I’m always a fan of business human management systems. Their quasi militaristic names; Lean Six Sigma, Kaizan, ERPS. I consider them to be a latter day cargo cult of the flow chart. Complete with devotees who absolutely insist ‘This is the WAY!’
Like many things that linger on from the 80’s and early 90’s they seem to come dressed in a pastel power suit, reeking of cheap Sushi, clutching a copy of the Celestine Prophecy and with a slug of cocaine perched in one nostril. Not a fan of working under them of course! Nor the way management consultants try to shoehorn them into every institution they encounter, such as schools, universities and hospitals.
Sometimes though beneath the jargon there are some sound principles at play. A six sigma approach to cutting down waste, carbon footprint and reducing workplace injuries is not necessarily a bad thing.
However that was proto-collapse and now we a fully mid stream in the flow of current collapse . Therefore we should exalt the new paradigm for end-of-days working from our new Chinese economic overlords: 12 hours a day, 9am -9pm six days a week. Hence 9-9-6. That’s the Jack Ma way!
“To be able to work 996 is a huge bliss…If you want to join Alibaba, you need to be prepared to work 12 hours a day, otherwise why even bother joining,”
Whose Jack Ma? He’s the founder of the Alibaba group, a large multitech and e-commerce organisation. Essentially a Chinese Amazon.com, Ebay, Paypal and Conde Nast all rolled into one (Just don’t ask what he did with the Forty Thieves). Rather than through any major innovations, Ma’s success more or less appears to be predicated that he was right man at the right time to bring his site first to market.
Oh and he worked in KFC in 1994. So he knows the pain of the everyday man. Apparently being the only applicant to get the job out of 24 applicants is tough competition. Seems pretty tame to today’s applicant heavy labor market though.
Jack Ma is not alone in pushing 996 as working culture. In fact it seems fairly de rigueur across the board for a Chinese Tech companies and Startups. Liu Qiangdong, billionaire owner of JD.com and alleged rapist of students and interns is also a big fan.
Liu states that 996 is the official work-time scheme for employees at JD and claims “Slackers are not my brothers”. Huawei and at least forty other Chinese tech companies have also implemented 996 as routine, among them Xioami and Bytedance, the company behind TikTok, which has it’s own disturbing agenda.
996 has not been without its critics within China. Even state media has chimed in to reiterate that the standard rate for daily work is eight hours (Not that it will enforce that standard). And there has been pushback online from workers in these companies, who use the slogan 966-ICU. The ICU part meaning work until you end up in the Intensive Care Unit. Funnily enough any outright attempt at revolt seems somewhat stymied given the collaborative efforts of the current generation of Social Media platforms at halting threats to their extractive corporate culture. So much so that the main repository for information is GitHub. A site most commonly used to share code and open source programs by developers.
12 hour days or 60+ hour weeks are nothing new in the tech world and exploitation of workers regarding ‘crunch time’ is well known and documented. The games company Blizzard, who’s workers are recently in open revolt over poverty level wages, continues to set a precedent it has long held in this regard.
Anyway. Saying this is ‘nothing new’ is ‘nothing new’. Modern day tech-mill serfdom and billionaire swine being predicted long ago. I seem to remember Naomi Klein calling it way back in ‘No Logo’.
But it is interesting to see parallels in other places. In this case Doctors and Nurses working in hospitals for unbelievably long shifts. Frequently as much as 120 hours out of 168 hour week. Not only does this lead to fatigue and a higher medical ‘error’ rate. (If you’ve ever been in hospital for a surgery and they’ve drawn a big arrow pointing to the part that needs fixing, error rate is one of those reasons.) Something that is particularly salient given the current pandemic. For a brilliant, funny and heart rending take on why this is a ‘bad thing’, I cannot recommend Adam Kay’s book ‘This Is Going to Hurt’ highly enough. Suffice to say, if excellent doctors are sacrificing everything only to burn out after five or six years than the system needs fixing.
Of course the other reason this is really bad is that Doctors have the highest suicide rate amongst any profession. 966.ICU is not just hyperbole, it does kill people. Usually those who staff Intensive Care Units for instance.
Apart from underfunded and over privatised healthcare networks, the main reason for this chronic hour overload has it’s roots in William Stewart Halsted. Halsted was an early 20th century surgical pioneer who helped formulate and codify the original ‘Residency’ system, so called as medical students ‘reside’ within the hospital or clinic they are attached to in order to better learn their trade. Halsted also pioneered the use of surgical gloves as we know them today.
More relevant to this article perhaps is that he is also renowned for working a particularly punishing schedule of 120+ hours a week. Which he considered to be particularly important with regard to teaching practice and experience for medical students.
‘Oor Wullie’ was also an avid fan of ‘speedballs’. A cocktail of Morphine and Cocaine beloved by the late great Richard Pryor, John Belushi and River Phoenix. Apparently Halsted took up to 200 milligrams of morphine a day. For reference a non opiate habituated person would find a 60+ milligram dose fatal.
Some might say his massive drug use might be a mitigating factor regarding Halsted’s tolerance for such a punishing work schedule. But bearing in mind that Halsted concocted the residency system roughly one hundred years ago and that suicide rates of today’s medical practitioners are sky high; the powers that be may want to rethink their outdated approach to training somewhat.
It remains to be seen whether the Chinese Tech bubble approach of 996 is causing a comparatively high dropout/suicide rate to that of medical personnel. But I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest it’s probably pretty damaging in similar ways, if not more so. I mean who doesn’t want to slave their lives away for their billionaire overlords?
At least medical personnel have the caveat that they are literally saving lives. Working your life away to bring about the latest Flappy Bird clone that sucks personal information out of people’s phones? Not so much.
It’s not quite here (i.e. the West) yet but if professional bootlickers such as Forbes’s Rebecca Fannin get their wish we may yet see it become corporate collapse doctrine across the board. Farfetched? Maybe, but then so was zero hours contracts and President Trump not that long ago.