Waterdrop Founder Won’t Pursue “996” Work Culture Outside China, Triggering Controversy
Shen Peng, the founder of Beijing-based insurance tech platform Waterdrop Inc., said at the FutureChina Global Forum in Singapore on October 7 that many Chinese companies see Singapore as the first stop for overseas expansion, and that localization is key for them to gain a regional foothold. By this logic, Shen said, they cannot copy China’s prevailing “996” work culture – a 12 hours per day, six days per week working schedule.
Shen said Waterdrop will cater to and integrate with local professional cultures, even if the pace of development is slightly slower than China’s. “Chinese companies should respect the rules and obey the laws in every country. I haven’t promoted the 996 work culture in every country outside of China,” said Shen. The executive’s comments were questioned by netizens as soon as they were posted. “Do Chinese workers deserve 996?” one web user wrote.
An internal promotional document of Waterdrop had previously been revealed. “Join Waterdrop, great company, exciting, 11.7 hours of average work time,” it said. Judging from this internal slogan, overtime seems to have become part of the company’s culture. Shen’s comments now reflect this attitude again.
Widespread discussion about 996 started in March 2019 when a project called “996ICU” went viral on GitHub. Programmers revealed internet companies that have implemented this working schedule. The demanding work culture has been criticized by all sides, and is illegal according to Chinese law. Labor law declares that, after negotiation with labor unions and employees, employers can add working time by a maximum of one hour each day based on operational needs. When necessary, the extension of working hours shall not exceed three hours per day and thirty-six hours per month.
Founded in 2015, Waterdrop is dedicated to insurance and healthcare services. Its business mainly includes crowdfunding, the insurance marketplace, and healthcare, and it hopes to cover enough people through this complementary business model. Its second-quarter revenue this year was 701.4 million yuan ($98 million), up 8.1% from the previous quarter.
By the end of the second quarter of this year, a total of 412 million donors had provided nearly 53.3 billion yuan to millions of critically ill patients through Waterdrop’s crowdfunding platform. However, after the company went public in May 2021, several consecutive quarters of financial reports showed that its crowdfunding platform did not contribute to operating income. The crowdfunding fee deducted by intermediaries on Waterdrop reached as high as 70%, one previous report showed.
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Regarding the company’s progress in Singapore since entering in 2019, Waterdrop has launched the international version of its crowdfunding platform named DeeDa locally. Shen said he decided to base the firm’s international operations in Singapore after coming to the city-state in August to talk to the Economic Development Board, Business China and local partners.