Protocol | China

Burned out Chinese tech workers start viral online campaign

The '996' schedule is not legal, but employers are keeping it up anyway. Workers have had enough.

The logo for worker group "Working Time"

China's workers are uniting to share more data about working hours.

From by Zhang Youding
Over three days, thousands of Chinese tech workers have shared their work hours on an online spreadsheet, in an effort to shed light on the remaining "996" practices and different companies' workplace environments.

The result has received over a million views and shows that, while the excruciating 996 schedule has been outlawed in China, long workdays that end between 9 to 11 pm are still common among Chinese tech companies.

The project, initially named "Worker Lives Matter" and later rebranded to "Working Time," was started by four students who are about to work for the tech industry, according to one of them's post on Q&A site Zhihu. "For some reason, working overtime is rampant in domestic companies and there's no regulation. Especially in the big Internet companies," the user, who identified as a graduating computer science college student in Beijing, wrote. "So, we created this spreadsheet to share information."

By Wednesday at 12 p.m. Eastern Time, there had been over 3,500 entries in the spreadsheet hosted on Tencent Docs, a Chinese equivalent to Google Sheet. Each contributor is asked to share information about their employer, position, time to start and end work, time for lunch break, and other details that help others understand the culture of a given workplace. Those interested in discussing the document have filled up five group chats on QQ, totaling at least 6,000 participants.

As some have pointed out, even though the creators encouraged workers from all industries to contribute, most of the entries are from people working for tech companies. There are over 100 employees from each of Tencent, Alibaba and ByteDance, across all product lines, who have shared their work hours and workplace culture in the document.

One of the shared spreadsheets was temporarily blocked by Tencent on Wednesday Beijing time, showing that it has been reported by users. It has since had access restored.

The organizer of Working Time also shared his personal view of 996 hours on Zhihu. "Can we, born after 1995 (I'm born in 2000) never accept 996? Actually, not necessarily," he wrote. "There's only one situation where people enjoy 996, and that's when they are working hard to fulfill their self-worth. Like right now...I'm contributing to this project in a 996 way, but I'm happy and enjoying it."

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