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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Bobby Sheikh, Asia Pacific Head, Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute

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 But the focus on the concept of "worklife balance" and on the number of hours worked is becoming outdated.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...

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Bindu Bhatia, Managing Director, Asia-Pacific CWT
10 Jun 2019 - 10:23

A recent article in The New York Times compared China's 996 to the "hustle culture" taking over the US. Both seem to equate being passionate about and dedicated to one's job with working extremely long hours. In my view, working 12 hours a day, six days a week is likely unsustainable. While it might yield some immediate growth in output, in the long run it's bound to negatively impact workers' productivity, motivation, performance, health, and even employee retention.

Some European countries have taken it to the other extreme, where employees can't access their emails outside of work hours. I think it's important to create a culture where employees are happy to work beyond their regular working hours when required and/or they personally choose to, but they still feel that their organisation respects their personal time.

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Jill Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Manulife US Real Estate Management Pte Ltd
3 Jun 2019 - 10:13

We believe that the key to an effective workforce is a focus on quality, rather than quantity. At Manulife US REIT, we pay special attention to growing our human capital, which ultimately benefits the REIT.

There is a woodsman analogy often used in the US - that if we have five minutes to cut a tree, we would spend the first half sharpening our axes. We encourage our staff to share their career ambitions, and we work together with them to succeed in those, so that they are well-prepared when it is time to cut the trees!

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Victor Mills, Chief Executive, Singapore International Chamber of Commerce
27 May 2019 - 10:21

It's easy for a passionate entrepreneur, inventor or researcher to spend all hours of the day and night at work. It's unrealistic and unproductive to expect workers to do the same because the result is mental and physical burnout and illness.

In any business, it's the consistent quality of each person's output that determines business success. Instead of judging people on the number of hours they put in, judge them on the quality of their output. Reward those whose output is consistently high with generous bonuses. That's altogether more sustainable in terms of staff engagement, their wellbeing and business success.

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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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