Working 996: it’s complicated – William Bao Bean

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William Bao Bean

Workers in China’s tech industry have been fighting the long work hours they make, the 996 – nine to nine working, six days a week. It’s difficult, admits William Bao Bean, managing director of startup accelerators Chinaccelerator and MOX,┬áin the Asia Nikkei. The art for leaders at startups is motivating their teams.

William Bao Bean

As Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma put it: “If you find a job you like, the 996 problem does not exist. If you are not passionate about it, every minute of going to work is torture.”

For new entrepreneurs to compete in China’s talent marketplace, they must appeal to prospective recruits’ desire to make a difference and be part of something great. They must sell this vision because they cannot match the high salaries of Alibaba or Tencent. The stock options they can offer are too uncertain to ever come into value. If there is a lack of both money and vision, the startup bosses are stuck.

Members of startup work teams are more like co-founders than employees in the traditional sense of the word and this phenomenon transcends age. College dropouts burning the midnight oil are common but most companies are led by entrepreneurs in their 30s or even 40s who lack the child-care worries common in the West because their kids are often looked after by up to four grandparents.

The 996 regime is also not limited to Chinese startups. International technology companies, both in their operations within China and in their home markets, drive hard too. The free food provided at Google company cafeterias is not just a perk but a tool to help keep employees in the office longer.

Chinese tech leaders must build an environment where everyone feels they are part of a team, not just an employee, where they are empowered to make a difference, and where they are persuaded to believe in the company’s vision. Tech chiefs cannot simply demand long hours of staff and expect to retain talent in this very competitive labor market. People who see themselves as busy changing the world for the better don’t tend to count the hours they spend doing it.

More at Asia Nikkei.

William Bao Bean is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

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