A shared spreadsheet reveals working hours at China’s biggest internet companies

Business & Technology

Chinese tech companies are notorious for their punishing work schedules that often mean 12 hours a day at the office, six days a week. Since 2019, there has been a growing clamor from tech staff to cut their work time, but it does not seem to have worked, judging from a new crowdsourced survey.

chinese programmers
Chinese programmers at Alibaba’s headquarters in Hangzhou. Oriental Image via Reuters

Staff at Chinese technology companies work famously long hours. In 2019, some tech workers started a campaign (in Chinese) to end the common practice of 996, or working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.

Despite the enormous popularity of that campaign, and despite the fact that Chinese labor law stipulates maximum working hours of eight hours a day and no more than 44 hours a week, working at a Chinese internet firm is still a pretty tough grind.

This has been confirmed by an ongoing survey of working hours at China’s biggest technology companies in the form of a shared online document (in Chinese) that has gone viral in China.

  • The document was launched by four Chinese “fresh graduates” born between 1996 and 2001, who have “internships in technology positions at major internet companies and are looking to be hired full time in the autumn.”
  • In an internet post (in Chinese), one of them who calls himself Only Baldies Will Be Strong (秃头才能变强) says they were frustrated by the lack of clarity from their prospective employers about working hours, and believe that 996 work culture is “unsustainable.”

10-9-5 is the new 996, it seems from the survey results so far.

  • Most tech workers report working from around 10 a.m. to around 9 p.m., five days a week.
  • Many take a generous couple of hours off for lunch or dinner.
  • Plenty of people report overtime and working six days a week is not rare.
  • Pinduoduo, whose culture of overwork is notorious, is the only major tech firm whose staff still report regularly working 12 hours a day, six days week.

Worker Lives Matter!

Only Baldies Will Be Strong’s explanation of the survey is something of a manifesto, and includes the bilingual title “Worker Lives Matter! 打工人也需要生活!”

Only Baldies Will Be Strong goes on to say, plaintively:

996 will only alienate people into labor machines. The only fate of a human meat battery is to run out of electricity and get thrown in the trash…

The four of us will continue this project until it can no longer provide value to students, 955 [a 9-5, five-day work week] becomes common, or 996 made legal. We all know that 996 is wrong, but it exists. Even the huge 996.icu movement in the past few years did not improve things…

But we are willing to contribute, even if it is useless. Do what we can, say what we can say, make a little heat and light, like a firefly. We don’t have to wait for a huge torch to come. If no torch comes, we’ll be the only light.