POSTED 13 May 2019 - 09:46

What do you think of China's 996 work culture?

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If not the hours worked, how might one gauge the staff's "professional passion"?
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Responses

Ong Pang Thye, Managing Partner, KPMG in Singapore
21 May 2019 - 11:23

996 reflects the reality where global operations have no sunset and speed is everything for a business. My personal belief is that one's professional passion is determined by purpose. For KPMG, our purpose is to instill confidence in the capital markets, and empower growth and change in our clients' businesses. This translates to working hours that may not be that structured, and where performance is gauged by outcome and impact rather than hours worked.

To help our people balance their passion in work with their personal lives, KPMG has a flexi-work scheme where our staff can choose when, where and what they wear to work. It is my hope that this flexibility will allow our people to deliver their best at work and achieve success in other areas of life.

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Chris J Reed, Global CEO and Founder, Black Marketing
13 May 2019 - 10:00

I'm with the Chinese entrepreneurs! No matter where I have worked and whom I have worked for, I have always worked more than 12 hours a day and weekends. When I became an entrepreneur time became totally irrelevant but even before then I was never a clock watcher. It is a shame that many of today's generation don't give everything to a role and are not as committed as Gen X.

This especially is the case in countries with more complacent, entitled and rich workforces where there is virtual full employment. Hard work builds your character and if security was taken away from Gen Y/Z and they were told to move out or work in another country, they too would find that working hard is rewarding, fulfilling and grows your character. When I have met Asian workers in Europe they are the hardest working and the happiest Asians in the world. Work is fun if you're passionate and committed.

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Peta Latimer, CEO, Mercer Singapore
13 May 2019 - 09:52

It really is a question of strategy, business need and maturity cycle. Companies demanding outperformance, pricing pressures or turnaround would be inclined to "sweat the assets" which is arguably linked to the idea of the 996 work culture. On the other hand, those seeking periods of organic growth, brand resonance or stabilisation may seek to embed learning and cultivate innovation cultures.

Given the macro-economic environment in China at the moment, the 996 culture may make sense for many outbound-orientated organisations. Mercer's research suggests that company management style has a significantly bigger impact on organisational culture as compared to national cultures (up to 12 times).

Tech giants in particular, have been known to achieve a more or less consistent culture globally. This reinforces what we intuitively know: Leadership and management have tremendous influence on people and workplace practices. Interestingly, Mercer's research on employee engagement placed China in fourth place with 81 per cent of employees in China reporting satisfaction with the company they work for, whereas only 70 per cent of Singaporeans reported the same, landing Singapore second from the bottom in Asia-Pacific.

"Professional passion" can be embodied in different ways: innovation, employee advocacy, low turnover, and employee ambassadors leading change.There's no one-size fits all approach. It's about thoughtful alignment of professional passion and workplace culture to the business ambitions across the medium and long-term.

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John Bittleston, Founder and Chair, Terrific Mentors International Pte Ltd
13 May 2019 - 09:51

China's 996 efforts are about focus on the job in hand. They are fuelled by ambition to become the richest people in the world. As their wealth grows, their focus will dim. But the culture of China is hard work and money-based rewards. Their productivity will last longer than such focus would in other parts of the world. What matters is the quality of work, not the hours spent doing it.

Time spent in the workplace is no measure of work. Attendance at long meetings, too, is not work. Having professional passion means showing two things that appear contradictory - deep focus on the job in hand and thinking beyond that to the next development and future strategy. A good boss will be able to easily spot staff that demonstrate these two features.

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Vikas Nahata, Co-Founder and Executive, Chairman Validus Capital
13 May 2019 - 09:51

Stress-related disorders and mental anxiety-related illnesses are on the rise everywhere. A worklife balance is important, hence the 996 culture certainly does not fit in with our beliefs at Validus. While we are a growing fintech and believe in working hard, it's better to work smart. If we treat our co-workers well, the results in the long run are far more desirable and sustainable. The professional passion has to come from within the individual, and we measure it through "ownership" demonstrated towards the company's goals and vision.

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Wilf Blackburn, CEO, Prudential Singapore
13 May 2019 - 09:50

Clocking long hours at work does not make one the most productive or valuable employee. It is the output that matters. For an outcome-based culture to be successful , employers will need to trust the employee, and let him own his work like a true entrepreneur.

Don't watch him like a hawk and let him choose the way he wants to work, at a time and place of his convenience. Rather than focus on the working hours, direct the conversation to performance and productivity, and work on supporting him to achieve the best outcome for the organisation. Just as technology has disrupted the workplace, the way people work has to transform too. The traditional modus operandi of a nine-to-six daily work regime may still work today, but it will become a thing of the past in time to come.

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Bobby Sheikh, Asia Pacific Head, Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute
13 May 2019 - 09:49

The ideal working week has always been widely debated, and not just in China. But the focus on the concept of "worklife balance" and on the number of hours worked is becoming outdated. With flexible office arrangements, connected technologies and the globalisation of businesses, it is now impossible to separate professional and personal lives distinctively.

Instead we need to shift the discussion to "worklife integration" where employees, armed with a understanding of their deeply held personal values, are empowered to make choices on what and how they choose to spend their energy (not time!) to achieve their personal and professional goals. This approach, when embraced at an organisational level, invariably leads to positive outcomes and productivity - for both individuals (at home and at work) and businesses.

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Dileep Nair, Independent Director, Thakral Corporation Limited
13 May 2019 - 09:48

Imagine yourself in a "996" work environment and you will feel at once how oppressive it is. While it may seem "productive" for the technopreneur, for staff, such a regime, apart from being illegal, is inimical to health and results in burnout and exhaustion.

Of course, "work" does not feel like "work" if you love what you do. But getting to do work that you really like - your passion - is for many an elusive dream. It's therefore unrealistic to expect most employees to be passionate about their work. Far better for employers to focus and assess staff on some practical attributes such as commitment and diligence; flexibility and adaptability to change; and ability to work as part of a team. Indeed, enlightened employers who aim at sustainability should encourage staff to "live life" by aspiring to the "888 rule" - 8 hours work, 8 hours recreation and 8 hours rest.

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