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The 996 Working Pattern in Chinese Internet Firms: How Hegemonic Despotism Promotes Long Working Hours for Employees

Xiaojing Zheng and Zitong Qiu
p. 67-78

Abstract

The 996 working pattern has increasingly become one of the most salient employment problems among Chinese internet firms, yet existing research still provides very little insight into what really causes employees to work on a 996 or even 007 schedule. In this article, the authors highlight a rearticulation of hegemonic despotism to account for the 996 working pattern in internet firms. Drawing on qualitative fieldwork in six China-based internet firms, the authors determine that the most prominent and coercive mechanism behind the 996 working pattern is that of informal-flexible-allied despotism, which generates the cumulative effects of high risk of job loss and permanent unemployment. The complementary hegemonic mechanisms that rely on normative control and career identification provide explanations for employee compliance and willingness to keep striving. This article is among the first to examine the 996 working pattern in China. It also contributes to labour process analysis by providing an updated version of hegemonic despotism for understanding the contemporary workplace. Moreover, this study has practical implications in enabling beneficial changes to the 996 working pattern.

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Editor’s notes

Manuscript received on 12 July 2022. Accepted on 31 March 2023.

Excerpt

Full text document will be published online on September 2024.

Outline

Introduction
Existing explanations for long working hours
Hegemonic despotism and internet firms
Research design and method
Findings
Understanding the 996 working pattern
Implicit coercion
Weak discretion
Hegemonic despotism in internet firms
Informal-flexible-allied despotism
Informal coercion
Flexible coercion
Allied coercion
Hegemonic mechanisms
Normative control
Career identification
Conclusion and discussion

First lines

Introduction

The rapid growth of China’s internet economy over the past decade has been accompanied by increased work time and work intensification. Between 2014 and 2017, work overtime and overtime pay took the highest percentages in the total number of labour disputes accepted by Beijing’s Haidian District, an internet industry hub in China. From March until April 2019, the online “996 ICU” campaign rallied more than 200,000 Chinese internet firm employees complaining about the 996 working schedule, epitomising the escalation of ubiquitous workplace dissatisfaction towards long working hours. A series of sudden deaths among young information technology (IT) engineers from internet firms in recent years has painfully raised the alarm about the health and life risks of excessive working hours. Some firms have begun to react to the phenomenon by launching various work-life programmes, such as requiring people to leave work at 6:00 p.m. and cancelling the big-small workweek. Yet the re...

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References

Bibliographical reference

Xiaojing Zheng and Zitong Qiu, The 996 Working Pattern in Chinese Internet Firms: How Hegemonic Despotism Promotes Long Working Hours for EmployeesChina Perspectives, 134 | 2023, 67-78.

Electronic reference

Xiaojing Zheng and Zitong Qiu, The 996 Working Pattern in Chinese Internet Firms: How Hegemonic Despotism Promotes Long Working Hours for EmployeesChina Perspectives [Online], 134 | 2023, Online since 01 September 2024, connection on 06 December 2023. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/chinaperspectives/15869; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/chinaperspectives.15869

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About the authors

Xiaojing Zheng

Xiaojing Zheng is an assistant researcher of labour and social security in the School of Public Administration at South China University of Technology, No. 381 Wushan Road, Tianhe District, Guangzhou, China, 510640 (zxj612523@163.com).

Zitong Qiu

Zitong Qiu (corresponding author) is a research assistant at the Labour Dispute Office, Chinese Academy of Labour and Social Security, No. 17 Huixin West Street, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China (qzt@ruc.edu.cn).

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Copyright

The text and other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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