Thursday, March 30, 2023

2 employee deaths and a viral video reignite the debate on the overwork culture of the Chinese “ 996 ”

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Controversy has rocked Chinese e-commerce company Pinduoduo since early 2021, with two employee deaths and a viral video of a former employee fomenting widespread online criticism of the company and reigniting the work culture debate intense in the Chinese technology industry.

On December 29, a 23-year-old Pinduoduo employee collapsed and later died while walking home from work after midnight. Chinese authorities said they were investigating the working conditions in Pinduoduo after the death.

On Saturday, less than two weeks later, an engineer named Lin, who had worked for the company for about six months, committed suicide after taking a leave of absence from the company and returning to his hometown.

“We are deeply saddened to have lost one of our employees to suicide. We are doing all we can to support his family and loved ones during this difficult time, ”a spokesperson for Pinduoduo said in a statement. The company said it has established an “internal channel and a dedicated team” to provide psychological counseling services to its employees following Lin’s death.

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In addition to the two deaths, “Pinduoduo” was a hot topic on the popular Chinese microblogging site. Weibo Monday because of a video posted by a former employee who claimed to be fired for sharing a photo of an ambulance coming to pick up a colleague who collapsed at work. From Monday afternoon, the video had over 2.2 million likes on Weibo.

In the video, the employee, whose last name is Wang, said he went to work on the morning of January 7 and saw a Pinduoduo employee being transported in an ambulance by two colleagues. Wang took a photo of the scene and posted it anonymously on Maimai, a Linkedin-like social platform. He said Pinduoduo found out and fired him for posting the photo.

A current Pinduoduo employee countered Wang’s conclusion in a message posted to Maimai on Thursday, saying that the employee Wang saw in the ambulance was suffering from enterospasm and was taken to hospital. A spokesperson for Pinduoduo sent Fortune a screenshot of the message and said the employee’s claim was true.

Pinduoduo said in a statement that Wang was not fired for posting the photo of the ambulance on Maimai, but for making “extreme remarks” on the platform in the past that violated internal rules of conduct. ‘company.

In the Weibo video, Wang also claimed that Pinduoduo imposed severe work demands on employees, such as requiring office workers to work 300 hours per month, a charge that Pinduoduo denied in a statement.

Death of Pinduoduo employee who collapsed after leaving work sparked widespread online criticism of Pinduoduo’s work culture and the rest phenomenon the punitive “996” work schedule that many Chinese tech companies tacitly employ. Wang’s video renewed the online discussion of “996,” the notion that employees should work 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week.

Pinduoduo is a newcomer to China’s huge e-commerce market, dominated by Ali Baba and, China’s two largest e-commerce companies. Low prices and unique product offers, like group buying, help the company more than tripled its turnover in 2017, two years after its creation.

Pinduoduo was valued at $ 23.8 billion when it debuted on the Nasdaq in 2018. It has a current market cap of $ 221 billion. Coronavirus lockdowns across China prompted an increase in online shopping last year, pushing Pinduoduo’s share price up from around $ 40 at the start of 2020 to nearly $ 180 by the end of the month of December, and making the founder of Pinduoduo, Colin Huang, China. second richest the person. Since the death of the first employee on December 29, Pinduoduo’s share price has fallen from $ 166 to $ 180 on Monday.

Chinese tech billionaires like Jack Ma and Richard Liu – who founded Pinduoduo rivals Alibaba and respectively – have approved “996” as needed in the competitive industry. But opposition to the demanding schedule is growing, at least in the form of a conviction of “996” on Chinese social media.

Wang’s video had drawn more than 94,000 comments as of Monday afternoon, and many of the top-rated comments – each with tens of thousands of likes – expressed support for and criticized China’s culture of overwork. Some comments suggested that young Chinese workers would not accept the same intense working hours as older generations.

“The overthrow of ‘996’ depends on the post-95 generation,” reads a comment from Weibo with nearly 3,000 likes, referring to people born after 1995. “The post-95 and post-00 generations have a lot of courage, and their logic is not It’s not bad, ”read another comment on Wang’s video with over 34,000 likes.

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