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- Jack Ma recently advocated for China’s "996" workweek, amid protests from employees criticizing the schedule.
- While Ma and other tech CEOs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos advocate for working longer hours, research finds that excessive overtime endangers employees and does not make them more productive.
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Chinese billionaire Jack Ma recently said people who work 72-hour workweeks are "blessed" — but productivity experts and employees themselves beg to differ.
Ma recently prompted backlash after saying that "996" workweeks — or working 9 am to 9 pm for 6 days a week — are a "huge blessing" for young employees, according to Reuters.
While Ma advocated for the "996" workweek, he added in a separate blog post that forcing anyone to work overtime was "inhumane." Chinese labor laws prohibit companies from forcing employees to work more than 40-hours a week without overtime, but many companies ask employees to sign contracts that agree to flexible work schedules, according to The Wall Street Journal.
While Ma may say young employees are "blessed" to work long hours, many workers themselves feel differently. A report by the South China Morning Post revealed many young workers have little time at home after work due to long commutes, and they do not get adequate sleep. Earlier this year, tech workers protested the "996" workweek on code-hosting site GitHub, where they blacklisted companies — including Alibaba — that had cultures of excessive overtime.
While Ma and other CEOs such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos advocate for working longer hours, the trend around the world is to shorten workweeks. Sweden, for instance, tested a 30-hour workweek in 2017 and found people were happier and less stressed. A New Zealand company also found workers were more creative when working four days a week.
Research also cautions against working excessive overtime. Scientists have linked sleep deprivation to certain cancers, weight gain, and impaired memory. Japan took steps to protect its citizens from overwork after numerous reports of employee deaths from working overtime.
Not only is working overtime becoming out of fashion, many experts say shorter workweeks lead to more productivity. Research has suggested that workers have trouble concentrating on tasks for hours on end. Employees around the world also say they can do their jobs in less than five hours a day. Economists are even saying countries with long work hours score poorly for productivity and GDP per hour worked.
"We spend most of our weekends in the office," a Chinese employee wrote to a senior executive at company One Tencent Holdings, according to The Journal. "Our bodies have been in overloaded conditions for an extended period of time."
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