Transforming workers into spenders: Chinese cities call for longer weekends 把员工转变为消费者:周末延长政策将何去何从?

By Phyllis Brown 铠凌

NANJING, CHINA — When French director Chris Marker released the classic short film “Sunday in Peking” in 1956, the concept of a weekend was still alien to China. Since urban workers only had Sundays off, households often pitted against time to complete errands that had accumulated all week. Likewise, a rest day from work was seldom guaranteed for farmers back then. As late as 1993, China continued to promote six-day work weeks to maximize output for development. In 1994, it experimented with “odd-even” weeks that alternated between five- and six-day work weeks, before finally popularizing full weekends in 1995. 

中国,南京—在法国导演克里斯·马克1956年的作品《北京的星期天》上映前夕,“周末”仍属国内语境中的陌生概念。当年的城市劳动者每周仅放一天假,家家户户每逢星期天都得赶在日落之前完成一周内所积累的琐事。但对于农村而言,农民仍然无法保证每周一天的假期。直到1993年,中国依然推行六天工作制,以大幅扩大生产,支撑经济发展。1994年,中国设立了若干试点地区,实行“大小周”制度(即在双周实行五天工作制,单周照常)。当前为人所熟知的全年五天工作制在次年被推广至全国。

A scene from Chris Marker’s Sunday in Peking (1956). The short documentary film features various groups engaging in activities with their work unit on a typical Sunday, decades before the two-day weekend was introduced in 1994.  Photo credit: Bilibili

克里斯·马克1956年作品《北京的星期天》的截图。短片记录了当时的中国人如何度过周末,其中能见到民众均随单位进行活动。五天工作制在短片上映几十年后的1994年开始推广。图片来源:Bilibili

State attitudes towards the weekend shifted again in 2015. Since then, China has been encouraging government agencies and businesses to adopt “2.5-day weekends,” a concept that has gained traction amongst OECD countries only in the 21st century. Under the new arrangement, employees finish work at noon on Fridays, but total working hours remain unchanged. Similar to how Chinese schools and workplaces sometimes operate on weekends to “make up” for a recent holiday, the proposed arrangement lets firms  “recoup“ Friday’s half-day off by extending work hours on other weekdays. 

中国政府对周末的态度在2015年再次转变。从这一年起,中国开始鼓励政府事业单位、甚至民营企业实施“2.5天休息制”。这一制度一直到21世纪才在若干OECD国家逐步运行。按照中国官方声明,单位应当让员工在周五中午下班,剩下半天的工作安排到其他工作日。所以说,员工的工作时长实际上并未改变,这一安排其实和学生与员工在某些法定节假日后的补课和加班类似。

In August 2015, the tourism department of Ningxiang city in Hunan Province became the first Chinese locality to implement longer weekends in the summer. More recently, the Nanjing city government released guidelines calling for the 2.5-day weekend to take effect in April 2020. Authorities envisioned that longer weekends would accelerate economic recovery by bolstering consumption and domestic tourism. While absent from official rhetoric, such pro-leisure guidelines also implicitly recognize that work-life balance should be pursued and celebrated. 

2015年8月,湖南省宁乡旅游局成为首家在夏季实行2.5天休息制的单位。南京市政府也在近期出台建议性公告,呼吁政企单位在2020年4月试行2.5天休息制。决策者的设想是,周末的延长将刺激消费、甚至提振国内旅游业,从而加快经济复苏。虽然这项倡议尚未被包含在官方说辞中,但鼓励民众增加休闲活动的政策取向默认了人们应当试图在工作与生活之间把握平衡。

But despite the government’s enthusiasm, Nanjing locals still reported no changes in the workplace after six months. The fact that official recommendations have gone unheeded is neither new nor surprising; this phenomenon is quite common in China, notwithstanding the misconception that Chinese society is singular and monolithic. However, the policy’s developments — or lack thereof — remain meaningful, for they draw attention to policymakers’ detachment from the ground realities of the labor market. Until authorities and firms are seen to uphold existing labor rights and practices, longer weekends will remain a far-fetched ideal.

与政府的积极宣传大相径庭的是,接受本文采访的南京市民表示休假制度并未调整,大家每逢周五都还是照常上班。中国的政企关系并非人们所想的那样“和谐一致”,企业对官方政策性建议的无视并非罕事。不过,2.5天休息制的实施经验仍值得深究,因为不甚理想的政策效果反映了决策者与劳动力市场实际情况的脱离。只要诸多企业持续违反现有的劳动权益规定,2.5天的“大周末”将最终沦为一个遥不可及的梦想。

On one hand, adopting 2.5-day weekends could seem appealing, especially amongst employees, and given its potential to drive consumption as intended. The status quo discourages many employees from traveling and consuming during public holidays, because they stand to earn attractive bonus pay by forgoing vacation. Douglas, a Chinese student at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center who works at a Shanghai-based multinational firm, volunteered to work through China’s Golden Week holiday because his employer tripled the base pay over the break. 

从某些方面来看,2.5天休息制本质上存在着一定的吸引力。该制度不仅会受到员工的欢迎,对消费也有潜在的促进效果,因为现有制度确实阻止了一些员工在法定节假日玩乐或出游,他们宁可在节假日期间工作,挣比平时多几倍的工资。譬如,中美中心证书班学生Douglas就职于上海一家外资企业,他就曾主动放弃黄金周假日,以获得公司在这期间提供的三倍工资。

If granted longer weekends, some young working adults would plan more vacations in nearby cities and pursue their hobbies. Indeed, longer weekends have also shown to improve work performance and well-being. Tianyu, an analyst for a Shanghai-based hedge fund, thinks people tend to reach an unrewarding lull as the week draws on. In his view, employees are more productive working extra hours earlier in the week, and leaving the office on Friday afternoons. But Ms. Cheng, a university lecturer in Nanjing, thinks only certain employees, namely those with heavy caregiving responsibilities, would benefit substantially from the arrangement.  

相比之下,一部分90后上班族受访者表示,如果单位实行2.5天休息制,他们会在周末赴周边城市旅游,或发展自己的爱好。现有研究也证实周末的延长既能够提高工作表现,又有益于员工的身心健康。上海一家对冲基金的分析师谭天禹认为,由于人们在周四周五的工作效率相对偏低,所以如果让员工在周一至周三加班,然后在周五提早下班,对雇主来说也是更为有效率的安排。但在南京一所高校担任讲师的程女士认为,只有特定群体才能从这一制度中获益匪浅,比如那些家里有人需要长期看护和照顾的员工。

Personal circumstances aside, the type of industry and job scope can determine whether the long weekend policy is feasible. For most workers, freeing up a Friday afternoon is simply impossible. The 2.5-day weekend concept assumes 40-hour work weeks, but in reality, 40% of the working population already spends over 50 hours at work, beyond the legally-established limit of 44 hours. The arduous schedules of delivery drivers are particularly noteworthy: as informal workers, they are often denied overtime compensation and social insurance

另外,2.5天休息制的可行性同时取决于具体的行业类型和工作性质。大多数劳动者的工作量使得他们几乎无法在每周五腾出半天时间去享受假期。这项政策倡议错误地假定国人每周仅工作40小时,但实际上有四成劳动者的工作时间早已远超44小时的法定限制。这一点在被归类为非正规行业劳动者的快递或外卖派送员身上尤为突出,他们不仅每日工作繁重,而且部分派送员不能享有加班费社会保险等基本劳动福利。

China’s internet companies have also been criticized by state media and employees for championing an unsustainable “996” work schedule: 9am to 9pm, six days a week. Overworked tech employees are now finding it even harder to catch a break as the COVID-19 pandemic has driven up China’s reliance on internet companies’ remote services. Nevertheless, Yaoyao, a product manager for an internet company in Hangzhou, thinks long hours are here to stay insofar as industry competition remains intense, and the need to overcome China’s middle-income trap endures. 

国内互联网企业所倡导的“996工作制更是遭到了官方媒体与企业员工的抨击。SARS和新冠疫情的爆发激发了公众的卫生顾虑,并加剧了中国社会对互联网企业远程服务的依赖,这对互联网从业者本就几乎形同虚设的休息制度来说简直是雪上加霜。尽管如此,杭州一家互联网公司的产品经理张垚垚认为,只要行业竞争仍处于激烈状态,且中国尚未彻底规避中等收入陷阱,国内马不停蹄、早出晚归的工作节奏将作为常态延续下去。

Amongst industries not known for their long hours, the 2.5-day weekend is likely to face similar resistance from employers. As it stands, only state-owned enterprises and government agencies, which are less concerned than private companies about labor costs and business rivals, have been willing and able to implement longer weekends. Ms. Guo, a business owner in the services industry, is largely skeptical of the policy on several grounds. She questions whether longer weekends would indeed trigger large spikes in consumption in the same way the Golden Week holiday generates tens of billions each year for the tourism industry. Given longer weekends, her employees are more likely to find additional part-time work.  “Most people who plan on travelling don’t need the job to begin with, they can quit their jobs to travel…[it’s] better to let the market run its course”, she said. Indeed, growth in consumption would be mostly driven by individuals already affluent enough to work less.

即便是在工作时间相对合理的行业领域中,2.5天休息制也可能会面临雇主的广泛抵制。迄今为止,中国国内只国有企业和行政单位具备实行该制度的意愿和能力,因为这些单位基本上不必担心劳动成本,面临的行业竞争压力也相对较小。郭女士是一名服务业企业主,她对这项政策提出了质疑,认为新的休息制度并不一定会在很大程度上刺激国内消费。和每年国庆假期催生大量消费、为旅游业添加数百亿美元收入不同,延长周末可能只会刺激部分员工寻找兼职,利用多出来的时间继续工作。在郭女士看来,问题的根本在于消费拉动者主要还是集中在相对富裕、工作较少的群体。“想去旅游的人还需要工作吗?他们完全有能力辞职去旅游的,“郭女士表示,”政府应该放手让市场去调节。”

Ms. Guo is equally concerned about the impact 2.5-day weekends would have on productivity, since employees might not show up on certain Fridays at all. To illustrate, if a public holiday fell on Monday or Thursday, she believes employees would find excuses to be away on Friday, so as to enjoy a long, uninterrupted vacation. A four-day work week, she argues, is “tantamount to an internship” where not much can be accomplished. If made mandatory, longer weekends would further incentivize employers to hire part-timers wherever possible, with implications for China’s social safety net, Ms. Guo said. Substantively, hiring part-timers gives firms more leeway to avert the social security contributions payable to a national pension system that is already feeling the heat from slowing growth and an aging population. 

对郭女士而言,2.5休息制度对生产力的潜在负面影响也是企业主的关键顾虑之一。例如,假如某个周的周一或周四属于法定假日,该制度极有可能导致员工倾向于在周五请假,以享受连续四五天的假期。郭女士认为,员工要是一周工作只四天就“相当于在实习”,基本上完成不了太多任务。据她猜测,假如2.5天休息制度被强制施行,某些企业主会愈加乐于雇佣兼职员工,好让企业可以在适当情况下免交社保。在中国经济增长放缓与人口老龄化的双重趋势下,上述做法的普遍实行会加剧国家养老金体系当前承受的财政压力

But as a younger generation of workers clamors for self-fulfillment and pushes back on the current work culture, might certain industries attempt to introduce longer weekends in the future? Sijie, a former paralegal in Shanghai, foresees that the gradual adoption of the 2.5-day weekend would follow a trajectory similar to China’s adoption of the two-day weekend: when government agencies pioneered two-day weekends in 1995, private firms followed suit by abandoning the “odd-even week” arrangement. The two issues may not be equivalent, though. Back then, companies were incentivized to make changes following problems associated with odd-even weeks (e.g., it was common for employees to show up on the wrong Saturday as people lost track of dates). No comparable incentive is present today. The appropriateness of public agencies enjoying longer weekends is controversial too, especially whilst small businesses are struggling to merely survive 2020. “Public employees are supposed to serve the people, so how could they be working less than everyone else? … Frontline public agencies, if anything, should be opened daily to facilitate citizens’ access to services,” said Ms. Guo.

但从另一个角度看,在年轻一代劳动者普遍追求精神上的自我实现、抵抗加班文化的趋势下,某些行业是否会尝试在未来引入2.5天休息制度?上海市民Sijie之前在律师行打拼的生活虽然节奏忙碌,但他仍对制度改革的可能性持乐观态度。中国1995年推行双休日的时候是从国家行政单位开始的,私营企业紧随其后,放弃“大小周”的安排。Sijie预计,2.5天休息制度的可能也会采取双休日制度这样的的实施路径。不过,双休日与“大小周”这两个制度存在本质性的区别,当时的企业本身就具有放弃“大小周”的动机,因为员工普遍分不清单双周,从而搞错自己的上班时间,造成企业内部的混乱。另外,在国内诸多中小企业仍在忧心生存的经济形势下,如果2.5天休息制首先在政府单位实施,会引发巨大的争议。正如郭女士所说,“公务员应该为人民服务,怎么可能工作比别人少呢?……一些政府部门员工甚至应该一周工作七天,让人们随时享受公共服务。”

In October 2020, the hashtags “did you quit your job at the bank today?” and “young people fleeing from banks” trended on Chinese social media, with the former receiving over 860 million views. Younger bank employees and fresh graduates cite excessive overtime and lack of job fulfilment as reasons for abandoning what was once a highly-coveted career. Photo credit: QQ

2020年10月,#你今天从银行工作辞职了吗#以及#那些逃离银行的年轻人#登上了微博热搜,受超过8.6亿网民的关注。很多年轻的银行新员工和应届毕业生表示,银行加班文化盛行、工作缺乏满足感,这些都构成了他们选择放弃银行“金饭碗”的个人原因。图片来源:QQ

Nevertheless, most interviewees conclude that the 2.5-day weekend is a well-meaning, albeit anachronistic solution to boosting consumption. Sijie and Yaoyao stress that authorities should instead strengthen compliance with existing labor regulations. For instance, local governments could better ensure start-ups have appropriate overtime compensation schemes in place, and guarantee at least one rest day per week. 

不过,即便并非所有利益相关者都赞成2.5天休息制的倡议,大多数受访者仍然认为该制度的政策初衷是正确的,只不过推出的时间过早。Sijie和垚垚都强调,当前政府的工作应当着眼基础事务,加强企业对现有劳动法规的遵守。例如,地方政府应当进一步确保初创企业具备并实行适当的加班补偿方案,并保证每周至少有一天休息日。

Enforcing these policies is by no means easy, given hiring freezes in certain industries, an increasingly competitive job market that favors employers, and a work culture that tends to equate presenteeism with diligence. Nevertheless, mediating the unequal power relations that exist between employers and employees remains worth pursuing. Full implementation of existing labor policies could deliver far-reaching benefits to workers and the economy. Authorities may find that workers become spenders when their welfare is prioritized.

在就业市场竞争力升温、某些行业招聘缩水的局势下,如何确保各单位履行劳动法规定的相关义务无疑是个棘手问题。以出勤率衡量工作表现的商业文化更是使得这一问题难上加难。尽管如此,相比于2.5天休息制,调解雇主和职工之间存在的不平等权力关系能赋予劳动者和国家经济更加深远的利益,保障劳动者的权利甚至还可能直接促使劳动者主动转变为消费者。

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