Is a “996” work culture necessary for success?

Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, recently praised the company’s “996” work culture – working from 9 am to 9 pm, twelve hours a day, six days per week. But is such a work culture really necessary for success?


Jack Ma has been viewed favourably by many, even gaining a bit of a reputation as a humanist. That’s maybe why his recent support for the “996” model caused an uproar worldwide. Ma didn’t back down afterwards either giving the impression that such a time investment was necessary to achieve the kind of success Alibaba has reached.

Stephanie Denning, a management consultant specialising in growth strategy, asked in a recent Forbes article if such an intense work culture was indeed required for this level of performance?

Looking at the business perspective, Denning argued that Alibaba is indeed one of the most successful cases of a platform company with 250 billion yuan in revenue in 2018 and a profit margin of 20 per cent.

“At first glance, it seems evident that Alibaba is running its operations very effectively. Not only are their financials sound but they are outperforming key competitors across several dimensions,” Denning writes.

So, on many levels, Alibaba is indeed an incredibly successful organisation, the expert concludes and it would be easy to assume that this is the result of its employees’ massive time commitment to the company. But organisations are too complex in Denning’s view to accurately test whether Alibaba’s “996” culture is the primary driver of its success. “What we do know is that culture, like youth, appears resilient in its early years. And how you treat your culture today will eventually show in its signs of aging tomorrow. The true test of ‘996’ will be to see how gracefully Alibaba ages over time.”