ByteDance cuts working hours of China office, implements new schedule of ‘10-7-5’

Society & Culture

The company behind TikTok has announced new rules to stop overtime work, limiting office hours to 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. The Chinese internet is cheering, but also somewhat skeptical.

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A man holding a phone walks past a sign of Chinese company ByteDance's app TikTok, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Image from Reuters.

After numerous public complaints from tech industry workers — including its own employees — about their grueling work schedules, ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok and its domestic version, Douyin, will enforce shorter working hours for its Chinese operation.

According to an internal memo (in Chinese) sent on Monday and confirmed by several employees, ByteDance told its Chinese staff that the company would mandate a lighter work schedule starting on November 1, requiring them to clock in at 10 a.m. and leave work by 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Exemptions are allowed in special circumstances, but employees have to submit a request for late or weekend hours and receive approval from two senior employees at least one day in advance. Also, there’s a limit — overtime hours are capped at 3 hours a day and 36 hours a month. 

Prior to this, ByteDance updated its policy regarding overtime compensation, stating that employees must be paid 1.5 times their base pay rate for every extra hour worked on a weekday, double on weekends, and triple during legal holidays.

Fan Ning, who oversees ByteDance’s communications department, told the Washington Post that the changes were meant to “discourage employees from working outside their regular work hours” and make sure that they can “demand reasonable compensation.”

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With the new policy, referred to by many Chinese internet users as “10-7-5” — working nine hours a day (10 a.m. to 7 p.m.) and five days a week — ByteDance has become one of the first major Chinese internet companies to combat the industry’s overwork culture. Until recently, the tech sector in China has fetishized unending work hours, and glorified the infamous “9-9-6” schedule, or working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. 

But in recent years, shocked by a spate of employee deaths associated with overwork, a growing number of Chinese tech employees have begun to redraw the boundaries — or at least acknowledge the absurdity of the norm. The pushback exploded prominently in 2019 when a group of anonymous engineers launched a movement on GitHub, the Microsoft-owned code- and tool-sharing site, to air their grievances and compile a blacklist of Chinese internet companies where the hours were especially long. Last month, in a rare demonstration of labor activism, thousands of people working in the tech sector, including prominent players like Alibaba and Tencent, anonymously shared their work schedules in a crowdsourced spreadsheet.

Spurred by growing calls for better work-life balance from employees, as well as increasing scrutiny by regulators who are concerned about labor violations and unreasonable overtime, a few companies have taken action to improve worker welfare. But for ByteDance, the decision wasn’t easy. In June, after Tencent’s introduced policies designed to improve the mental and physical health of its workers, ByteDance proposed a removal of its “big week/small week” policy, which used to require its employees to work an extra day on Sunday every two weeks. But the suggestion wasn’t acted upon at first due to what the company called “a lack of support” from its workforce. A few weeks later, when ByteDance’s domestic rival Kuaishou abolished a similar policy and peer-pressured it into following suit, the company was heavily criticized by internet users for moving too slowly.

Although ByteDance didn’t invent the “10-7-5” policy — many tech workers reported in the viral document last month that they were working the same hours already — TikTok’s owner will likely establish a new industry standard by making the schedule mandatory. On Chinese social media, ByteDance’s willingness to take the lead this time has earned it a considerable amount of praise. 

But some observers were skeptical about how effective the rules would be when expectations and workloads remained unchanged. “Imagine your request to work overtime in the office is denied, but you still have to meet a deadline. If you don’t want to get a low grade in your performance review, you’ll have to work secretly from home, for no pay!” one person wrote (in Chinese).