The Chinese billionaire was referring to China’s ‘rule of 996’, as per which an employee has to work from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm for six days a week. Jack Ma said this during an internal meeting where he discouraged employees who worked less than 12 hours daily and said there is no place for people in Alibaba who expects to work for a typical eight-hour shift.
When Jack Ma’s statement was posted from Alibaba’s official account on China’s micro-blogging site Weibo, a lot of people criticised his views. Users pointed out how China’s tech industry frequently witnessed the downfall of start-up founders and techies due to stress resulting from long and grueling working hours.
“The bosses do 9 because they are working for themselves and their wealth is growing. We work 996 because we are exploited without overtime compensation,” commented a user on Weibo.
This indeed is a scary situation because people like Jack Ma or Steve Jobs are role models for many youngsters, who perhaps might not be aware of the drawbacks of working long hours. According to experts, individuals who work excessively long hours can compromise their mental, physical, emotional and psychological health. “People working long hours are known to have high levels of stress, poor work-life balance, increased chances of burnout, feelings of inadequacy and lack of a sense of personal accomplishments, compromised relationships and interpersonal interactions. There is the additional impact caused on account of tiredness, fatigue lack of sleep and rest, leading to inattentiveness, lapses in concentrations and overall poorer performance at work,” said psychologist Kamna Chhibber, Head (Mental Health), Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Healthcare.
Studies have proved that people performed better at the workplace when they could strike the perfect work-life balance. In fact, Sweden had been one of the first countries to experiment with a six-hour working shift and the results have been very optimistic. In New Zealand, a company which manages trusts, wills and estate planning, ran a trial of 4-day working week on its 240 employees. At the end of the experiment, it was found reduced working hours helped cut down stress levels of employees thereby boosted their commitment to work and improved their performance.
Meanwhile, a study conducted by Swiss investment bank UBS found that Mumbaikars are the most hardworking employees in the country as an average worker in Mumbai works for 3,315 hours a year, which is more than any other place in the world. Besides putting in maximum working hours, people in Mumbai also took fewer leaves from work to go for a vacation. The study also ranked cities based on working hours and pay. Workers in Mumbai along with people from Hanoi, Mexico City, New Delhi and Bogota were found to work for the longest hours in a year.
What remains to be seen is do we really want to follow Jack Ma’s example of working 12 hours a day and put our health and life at risk or follow the footsteps of people from those countries that endorse healthy working hours to encourage work-life balance and better work performance?