EYESHENZHEN  /   Opinion

Chinese employers need to rethink efficiency

Writer: Chris Edwards  |  Editor: Jane Chen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2021-06-07

A "996" working schedule at some tech companies, where one works from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, six days a week, is destroying the Chinese economy.

There, I said it.

Jack Ma and other tech company founders may disagree with me, but every economist will tell you that keeping employees at work for too long means that the economy does not grow as fast as it otherwise could. That is because those employees are not spending; they are saving. That is inefficient, and it reduces the potential increase in economic growth.

On a similar note, many employers operate on alternate weeks. That is where staff work every second Saturday, as well as their usual five-day work week. Such a policy breeds inefficiency in the workplace. If an employee knows that they can come in on a Saturday to finish a project, they will do less during the week and save it for Saturday.

When we look at making Shenzhen a better place to live, the focus on the night-time economy is great… if you can get out at night. With companies releasing their staff at 10 p.m., thousands of staff will not be in the mood to spend money on small businesses. They will want to go home and sleep.

There is another fundamental flaw of economic growth. As much as a country can say its economy is growing, it is not evenly distributed across its population. Although the country's per capita disposable income in 2020 increased by 2.1 percent after deducting CPI, many people have not received any pay rises, reflecting a lack of interest in supporting low-level staff.

It is no wonder that neijuan or involution is a common point of discussion among the population. The constant "rat race" of competition and boredom results in moyu or touching fish – in the Western world, we would think of it as making the minimum effort.

Many will challenge my assertions, saying that China needs these long working hours to develop its economy. However, it is impossible to prove that logical link – it is challenging to show even a correlation between the two.

Others may say that infrastructure projects work 24/7, so why can't other businesses do that? To that point, I would argue that the people building bridges, railway lines and skyscrapers through the night are also not working 24/7. They have precise shifts, and they know what they are doing each day.

The question now is how can Chinese businesses adjust their operations for the betterment of the Chinese economy, and not just their own bottom line.

(The author is a senior copywriter in Nanshan. He has lived in Shenzhen for over seven years.)