck.

The accountant has never been so grumpy. "Looks like we're going to have over $15,000 in labor costs this year, thanks to the plumb fool Yankees."

And life goes on.

When is it going to end?

Anyway, I prefer to work a 12-hour day because I get more accomplished than would otherwise be accomplished over two 8-hour days. Relatively speaking, someone else's 16-hour project which takes them two workdays and completes no sooner than 34 hours after assignment, can often be completed in only 12 hours after assignment if all energy is directed continuously until completion.

For those that do not have that much ability to focus, I understand.

I wonder how many processes are not automated because of peer pressure of 996. Heard stories about when India was just opening as a outsourcing hub, people would use notepad to create HTML pages. As that means more billable hours. No syntax highlighting, macro and other support. Something similar must happen for 996 to be practical.

Leaving aside the questions around the ethics of 996... is this kind of schedule actually effective? Do companies that work knowledge workers like this actually outperform competitors?

I spent a good chunk of my twenties working a schedule of 8 hours coding at work followed by 6 hours coding on a side project, with my entire weekend on the side project as well. I didn't have any sort of social life (largely by choice but also because I was remote working in a tiny rural village).

It was massively effective. I wrote a ton of great code. I made enough money to quit working for several years and do a startup. When you're young, moderately fit, and ambitious you can crank out a ton of code.

However, the important point is that it was my choice to do that. You can't ignore the ethics because that's what makes it wrong - asking people to do it while (even silently) implying bad things will happen if they don't is deeply unethical.

A side project is much different than a work project. You got your eight hours of work and got to go home and do whatever you pleased. In this case, it was to write more code. Having to corral your brain into the singular focus of an employer's project against deadlines, feedback (sometimes crazy talk,) updates, documentation and other distractions is different.

I can happily crank out code all day if it's something I'm doing for myself. As soon as you add the employer, it immediately starts doing my head in. It's completely different work. Some employers are better than others in this regard I suppose.

Also worth noting is that you spent time working on your own side project. Not for a company that owned your intellectual output. You invested in yourself and your interests.

Wow. So much this, thanks for saying this. I feel the same way: I love coding, and do work relentlessly at times but its out of choice and not because anyone asks me to.

I think it probably works. The 6th day in particular seems like it would be a big boost. Technically, even if having a work week 80% longer than your competitors only ekes out a 10% boost to the amount of work done, that's still a big advantage.

The problem then is that the weekend is 50% shorter, so workers are coming to work on Monday without having rested as effectively. In the long run, I can well imagine that costing 10% or more.

I shouldn't think so. Early in my career I work in some consulting company that prides themselves for working their engineers until late at night. Never again. A real strategic advantage would trump hard work every time.

My guess is most people can do it for a few weeks, and some exceptional individuals could keep it up for longer.

If there are a lot of people in the company doing 996 every day I think they're probably spending most of their time doing mindless busywork.

Pretty common in game dev, but it is hard to say.

It is not like you can do the same project twice, one crunching and one not and see what the results are?

In terms of health, definitely not good.

Also from economics, makes no sense if you are not a founder.

Jack Ma is an idiot for doing this for very simple reasons. It's a country of 1 billion people. His company has 5 billion dollars in revenue, they pay their developers like 30k USD. Burning out your brightest is a stupid business strategy. They can afford to hire many more people as they have plenty of money to afford to do so. It's like some stupid idea of machismo. Like be a man! Yeah fuck that noise.

It's in fact physically sickening to subject people to this. As they are sitting 12 hours a day for 6 days a week and then probably sleeping all day on the 7th to recover.

It sounds like he's really smart. There's a billion people. He can just keep burning them out and there will be more begging to be treated that way. The only way to solve this is with regulations -- this is where capitalism breaks down. With that many people, it won't matter if he burns through them.

If you assume you have a huge reserve of capable people, then that will clamp down on wages, but as a manager you still want to optimise the productivity of the employees they have.

Extreme overtime doesn't sound like a good idea. May as well hire 2 shifts of people and pay them half as much; aim for higher per-hour performance. 9-9-6 isn't going to get you very much per hour of labour time, the employees will be zombies.

4 shifts of people will get you 24 hour 7-day coverage if you want continuous production if that is what the business needs. Just hold per-hour pay as constant as possible using the reserve of willing workers as leverage.

I think you missed my point.

In the short term it makes sense financially, but longer term the company will suffer from institutional knowledge churning over too rapidly.

It's a disgusting way to think. It's like treating people like disposable plastic.

Sooner or later, this mentality will bite back. Smart people cannot be manufactured en masse like plastic.

Regulations from whom? The "Communist Party", a regime founded on anti-capitalist doctrine?

This is where communism breaks down. The only way to make it work in an economic sense is to turn it into a soulless corporate dystopia. Absent the incentive to work for personal gain, everyone must be motivated to work for the glory of the country through near constant propaganda.

Poor performance becomes a sign of anti-government sentiment. Thus, finding a new job after getting fired is extremely difficult, regardless of skill or desire to hire, because such governments go to great effort to blackball anyone who steps out of line, for fear of protest or dissent.

The USSR did indeed make great advances in technology and had a functioning economy, but at the despair and large-scale death of its people.

Having spent my early childhood in Russia, I can say you are spot on on the whole sentiment, but work productivity in USSR was below the sea level.

Without objective measurement of work nobody gave a fuck about own productivity — a thing that Jiang Zemin's China stomped out.

China's tech industry is still waiting for the same happening to it. A lot of it still functions like a cargo cult.

>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.”

Holy cow! People went ballistic when Elon said in his post that the employees should hold up for the sake of the company.

Time is the most important thing that exists, it's sad to see people promoting this lifestyle. The most problematic it's that some Chinese millionaires are buying/investing in companies across Europe, and probably sooner than later they'll try to force that culture in European companies

Europeans still remember working 6 days: https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wochenarbeitszeit (German only). Official workweek in Germany is 6 days even now, but tech workers tend to work 35 hours than 55. I doubt this is possible in close future. Maybe that’s why salary range ends at 100k€.

I don't think they will have much luck with that. Also I don't have the feeling that Chinese investors have much interest in interfering with European culture (probably less so than American investors).

The prevalence of 996 shows why China is able to start so many strong tech companies. Discontent reflects the rising awareness for standard of living and ethical or not also sort of implies rising labor costs in future.

Strong copycats yes. Strong innovation tech companies? I dont think so.

You need to take another look at the landscape bro... This was true a few years ago but less the case now

I almost look at it everyday mate :D Most of my classmates are in China. And I still go back to visit my family like once a year.

There are attempts to innovate. But I think all the 996 and censorship and other policies to make the populace compliant is working against true innovation.

They can take an existing idea and execute with great efficiency. High speed trains, subways, electric vehicles. They are good at mixing ideas from both Western countries and Japan/Korea and other parts of the world. I like that part a lot. But original, novel ideas that will actually work? Not really. The culture there is not structured to promote/refine good ideas.

Sorry sir, where are the "1 million US jobs" you promised?

But it shouldn't be surprising, since his company is so used to milking the "millions" of sellers.

Pretty interesting discussion. Working in IT and being surrounded by technology means that it's hard to stop 'working' per se. Coding on the weekend for side projects/hobbies while balancing actual 'work' means I'm clocking quite a few hours every week myself banging away on my keyboard.

No-one's putting a gun to my head to work these hours. I think awareness of the issue is great as it appears more or less systemic in China to work long hours.

The thing is, from my perspective, you're not "working," as in giving your time solely to your employer, on your weekends when you're banging away on your keyboard on side projects.

> No-one's putting a gun to my head to work these hours.

That's true, and so you can stop doing it or change what you're doing on your off time whenever you like and have no ill consequence for it. For these workers, they don't have that option. Either be at the keyboard, dedicated to the employer, for the requisite time or be fired.

We see a lesser version of this in the US IT industry a lot. People are nominally employed for 40 hours per week but management only puts a priority or good focus on the people who do the "above and beyond." Sure, you might officially only be paid for 40 hours most of the time (special circumstances excepted), but when management only gives raises and promotions to the people who are consistently e-mailing at 9:30 at night and slinging code on Sunday, the real rules stand out very quickly.

Is it work though? When I learn a new language or framework through the weekend, I usually choose it out of pleasure and interest, not career concerns...

Are all the employees on call SREs? If not: wtf is he thinking?

Meanwhile in China, a 27 years old programmer died suddenly. Is this the bliss Jack Ma talked about?

Camera captured video: https://www.bilibili.com/video/av49491980/

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" – Upton Sinclair.

Passion of his employees is very well observable from garbage quality products they make: trashy APIs, utter trash SDKs, broken endpoints, outages, broken user stories.

Amazon also treats its employees like shit but at least their products are usable.

Is it only me or is there an established cause as to why people who become successful search for reasons and 'motivational' phrases, like, 996 and passion or Move fast and break things, to attribute their success to?

In some way our brains doesn't seem to be wired for getting rich and famous, most people go very wrong. Being a good and intelligent human being is very different from having just a lot of money and luck.

On one side one really needs people working 24/7, on the other I can't get why this would be a requirement. The best development progress is reached when people code for about 30 hours a week.

> “Those who can stick to a 996 schedule are those who have found their passion beyond monetary gains,” Ma wrote.

And this is why I got disillusioned with the "you should be passionate about your work" mantra. Capitalist companies exploits it for the own benefit.

I'll do 996 for my company (at least for a few months a year) if they give me a 45% (40 hours -> 72 hours) salary increase.

Alibaba/express/whatever has some pretty jank technology. Maybe they should try working smarter instead of harder?

No actual meat in this article. Just one short comment. Where's the rest of his comments on the topic?

I've seen the code 12 hour days makes. The only benefit Ma is getting is the feeling of power.

So tell which companies _aren't_ run by shit heads and I'll vote with my dollars.

554 was most productive from personal experience without lunch break.

Quite a lot of Romans endorsed slavery and gladiators. As Lenin said - first look who benefits!

What about other sectors? What time do non tech workers work in China?
YjSe2GMQ 5 days ago [flagged]

Unfortunately China is a repressive country where economic prosperity is anti-correlated with happiness:


Inhuman. Sad.

What a load of horse shit. This guy became propoganda arm of the chinese communist party.

I’m so sick and tired of this guy. His story, his persona, his company, everything. Can the media just stop giving him the attention he so obviously craves? What a sad person.

The only interesting things about this outrage are the questionable (again) quality of Bloomberg content and the fact that so many people here on HN are triggered and feel victimized by how Ma is running his company on the other side of the globe, to the point where there they are spewing insults and expletives.

Does HN need this sort of traffic and comments? I think not. Please don't post/upvote dubious Bloomberg clickbait.

996 sounds like a paradise. We startup founders work 24/7. We are either working or thinking about work related stuff when not sleeping. Not that we don't know work-life balance is good for health, but you just can't stop dwelling on it if you have a devotion.

Unless you're trying to start, say, a space flight business or a car company, working absurd hours is just stroking ourselves to feel special about the supposedly coveted "startup founder" persona. It's a really boring, old meme at this point. I'm a "startup founder" with a profitable SaaS business, but I also have unrelated hobbies and friends outside of that bubble.

Not that I don't have hobbies and friends. I routinely take week long beach vocation to make myself physically isolated from work. Just can't stop thinking about it daily and it's a hellof joy returning to my cubicle start working.

that's not healthy. find a hobby, sleep enough, remember to eat. you get to work or build plenty of companies, but you only get one life.

Because you are going to make the money and reward. Only the most desperate idiots would work that hard for someone else's dream.

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