This is the UN-EDITED version of the article submitted to the Shenzhen Daily and published on June 7th, 2021.
996 is destroying the Chinese economy.
There, I said it.
Jack Ma and other tech company founders may disagree with me. Every economist will tell you that keeping employees at work means that the economy does not grow as fast as it otherwise could. That is because those employees are not spending; they are saving. That is inefficient, and it reduces the potential increase in economic growth.
On a similar note, many employers operate on alternate weeks. That is where staff work every second Saturday, as well as their usual 5 day work week. Such a policy breeds inefficiency in the workplace. If an employee knows that they can come in on a Saturday to finish a project, they will do less during the week and save it for Saturday.
When we look at making Shenzhen a better place to live, the focus on the night-time economy is great… if you can get out at night. With companies like Tencent releasing their staff at 10pm, thousands of staff will not be in the mood to spend money on small businesses. They will want to go home and sleep.
This is the other fundamental flaw of economic growth. As much as a country can say its economy is growing, it is not evenly distributed across its population. With incomes estimated to be increasing by 2% across the country, many people have not received any pay rises, reflecting a lack of interest in supporting low-level staff.
It is no wonder that neijuan or involution is a common point of discussion among the population. The constant rat-race of competition and boredom results in moyu or touching fish – in the Western world, we would think of it as making the minimum effort.
Many will challenge my assertions, saying that China needs these long working hours to develop its economy. However, it is impossible to prove that logical link – it is challenging to show even a correlation between the two.
Others may say that infrastructure projects work 24/7, so why can’t other businesses do that? To that point, I would argue that those employees are paid significantly more for working night shifts, or at least they are supposed to be. In addition, those projects start and finish. These are not permanent positions. The people building bridges, railway lines, and skyscrapers through the night are also not working 24/7. They have precise shifts, and they know what they are doing each day.
The question now is how Chinese businesses adjust their operations for the betterment of the Chinese economy, not their own bottom line.