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Sorry, Jack Ma: 12-hour workdays are not a blessing

Sorry, Jack Ma: 12-hour workdays are not a blessing
Jack Ma [Photo: Flickr user UNCTAD]

Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, has no fear of hard work. He may, however, have a fear of taking time off.

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Ma took to social media recently to voice his support of China’s intense work culture known as “996,” which refers to working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. That all-consuming, life-force-sucking schedule is reportedly common among the country’s big technology companies and startups and Ma is okay with that. “If we find things we like, 996 is not a problem,” Ma said in a blog post Sunday on Chinese social media site Weibo, the BBC reports. “If you don’t like [your work], every minute is torture.” He went on to call the opportunity to work 996 hours a “blessing.”

While Ma is now one of the wealthiest people on the planet with a fortune estimated at around $40 billion, that doesn’t necessarily mean he is right about the “blessing” of always working. Ma’s comments come as the mental and physical repercussions of overwork are becoming more widely studied, discussed, and recognized. Burnout is one predictable side effect of working 12-hour days, six days a week, and studies have shown that overwork like the type Ma is promoting is killing people.

Overwork has been linked to heart disease (at nearly twice the normal rate), stress, depression, and a host of other serious health-related problems, as well as the emotional and sociological implications of having a skewed work-life balance.

Even China’s government thinks Ma has this one wrong, although they didn’t call him out by name. “Advocating hard work and commitment does not mean forcing overtime,” wrote state-run newspaper People’s Daily in a commentary published Sunday, CNN reports. “The mandatory enforcement of 996 overtime culture not only reflects the arrogance of business managers, but also is unfair and impractical.”

On Sunday, Ma attempted to clarify his remarks, noting that 996 work hours are “unsustainable” but also seeming to preach a mind-set akin to the old chestnut of, “If you love what you’ll do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Per the South China Morning Post, the billionaire posted on Weibo that “if you’re not passionate about it, every minute of going to work is a torment,” and that forcing people to work 996 hours at jobs they hate is “inhumane,” “unhealthy,” and “unsustainable.”

The point is, go ahead and ignore Ma on this one, and take your time off.

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