Jack Ma is very very very wrong about the 996 rule

Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Chinese tech company Alibaba, has come out in favor of the so-called 996 rule, i.e. that you should work from 9am to 9pm 6 days a week if you want to have a successful career. For anyone doing the math that’s 72 hours of work a week. Add a 1 hour commute on top of that and there’s very little time left for your family, kids, hobbies, exercise and life in general.

His belief in this is unshakeable:
“I personally think that 996 is a huge blessing,” he said. “How do you achieve the success you want without paying extra effort and time?”

He also added that you can only achieve business success through suffering and sacrifice.

I realize I may be wasting my time here by going up against a belief that is so prevalent among business leaders, but there’s no way I can let that kind of nonsense pass and not point out exactly why it’s wrong. Here are 5 quick reasons:

1: Pointing to successful people that achieved success by working 72 hours a week proves nothing. What about all the people that worked just as hard but failed?

2: Many of the mental qualities that make a person successful at work are lost when people are overworked, tired, stressed and unhappy, including networking, creativity and effective decision making.

3: Permanent overwork kills people. For instance, those working a 55-hour week face 33% increased risk of stroke.

4: Permanent overwork doesn’t result in increased output.

5: Many people believe that success can only be achieved through suffering, but they’re wrong. In fact, employee happiness leads directly to higher performance and business success.

So permanent overwork does not lead to increased results and success – in fact it hurts people AND profits.

It’s easy to point to Alibaba and say “But they work really long hours and the company is successful. Check mate!” But that’s just correlation; where is the proof that they are profitable BECAUSE OF the long working hours? Maybe they would’ve been even more profitable if their employees were happy, relaxed and had lives outside of work too? The research certainly indicates that.

So why do so many people still believe this nonsense? As the psychologist Daniel Kahneman noted, it’s difficult to change people’s minds. Look at this picture:

Every horizontal line is perfectly straight. Don’t believe me? Hold up a ruler to your screen and check. OK, now that you know the horizontal lines are straight, what does your mind see? Bendy lines.

Kahneman notes that cognitive illusions are even more stubborn than visual illusions and the business leaders he has worked with almost never changed their beliefs no matter how much evidence they were presented with.

Fortunately, there are also many enlightened leaders out there:


And US Vice President Joe Biden wrote an awesome memo to his staff that said in part:

I do not expect, nor do I want any of you to miss or sacrifice important family obligations for work.

The upshot

There is strong evidence that permanent overwork hurts people and performance. Let’s stop promoting such a dumb and dangerous idea.

Related articles



4 thoughts on “Jack Ma is very very very wrong about the 996 rule”

  1. Great article (as always). #1 in your list of reasons this is nonsense is always a hot button for me. Survivor Bias drives leaders to make terrible decisions. Hey, it worked for me, it will work for you. Um, no. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. The work ethic behind Jack Ma’s statement comes out of the same culture that states that “a man who tends his rice field 364 days a year will not have a hungry family.” This culture, however, also says that “you don’t make the rice grow faster by pulling it at the top.”
    Combined: you may have to attend to your fields every day, but not all year round can you do something productive once you have checked that the rice is properly watered.
    Interestingly enough, when you ask across all of Europe how many hours people work (European Social Survey), those who consistently come up with the longest hours are people in farming and fishery and the hours are – surprise – around 72 hours per week.

  3. I’m fed up with people telling others success was all work, work and work. Great artists (musicians, actors etc.) saying they achieved success, because of their efforts. Ok, true, but, hey, what about their unique inborn talent?!? I sing every day, but trust me, you don’t wanna be near when I do it and it’s not becoming better with practice ;)

    I believe in work smarter, not harder. Great article!

  4. Working all the time so you can be successful is another way of saying that you want to be happy in the future. If the real goal is to be happy, why not be happy now? Why wait to be happy in the future? In my opinion, the real problem is not time but Jack Mas idea of success. Knowing a bit of his history, it seems he wouldnt value himself unless proving wrong all the people who rejected him before, hence justifying the 996 rule for achieving success. Personally I dont subscribe with Jack Mas vision of success. I strongly believe that happiness starts within ourselves, in our self worth concept, and afterward we look for the external working conditions that match the path set within.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.