What do Tesla founder Elon Musk and China's second-richest man Jack Ma have in common? As well as owning multibillion-dollar companies, they believe that people should work excessive hours — preferably between 72 and 100 hours a week.
Earlier this month, Ma, who founded internet giant Alibaba 20 years ago, endorsed the prevailing culture at Chinese tech firms for staff to work tirelessly, calling "996" weeks — or working 9am to 9pm for six days a week — a "huge blessing" for young workers.
"Let me ask everyone, if you don't put out more time and energy than others, how can you achieve the success you want?" he remarked in a post on Alibaba's WeChat account. His comments came just a few months after China confirmed that its economy was growing at its slowest pace in almost three decades.
Musk goes one further and suggests people put in 80 to 100 hours a week at work if they want to "change the world".
On Twitter last year he said: "Varies per person, but about 80 [hours] sustained, peaking above 100 at times. Pain level increases exponentially above 80."
Both business leaders have faced criticism for their remarks from commentators who suggest that overwork could lead to decreased productivity among staff.
Not only is there little correlation between working longer hours and better productivity — recent data from the Trades Union Congress shows that full-time employees in Germany work 1.8 hours a week less than those in the UK but are 14.6 per cent more productive — there is a clear link that overworking leads to stress, fatigue and sustained sleep deprivation, which can in turn create mental health problems.
An estimated 15.4 million days were lost in 2017-18 in the UK due to employee mental health issues, such as stress, depression and anxiety. The combined economic impact of mental health-related absence on UK employers is expected to reach £100 billion ($195b) this year, claims the Centre for Economics and Business Research.
In Japan, where around 20 per cent of the workforce put in more than 80 hours of overtime a month, the number of legal claims relating to "karoshi" — meaning "death by overwork" — rose to a record high of 1456 in 2015-16, with employees taking their own lives or suffering from heart failure and strokes.
Ma's recommendation of a "996" working culture also breaches Chinese labour laws, which require that an employee's work day is no more than eight hours, and an average work week is no more than 40 hours.
Will Stronge, co-founder of think tank Autonomy, which advocates a shorter working week, said Ma's comments were "dangerous in an industry where long hours (often unpaid) are already imposed on workers, often in the name of 'commitment', 'drive' or 'loyalty ' to the company".
"Working 72-hour weeks would take us back to the 19th century ... The future of work should be one in which we continue to decrease the working week, whilst retaining wages — as we have done in the past," he says.
A number of companies have done the reverse of what Ma suggests, by introducing four-day working weeks in the hope of reducing burnout and increasing productivity. Just last week, an Australian tech firm said that after giving employees every Wednesday off to relax, its revenues rose by a third.
Trials of shorter weeks are not always so successful, however. After announcing in January that it planned to move all 800 staff members to a four-day week, the Wellcome Trust recently decided that it would scrap the initiative, admitting it would be "too operationally complex to implement".
Had the biomedical research foundation, the world's second-biggest research donor after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, adopted the policy, it would have become the largest organisation in the world to do so.
Chinese billionaire Jack Ma thinks workers should clock in from 9am till 9pm 6 days a week
German workers do 1.6 hours less a week than their British counterparts but are more productive
One fifth of Japan's workforce puts in more than 80 hours of overtime a month.
- Telegraph Media Group