Phillipian Commentary: 996 Working, ICU Waiting

The Chinese have long had an affinity for numbers; however, stereotypes about them being mathematicians aside, a new movement called the Anti-996 has taken hold in virtually all of China’s biggest companies. Fed up with the “996” schedule wherein employees are made to work from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. for six day a week in the frenzied world of Chinese tech, activists have blacklisted many corporations such as Alibaba, Tencent, and JD on Github.

Though lowly code writers may not have much of a say in bigger companies, together they have created a nationwide protest. Upon visiting Github, one will find that the most popular site is—and has been—one called (the domain name standing for Intensive Care Unit). Although the saying “996 working, ICU waiting” has long been popularized by lower level workers, it was only recently after JD, a major e-commerce company, starting forcing employees to adopt 996 schedules that the movement has accelerated in momentum. On the website, the developers have listed a series of laws and regulations from the Chinese government and proceeds to list violations of said laws and regulations by major companies. Although the Labour Law states that those who work the 996 schedule ought to be paid 2.275 times their base salary, according to the website such overtime wages are either reduced or done away with altogether.

Many influential figures were quick to reply to the movement over the Chinese social media platform WeChat. Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, dismissed the critics and spoke of working 996 schedule as “a huge blessing,” while Elon Musk tweeted “nobody [sic] ever changed the world on 40 hours [of work] a week.” While Ma has since partially backed down by calling companies that force workers to work 996 “inhumane,” Alibaba and Tencent (two major internet services) were nonetheless hurried to block the pages. Though it may be ironic that the supposed “supporter” of this movement ordered his own company to block the site, it is perhaps even more paradoxical that 996 developers were working around the clock to block a website about 996 because a 996 company told them to.
This movement doesn’t look like it will die down anytime soon; though China may be keen to censor, Github’s encryption methods make it difficult for government to block parts of the website. Looking across the Pacific, however, there are many common sentiments in elite workplaces around America. Due to the normalization of working overtime and the misinformed consensus of many that more hours equates to a faster promotion or other rewards, many often feel pressured to ‘prove’ their productivity to their employers by staying behind or by working during the weekends. These kinds of workforce habits, though potentially sustainable for some, often prove to harmful to physical and mental health. Recent studies from the Cambridge University Press have found that employees working over 55 hours a week were 267 percent more likely to suffer from depression and 284 percent more likely to suffer from anxiety; followers of the 996 schedule work 72. Although students here at Andover are still quite far away from a 996 week (even if it may feel that way every so often), employers and administrators alike need to make more of an effort to prioritize performance and active engagement over the amount of hours clocked in.