New York :
Emma Rao spent nearly three years on the notorious “996 schedule” in China: working from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week.
Rao, who is originally from Nanjing, moved to the financial center of Shanghai about five years ago to work for a multinational pharmaceutical company.
Work quickly took over his life.
“I was almost depressed,” she says. “They deprived me of all my personal life”.
After his shift, which sometimes included overtime, he had a small window to eat, shower and go to bed, but he sacrificed sleep to gain some personal time.
Rao often surfed the internet, read the news, and watched online videos until well after midnight.
Own time at the expense of health
Rao was doing what the Chinese have called “bàofùxìng áoyè”, or “procrastination at bedtime”.
The phrase, which could also be translated as “the revenge of staying up late,” quickly spread on Twitter in June following a post by journalist Daphne K Lee.
She described the phenomenon as when “people who don’t have much control over their daytime lives refuse to sleep early to regain some freedom during the night hours.”
His post clearly struck a chord.
With more than 4,500 “likes” on Twitter, Kenneth Kwok wrote: “Typical 8 to 8 at the office, (by the time) I get home after dinner and shower is 10 pm. Repeat the same routine. It takes a few hours of ‘own time’ to survive ”.
It is not clear where this term comes from.
The first mention I came across was on a blog dated November 2018, although its origins probably predate this.
The author of the post, a man from Guangdong province, wrote that during working hours he “Belonged to someone else” and that he could only “find himself” when he got home and could go to bed.
This revenge of putting off bedtime is sad, he wrote, because his health is suffering, but it is also “great” because he has gained a little freedom.
The phrase may have become popular in China, but the phenomenon it describes is probably more widespread, with burdened workers around the world postponing bedtime to reclaim valuable personal time, even though they know it’s not good for them.
Experts have long warned that lack of sleep is a global public health epidemic to which no attention is paid.
The 2019 Phillips Global Sleep Survey, which received more than 11,000 responses from 12 countries, showed that 62% of adults worldwide feel they don’t get enough sleep, averaging 6.8 hours in one night weekdays compared to the recommended eight hours.
People cited various reasons for this deficit, including stress and their sleeping environment, but 37% blamed their hectic work or school hours.
In China, a national survey conducted in 2018 showed that 60% of people born after 1990 did not get enough sleep and that those who lived in the largest cities suffered the most.
The tech companies that created culture 996 They are usually based in large cities and their work practices have influenced other sectors.
A recent report by state broadcaster CCTV and the National Bureau of Statistics indicated that the average Chinese employee spent only 2.42 hours a day away from work or asleep, 25 minutes less than the previous year.
Gu Bing, a 33-year-old creative director at a digital agency in Shanghai, often works late and says he rarely goes to bed before 2 a.m.
“Even though I’m tired the next day, I don’t want to sleep early,” she says.
Gu loved going to bed late in his 20s, but has started to think about adopting more “normal” sleeping habits.
However, his friends too they are usually awake in the middle of the night.
“I really need that time. I want to be healthy but they (their employers) have stolen my time. I want to get my time back ”.
Long hours in the office aside, another part of the problem is that modern work patterns mean that people find it more difficult to draw boundaries between work and home, says Ciara Kelly, a professor of occupational psychology at the University of Sheffield School of Management.
Emails and instant messaging mean that employers can always stay in touch.
“This can make us feel like we are ‘always at work,’ because work can call us at any time,” he says.
Jimmy Mo, 28, an analyst for a game development company in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, has found that combining his passion for video games with work is a double-edged sword.
“Work is also my hobby. I love sacrificing my free time for this, ”he says, explaining that he must play different games after work, and also take online classes to improve his professional skills.
She also has hobbies like yoga and singing. Being able to do everything means that Mo doesn’t usually go to bed until 2am.
You know that this lack of sleep can exacerbate a health disorder you have, and that getting more sleep could make you healthier and happier, but says you feel pressure from your peers to do and achieve more.
“ORn vicious circle “
Although people may be annoyed that work squeezes their free time, reducing sleep is probably not the best “retaliation.”
Lack of sleep, especially in the long term, can cause a number of harmful effects, both mental and physical.
In Matthew Walker’s book “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams”, the neuroscientist is blunt: “the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.”
And people, by and large, know it: all of those interviewed for this article felt their sleep patterns were unhealthy, but they still stayed up late at night.
Psychology may explain why people would choose to take advantage of this free time even at the expense of sleep.
Growing evidence points to the importance of free time away from work pressure; lack of separation can cause stress, reduced well-being and exhaustion.
“One of the most important parts of recovering from work is sleep. However, sleep is affected by how we separate ourselves from work, ”says Kelly, from the University of Sheffield.
It is important, he explains, to have free time when we can mentally distance ourselves from work, which would explain why people are willing to sacrifice sleep for leisure after work.
“People get caught in a vicious cycle when they don’t have time to separate from work before going to sleep, and this is likely to negatively affect their sleep,” says Kelly.
The real solution, he suggests, is to ensure that people have time to participate in activities that provide this detachment. However, this is often not something that employees can achieve on their own.
Heejung Chung, an employment sociologist at the University of Kent and an advocate for greater flexibility in the workplace, sees the practice of delaying sleep as the fault of employers.
Addressing the problem would benefit workers, but it would also help ensure a “healthy and efficient workplace,” he says.
“It’s actually a measure of productivity,” he explains. “You need that time to relax. Workers need to do other things besides work. It is risky behavior to do just one thing. “
- Nightmare disorder: why the coronavirus pandemic is affecting our sleep (and how you can prevent it)
Since the pandemic, companies in many countries have implemented work-from-home policies, which has meant greater flexibility in working life but also, in some cases, further blurring the already weak boundaries between work and home.
It is not yet clear how this could affect the kind of work culture where employees have to avoid sleep to regain some free time.
Chung says that genuine change requires an institutional turn at many companies.
“It’s difficult for people to react (to their work situation),” he says.
But he advises employees to talk to their colleagues and collectively approach their boss, with evidence, if they want to ask for a change.
However, this might not be available in China.
In fact, reports suggest that companies are digging in even more when it comes to overtime as they try to recover from losses caused by covid-19.
Krista Pederson, a consultant who works with multinationals and Chinese corporations in Beijing, says she has seen this trend.
Chinese companies see their work culture as having advantages over markets like the United States or Europe, where people tend to work fewer hours: “they know they have dedicated workers who are ruthless and will do whatever it takes to get ahead, including work all the time, ”he says.
With such a demanding work culture, employees will continue to address the issue in a way that works for them.
Despite working tirelessly, Gu Bing loves his job and agrees to have his free time stolen.
“Sometimes I think the night is perfect, even beautiful,” he says. “My friends and I chat at night and sometimes we write songs together. It is calm and calm ”.
And there is the option, for the lucky ones, to get another job, which is what Emma Rao did, eventually swapping her 996 job for a slightly less demanding one.
However, Rao has found that old habits are hard to break.
“It’s revenge,” he says of his late bedtime. “To get some time back for yourself.”
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