A screenshot of chat records showing an entry-level Tencent employee challenging the company’s hyper-intensive work environment has sparked heated debate on social media, renewing discussions about Chinese internet companies’ expectation for their staff to work for extended hours.
The chat log was posted on Maimai, a career and social network platform, on Tuesday night. It shows an employee surnamed Zhang questioning management over the company’s overtime work policy in a group chat with 600 staff members of Tencent.
Zhang also posted a year-end report published by the management team of Tencent’s WeChat division, which was praised for its efficiency. Accomplishments like the completion of 200 tasks related to product design and modifications in one week, and launching a publicity page in 20 hours, were highlighted. The authors of the report called for employees to continue on the same trajectory.
Zhang challenged the expectation for staff to frequently work beyond normal business hours, and then announced his resignation. He criticized management for only paying attention to the progress of work and ignoring the physical and mental health of employees.
“Is WeCom [Tencent’s enterprise communication platform] going to break down immediately if the internal test is postponed for one day? Will users immediately flock to [ByteDance’s] Lark and [Alibaba’s] DingTalk if we launch the website one day late?” Zhang wrote in the group chat. “I hope everyone could think about whether it is worth sacrificing your health to work another 20+ hours, in exchange for an award.”
The episode drew criticism from the general public and domestic media outlets. On Wednesday, the screenshot went viral on Weibo. A hashtag describing the incident was the top trending topic on Wednesday afternoon.
The “996” work arrangement, where employees are on duty from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., six days a week, was commonplace among Chinese tech firms, where the employee demographic was often younger than in most other industries.
“996” became a subject of governmental scrutiny, and the practice was deemed illegal by the authorities. Even though many tech giants pledged to trim work hours for their staff, “996” often remained in place.
“Although the company said we would no longer have overtime work, we as employees do not trust that the policy will be implemented, and we do not trust that company leadership will maintain the protocol,” Zhang wrote.
On Wednesday, Huang Tieming, the head of WeCom, responded in the group chat. Huang recognized that the highly intensive workplace at Tencent is unsustainable, and proposed an adjustment to the planning process of work schedules and evaluation standards.