In China, technology adoption promises its swelling middle classes an easier, more productive life. But as companies bring productivity-enhancing tools into everyday office life, their efficiency is being channeled, not into leisure time, but into squeezing ever more value from employees.
Just as algorithms have come to govern the workdays of blue-collar warehouse workers at Alibaba Group Holding and food delivery riders for Meituan, elsewhere, white-collar workers are becoming affected by the creep of software-driven management and monitoring into their professional lives.
This is particularly the case in China's tech industry, where rapid technological development, paired with poor labor regulations, has created a potential for labor abuse. The big tech companies themselves, locked in cutthroat competition for new business opportunities, are pioneering these technologies and tools in their own operations. From hiring and goal-setting to appraisal and layoff, productivity-enhancing technologies look to quantify workers' behavior by collecting and analyzing extensive amounts of personal data.
Some scholars warn that some practices can be unethical, invading employees' privacy and burdening them with greater workload and mental stress. Others draw parallels to the fatigue faced by factory laborers during industrial revolutions, where workers chased the pace of machines.
"I felt that I was getting busier and having less time for myself," said the engineer Wang, looking back on his five years at Chinese internet companies.
Asian work culture is not something many in the West are familiar with. Long hours, arriving before the boss and leaving after him are normal work practices. Not taking holiday, an expectation to do whatever is asked and the assumption of absolute loyalty are common characteristics of working in Japan, China, South Korea and elsewhere. When a Japanese newspaper talks about potentially overworking individuals it is worth paying attention. Afterall Japan has a word for being worked to death. (karoshi - death by overwork).Click HERE to subscribe to Fuller Treacy Money Back to top