996 no more: TikTok owner ByteDance embraces shorter ‘1075’ work hours amid backlash in China’s tech world

·4-min read

The Chinese tech industry’s infamous 996 work hours – 9am to 9pm, six days a week – are set to disappear at ByteDance, the country’s first major tech company to explicitly discourage employees from working overtime.

On Monday, TikTok owner ByteDance asked its nearly 100,000 employees to start following a “1075” schedule – 10am to 7pm, five days a week – a potentially life-changing move to many who have grown accustomed to toiling into the late night and weekends.

Why 996 prevails in China’s tech world despite deaths and protests

Employees must now seek permission to work overtime, capped at three hours each weekday and eight hours on weekends, according to three people familiar with the matter. Employees will be paid 1.5 times their normal salary for overtime on weekdays, and twice for overtime during weekends, as stipulated under the country’s labour law, one person said.

Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.

Claim for overtime pay must be approved by a manager who is two levels higher than the applicant, two people said, so employees are now expected to “avoid holding team meetings at night and try to leave early”.

ByteDance declined to comment on Tuesday.

The company’s decision comes at a time when Chinese authorities have openly criticised tech firms for their punishing work schedules, which have been cited as one of two “evils” in labour exploitation, together with the use of algorithms to motivate and punish gig workers. Earlier this year, the Beijing-based unicorn, along with rival Kuaishou Technology, ended its big week/small week policy that required employees to work six-day weeks every fortnight.

ByteDance’s latest policy quickly made a splash on Chinese social media. A related topic on microblogging platform Weibo had been viewed more than 270 million times as of Tuesday afternoon. On Zhihu, a Q&A site akin to Quora, internet users excitedly discussed whether the news is true and how the rule is implemented.

China’s top court warns Big Tech that 996 overwork borders on illegal

In recent years, complaints of excessive working hours at tech companies have been rife on the Chinese internet.

A now-deleted collaborative spreadsheet that encouraged people to share information about their companies’ work hours was widely circulated online last month, drawing input from employees at Chinese internet giants such as e-commerce firm Alibaba Group Holding, owner of the South China Morning Post, as well as WeChat owner Tencent Holdings, on-demand service platform Meituan and ByteDance.

Employees at Alibaba, ByteDance, search giant Baidu and video streaming firm Bilibili have said they typically leave the office around 9pm. Meanwhile, working hours at rising internet stars such as Meituan and Alibaba rival Pinduoduo could drag until 10pm or later, according to news site Sixthtone, citing the spreadsheet.

In 2019, a group of software developers took to code-hosting platform Github to protest against 996, garnering the attention of the global tech community. At the time, several tech leaders spoke out in defence of long work hours, including Alibaba founder Jack Ma, who called 996 a “huge blessing that many companies and employees do not have the opportunity to have”.

Tencent-backed company offers a break from 996, but only one day a week

While workers in China are legally entitled to overtime pay, labour oversight remains lax in the country, where independent labour unions are banned, leading some employees to accept tacit arrangements involving overtime above the legal maximum of 36 hours a month in exchange for more money.

Some tech companies, however, have tried to address the issue. In June, Lightspeed & Quantum Studios, a video game creator under Tencent, introduced “Wednesday Health Day” to encourage employees to go home at 6pm one day a week.

Additional reporting by Coco Feng and Che Pan

This article 996 no more: TikTok owner ByteDance embraces shorter ‘1075’ work hours amid backlash in China’s tech world first appeared on South China Morning Post

For the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2021.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting