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.
“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.
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:
- Toyota Gothenburg moved to a 30-hour work week and boosted both customers satisfaction and profits.
- Zach Holman of American software company GitHub puts it like this: “Hours are bullshit!”
- At the Australian company Wisetech, any employee that works more than 40 hours a week regularly must talk to their manager to redress the situation.
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.
There is strong evidence that permanent overwork hurts people and performance. Let’s stop promoting such a dumb and dangerous idea.
- Top 10 reasons why happiness at work is the ultimate productivity booster.
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- Don’t let The Cult of Overwork ruin your work life