Chinese billionaires want their staff working 72 hours a week! Is this crazy or what?

What IS the 996 week? And is it right for newbie entrepreneurs?
Seth Kniep
August 7, 2019
Entrepreneurship
Think about it. Do you love being at work all day?

There’s no wrong answer—you either do or you don’t, and either way isn’t really a problem. 

I’m on record as loving what I do so much that I forget to do basic things like text back, eat, or sleep. But it wasn’t always like that. 

When I was still working at Apple, not yet committed to making the leap, I was devouring the work of many extraordinary individuals, including the co-founder of Alibaba, Mr. Jack Ma. I was also devouring a lot of snack foods, overdosing on caffeine, and every night, my wife and I would take turns biting each others’ heads off. 

I was miserable, disrespected, and despite offers of promotions from two different departments, I still didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. 

What would Jack Ma tell me the way out of that rut was? 

The 996

Jack Ma says successful people should work 72 hours a week, six days per week, ie: from 9 AM to 9 PM, Monday through Sunday.  This method, coined the 996, is designed to elevate performance, test worker resolve, and keep production flowing for as much time as possible.

And I can understand where he’s coming from. 

Look at Chinese culture for a moment. 

zhangkaiyv

China places immense value on strict hierarchies, puts the collective over the individual, and places one’s worth as a person on how well those expectations are fulfilled. 

I don’t say this to denigrate or stereotype—it’s truly fascinating how the working style of one economic superpower can be so different from another!

The general Chinese approach to professionalism boils down to “What the boss says you do for the team, you do without hesitation”. This does mean that there are fewer complaints of “That’s not in my job description” when interdepartmental work is concerned, as everyone is encouraged to pull together and learn together. 

But at its worst, this ideology leads to some seriously icy tactics! 

Head of Huawei Technologies, Ren Zhengfei, allegedly told a departing employee who couldn’t balance family needs with work demands “Why resign? You can get a divorce.”

Extreme, right?

Even from a Chinese point of view, Zhengfei’s response is pretty out there.  But culture isn’t the only thing driving the 996 that Ma, Zhengfei, and others swear by. There’s also an economical factor.

Chinese jobs are looking at an average of 32 applicants per position, venture capital has fallen by 12%, and tech sector growth is slowing down. It’s not a depression. But the situation is heavy! 

To combat potential future losses, employers are purposefully cultivating an environment that has fewer people doing more work to cushion the expected blow. Job-seekers, already in high competition with each other, are jostling to meet the new standards; and now, current employees have a vested interest in adjusting to long hours being the norm.

And that’s the problem with the 996.

Although the Chinese government has ruled the 996 is not something that can be made compulsory, that’s only a legal technicality. 

It’s not hard to see that ‘Are you willing to put in 72 hour weeks on a regular basis’ on a job application means that not only will a ‘no’ put your resume straight in the trash—if you’re hired, you’ll be expected to actually do it! 

That under-the-surface mandatory schedule is where things fall apart.

The atmosphere that created the 996 is full of people who are so doubtful of their prospects in other jobs that they’ll sign on for a schedule they’re not equipped to handle because bearing it is preferable to sleeping in a bus station. 

That kind of desperation drives quality down hard

A mandated (explicitly or unofficially) 996 won’t guarantee you a workforce of dedicated employees, unless you get incredibly lucky. More likely, what will happen is you’ll have a handful of real busy bees and a larger number of totally depressed drones. 

Even the higher pay associated with 996 schedules isn’t a guarantee of the quality work associated with a healthy team. 

Think about it. If all the extra money an employee earns is going towards food delivery fees and caffeine pills, and the person in question is only present because the alternative is unemployment? 

You have a workforce of captives

spacemonkey


Having grown up as a trapper, I can tell you that desperate people act much the same as frightened animals. They probably won’t bite you, but the levels of adrenaline-fueled stress can drive human beings to do destructive things!

Here’s the thing. I believe that as long as the work is being done, hours shouldn’t be compulsory either way. 

If you find someone who works well under the 996, who’s going to thrive and give you quality work, hire them on, and pay & treat them accordingly

But if you have an employee who puts in their 9-5, stays late only when needed, and uses their vacation time liberally...while still providing work of the same high quality, forcing them to stay longer hours for no practical reason is killing the golden goose!

At Just One Dime, we have staff who stay from 7-7. We also have staff who jet out to get their kids at 3:30! The number of hours they’re here is not what’s important. Meeting expectations is!

Sometimes it’s different for CEOs and founders.

In the beginning stages of a business—the single mom making prints in her garage, the best friends with a regular coffee shop booth poring over a shared laptop, it’s not unusual to work 996 naturally. 

I’m an established business owner with full-time staff, and sometimes this is still my mode! 

But there’s a key difference.  

Getting a business off the ground is supposed to take more work—especially if you’re still working for someone else while you’re doing it! 

I slip into the 996 because I’m passionate about what I do

I don’t have any anxieties about things going undone if I’m not here to do them. I don’t have to spend hours double checking my team’s work. I’m not escaping from anything at home. If I’m working late into the night, it’s because I want to

Even if you’re only working for yourself, if the long hours you’re putting in feel like a trap every time you sit down at the desk, eventually your animal instincts will kick in, and you’ll chew off your own leg...metaphorically speaking. 

“Gurus” will tell you what worked for them.

They tell you it’s easy. They tell you there’s one right answer, one magic formula to apply, and that anyone who can’t do it just isn’t strong enough. 

So you pay them for a course. 

But the workload they advise may not be something you can do. 

If it isn’t, you end up beating yourself over the head with an expectation given to you by someone with nannies, a cleaning staff, and a personal assistant—someone who has already made the margin to work those hours, and already had the personality to be effective with it. 

Put me on a tennis court with Serena Williams, and I’m not ashamed to say this, I will probably lose. But if you put her in a pair of tap shoes, she probably couldn’t chassé quite like me! 

Neither of us are weak! We just have different life priorities, different training, and different strengths. 

Not accepting that fact is when you take on the burden of false shame.

We’re told that everyone has the same 24 hours, and that’s technically true.

But like most technical truths, the saying doesn’t tell the whole story. 

Now that my children are in their teens, I have way more time to devote elsewhere than I did when they were still in diapers. 

A young, hustling entrepreneur taking 90 minute commutes on a bus has three hours a day where their schedule is dictated to them—especially if reading in a moving vehicle makes them carsick! 

Meanwhile, someone with a home office can choose to spend that same three hours listening to podcasts, or getting a good workout, or conducting a professional looking video-meeting. 

Different people have different ways of filling their time! 

That’s just a fact that we have to accept as entrepreneurs, from our staff and from ourselves! 

So, if you can’t rely on quantity providing quality as far as time spent at work, how can you create an environment that works for you and for any employees that run the spectrum of priorities and personalities? Take these steps. 

Step 1: Review KPIs regularly

Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, are the equivalent of a heart rate monitor for your company! But let’s talk about the ‘regularly’ part. This doesn’t just mean ‘often’, it means at regular intervals. And those intervals need to make sense for what you’re measuring!

Calculating profits on a daily basis won’t show you a trend that makes sense to take action on (although you will do this as you start out). But calculating consumer interaction on social media biannually won’t yield results you can act on in a timely manner! 

Step 2: Deep dive on problems 

And don’t come up without finding solutions!

When you’re looking for your keys do you say ‘Forget it’, take an Uber, and leave the house unlocked for days at a time until they turn up? No!

Treat your business with that same diligence! 

If you and/or your staff are constantly missing deadlines, producing low quality work, or not hitting specific goals, you owe it to everyone to figure out exactly why. Even if you’re working solo, the answer is never as simple as ‘Try again, and try harder’. 

Find the root, and never stop digging until you get it! And once you find it...

Step 3: Don’t be afraid to ditch what (or who) isn’t working out! 

Warrior, I love people. I just refuse to be beholden to their needs if those needs don’t suit Just One Dime’s vision. We can only help others at optimum peaks when every staff member is on mission!

Firing people you like can be hard, even when these people are costing you money! But you can’t tolerate the drain for the sake of staying comfortable. 

It gets even harder when what needs to go is your business. 

I sold vape pens and other such supplies on eBay with so little success that the best thing I could do was sell the company for $35 and move on. 

If you’re a chamomile tea and cozy day in type, and getting into the jock headspace required to effectively sell sports supplements stresses you out? Let it go, and leverage your experience to sell anxiety soothing herbs instead!

This is especially true for methods of running your business and your life that don’t work.

Imagine you’re a single dad homeschooling three kids, and you hear a speaker say ‘Get out of your house while you work, it’s the only way to get inspired and be effective!’

Are you going to bundle three grade schoolers into your car every day and let them loose in a Starbucks? Or would you be willing to admit that what worked for that business owner won’t work for you?

The journey gets so much easier when you let go of the false shame you carry for not being able to live like Guru X! 

This is why I focus on providing education over so-called axioms.

Obviously, you’re not going to get your business off the ground putting 3 hours “here and there” into building it. 

But with the right foundation you can make amazing strides whether you’re working like Jack Ma or Tim Ferriss. 

The key is whether or not you realize the best working hours for your small business, not anyone else’s. 

Get honest with yourself about your goals, and go after them in the way that works for you!

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Seth Kniep

Married a pearl. Fathered 4 miracles. Fired his boss. Turned a single dime into $104,857. Today, a self-made millionaire, Seth and his team of 8 badass coaches teach entrepreneurs how to build passive income on Amazon.

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