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Why working 72-hour weeks is a “blessing”, according to billionaire Jack Ma

Dominic Powell /

Jack Ma

Alibaba founder Jack Ma.

The billionaire founder of Alibaba Jack Ma has been harangued for his hardline view over the dedication of Chinese workers, with the renowned businessman saying in a speech to staff that working a 12-hour day should be seen as a “blessing”.

Ma’s comments come in the wake of an ongoing debate in China over the controversial ‘996’ system, where workers are expected to work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week, equalling a massive 72 hours. For comparison, the standard working week in Australia is about 40 hours.

“I personally think that being able to work 996 is a huge blessing,” Ma said in a speech, which was posted to the company’s WeChat account.

“Many companies and many people don’t have the opportunity to work 996. If you don’t work 996 when you are young, when can you ever work 996?”

Ma, who is worth some $50 billion dollars, also said young employees should view 12-hour workdays as something to ‘boast’ about, and criticised those who might not want to slave away at work from dusk to dawn and actually have some semblance of a social life.

“Do you think never having to work 996 in your life is an honour to boast about?” he said in the speech, reports the ABC. “How can you achieve the success that you want without exceeding other people’s effort and time?”

However, following backlash from international and Chinese media, Ma backflipped on some aspects of his comments, saying 996 culture should be driven by employees, and not forced upon them by their workplaces. Chinese law stipulates average work hours should not exceed 40 hours per week.

But Ma is not the only prominent Chinese tech leader to come out in favour of 996, with the founder of Chinese eBay-like website JD.com Richard Liu criticising workers who choose to work reasonable hours per week as “slackers”.

“JD in the last four, five years has not made any eliminations, so the number of staff has expanded rapidly, the number of people giving orders has grown and grown, while the those who are working have fallen,” Liu said.

“Instead, the number of slackers has rapidly grown! If this carries on, JD will have no hope!

“And the company will only be heartlessly kicked out of the market! Slackers are not my brothers!”

This sort of rhetoric is commonplace in the halls of tech geniuses and multi-millionaire entrepreneurs, who love nothing more than bragging about how hard they worked in the early days of their company and automatically assuming every employee of theirs should then work equally as hard.

Tesla founder Elon Musk drew similar criticism last year when he proclaimed “nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week”, and a cursory scroll through the LinkedIn feeds of Silicon Valley founders will likely feature ‘hustle ‘n’ grind’ types singing the praises of a raw-egg protein shake and a 4am start.

For some of us, 40 hours is plenty of time to get everything we need to get done, and then go live a life that doesn’t revolve entirely around work. Crazy, right?

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the former features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.