996 workweek

By: Max Richardson

What does a productive week at the office look like for you? If you work in the software industry in China, there’s a good chance that your job feels a little like a 19th century steel worker, minus the smelting.   Over the past few weeks, a movement has gained momentum on Github among Chinese developers at more than 40 tech giants called the 996.ICU – a reference to the 9am-9pm workday, six days a week – and the place you end up afterwards, the Intensive Care Unit.

For non-developers, Github is a centralized development platform that is used by nearly every development team to consolidate files in one location and track changes in code. So why protest on Github? For starters, China’s heavy-handed internet policy and media restrictions prohibits more typical forms of protest. Ultimately, tech workers in China decided to take a different strategy: create a license that prohibits use by companies not adhering to labor laws. While this won’t keep companies from enforcing the 996 policy, by releasing software under this license, those same companies would be unable to benefit from the use of open-source development tools created under the license.

While working at a computer doesn’t compare to the factories of the industrial age, ­­­it comes with its own set of issues. In the Chinese tech sector, unpaid hours are both common and expected, and for those who want to move up the corporate ladder, the 996 work culture is a bare minimum. While companies frequently offer amenities such as sleep rooms, showers, and food to entice their employees to stay in the office, the corporate culture is decidedly work-first and many employees face internal shaming for leaving work before their superiors.

The big question is whether any more work actually gets done. Being at the office doesn’t mean you’re being efficient. In 2018, Inc. Magazine reported that the average 8-hour worker is only productive for around three hours a day! We all know the feeling of hitting the wall at the end of a day, when everything feels harder and your mind moves slower. Now add another 4 hours to your day – do you get more done? Probably not much.

Personally, I find myself most productive from 11am to 3pm, with 10 minute breaks ever 90 minutes or so for a walk. That downtime helps me digest and retain the information I’m taking in and gives my mind the break it needs for behind-the-scenes problem solving and maximizes creative thinking.

What’s your routine for a productive day? How much of your work day do you actually spend productively working? How many hours a week is your sweet spot for work/life balance?

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