Controversy over ‘model employee’ and burnout culture

ChinaA billboard honoring the “model employee” of a company in Zhengzhou, Henan on February 18 caused controversy about the culture of excessive overtime.

The honoree is named Xue Lintao with a record of working 12 hours a day, 30 days a month. His hard work is said to have positively affected both new and old employees, improving production and saving the company money. In early 2021, he also received this award.

The plaque honors employee of the year, Mr. Xue Lintao. Photo: NewQQ

However, the majority of Chinese social media users called Xue a “traitor to labor” and “tried to cause overtime deaths”. For many years now, the 996 work culture (9am to 9pm, 6 days a week) has been the subject of intense criticism. In particular, it is believed to be the culprit leading to the sudden death of young Chinese people from working to exhaustion.

Dr. Li Yuehua, who has worked at Shanghai Xinhua Hospital for more than 40 years, said that in the 1980s, the heart attack patients she treated were usually in their 60s and 70s. After that, the patients who came in with her in her 40s and 50s. Recently, she has treated patients who are much younger, some as young as 26.

In a survey by Dingxiang Doctor (Chinese medical company), up to 52% of respondents said they were afraid of the risk of sudden death due to overwork.

In early 2021, the sheet South China Morning Post reported, a male engineer surnamed Tan, 23 years old, jumped to his death at his home in Hunan province (China). A few days earlier, a female employee at startup Pinduoduo was found dead on her way home from work. In April 2014, this daily newspaper reported that a pregnant woman died while working overtime at Alibaba.

On Chinese social media, news of the deaths of the employees quickly spread, most of which were linked to “996 culture”. Xiaojin, a former Pinduoduo employee, revealed that overtime is not only the norm at Pinduoduo but also a requirement. “The bosses only care about how many hours we work each day. It has become a culture, to the extent that even after the work is done, many employees still stay in the office,” Xiaojin said.

Controlling employees’ working hours is not uncommon in Chinese companies. Last year, the management of live-streaming company Kuaishou was sued for allegedly placing timers in employees’ restrooms and monitoring their lunch breaks, according to reports. South China Morning Post.

According to a 2018 government survey of the mental health of 403 tech workers, 50% of participants said they felt tired. They face many problems with vision, poor memory, spinal disorders. Many people believe that the 9x and 10x age groups are under more pressure than previous generations.

The China Youth Association released a 2019 report showing that up to 47% of Chinese youth chose “striving” as the keyword of the times. As of the first half of 2019, about 45.8% of companies with a size of more than 10,000 people in this country have undergone the “996” working regime. Taking a vacation seems like an impossibility. Pressure from colleagues and management always makes employees work hard, even when sick or sick.

Many subway stations in Beijing have equipped first aid kits (AEDs) that anyone can use and help someone showing signs of exhaustion or sudden death.  Photo: People Visual.

Many subway stations in Beijing have equipped first aid kits (AEDs) that anyone can use and help someone showing signs of exhaustion or sudden death. Photo: People Visual.

A day after the photo went viral, Xue Lintao took to social media to express her views. He said he was not forced to work 12 hours a day by anyone. He did so voluntarily because wages are based on hours worked. He has a wife and children in the countryside, so he has to work hard to support his family, earn more diapers and milk for the children. “If I want more money, I have to work longer hours,” explained an employee of a company that manufactures super-hard materials.

Xue also said that his job is to operate the machines and make sure the machines work properly during production. Due to the nature, he is not always present at work and it is not too stressful.

His explanation did not help soothe the spirit of netizens. They go on to say that Xua is a testament to the well-known problem of overwork in China.

However, associate professor of sociology Mei Zhigang, China Normal University, said that Xue is an example of dedication and hard work, worthy of admiration. According to him, Xue’s company only deserves criticism if they force employees to work overtime. If it is the employee’s choice, then this person is praised as reasonable.

On the other hand, influencers always praise “996 culture” as a value to promote. Billionaire Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, once called the 12-hour work-day culture “a blessing”.

Intelligent Update (according to OC/NewQQ)


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