Walking into any Chinese company around lunchtime, you will see employees resting on their chairs, getting a moment of shut-eye.
Taking a quick nap has become a culture among Chinese technology companies. As a result, many of them have created a unique napping practice.
For example, Huawei used to supply a mattress bed, but now they have changed to a folding bed. Alibaba is famous for its “tent culture” during lunch breaks.
Workers can enjoy a 2-hour lunch break arrangement at Xiaomi. Baidu even built a “paradise” full of amenities such as massage chairs, lunch beds, and sofas to create favorable conditions for employees to nap.
Sein Fei, president of Haitong Technology (China) Co. Ltd., describes this culture in an interview with Ming Pao News. Meals are served at 12:30 daily.
After finishing eating, employees go back to the company to take a nap. During napping time, all the lights in the workplace are turned off. Most employees sleep on the countertop. The curtains in the room are closed to prevent the light from affecting the employees. The company turns on the lights at 2 p.m., signaling the restart of work.
The benefits of mid-day rest are plentiful, such as improved cognitive performance, relaxation, reduced fatigue, and improved mood. Napping can also boost creativity and productivity.
So, why do Chinese technology companies care about their employee’s napping? Is there any other reason behind that? Are there any negative sides?
Why do the Chinese take lunch breaks?
Napping has become a norm in China for many reasons.
Firstly, it is rooted in Chinese historical tradition. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is advisable to take a nap to keep harmony within the body. An old Chinese saying indicates that not napping at noon will lead to a collapse in the afternoon.
Another reason is the climate. Most of China’s business areas are located in temperate and subtropical regions. Therefore, working at noon with the scorching sun and high temperatures daily is not easy for people.
Diet also contributes to the napping habit. German scientists have found that a diet with high carbohydrates will raise blood sugar and thus lead to the secretion of large amounts of insulin. Insulin allows a particular amino acid—tryptophan—into the brain, which is converted into serotonin to cause people to sleep. Besides, the intake of fatty foods will make people easily sleepy afterward. Chinese people usually eat more at lunch, and their diet tends to have both, so sleepiness is justified.
The regime even supports this habit. As early as the first constitution, Article 43 clearly states that citizens have the right to rest between work. In addition, People’s Daily described the rest time of workers in more detail in December 1958. “Eight hours of sleep, four hours of meals and rest, a total of twelve hours must be guaranteed every day. Since then, “four hours of meal and rest” gradually evolved in practice until now. Lunch break from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. becomes the norm.
Hidden corners of napping in Chinese technology companies
When you hear about the benefits companies give their workers regarding the lunch break, such as bedding arrangements, space preparation, or long hours of resting, you probably think, wow, that is so good because companies are very concerned about their human resources’ well-being.
It is not so.
Xiaomi offers a 2-hour lunch break for employees to work overtime.
Alibaba sets up tents for employees to run the Double 11 campaign.
Some companies, such as cloud computing company Baishanyn, even install bunks in their offices for employees to nap during the day or stay overnight.
All these efforts come from the competition in the tech industry.
Gary Rieschel, a co-founder of Qiming Venture Partners, which invested in Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, says that the startup culture in China is even harsher than that of Silicon Valley. Chinese tech startups have business models that are not based on unique ideas but derived from elsewhere—either from another Chinese or American startup. As a result, companies must compete on cost and speed. As a result, only one culture can help companies succeed: A 24/7 work culture.
Xiao Wu works in the commercial and sales teams of a tech company. She has long working hours, from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. As a result, she is so sleepy every day after lunch at the office that she has to nap in the attic. However, she does not complain because she thinks such dedication has become the norm at tech companies in China.
BBC shows researchers of Beijing Normal University estimate that the average Chinese spend 2,000 to 2,200 hours a year working, which is much higher than America (1,790 hours a year), Dutch (1,419 hours), and Japan (1,719 hours).
Lunch breaks sometimes are not fixed and consistent, as officially announced by the company.
For Alibaba employees, during lunchtime, they are often called by their leaders or colleagues to work on projects together.
Four employees of Haier Group, a Chinese consumer electronics giant, were ordered to resign within one week after taking a 30-minute nap after lunch. This event has caused heated debate among the public regarding strict disposal and work style at the tech company. Some criticized it as “handling people like machines.”
Lay-off is not the only case. Many people feel they suffer socially.
Liu Zhanyu, a client manager at recruitment and human resources platform DouMiYouPin, says he only sees his child on weekends. When he gets home, his son lunges at him like a small wolf, making him feel guilty.
Xiang Shiyang is employed at Renren Credit Management. He works until 3 or 4 a.m., leaving little room to socialize outside work. He says he doesn’t have many opportunities or much time to find a girlfriend. He adds that working overtime is very casual because he has invested all of his time into this company.
Liu Zhanyu swears to beat the 100 million sales target and fight the bloody battle till the end.
Some people also pay with their own lives.
New York Times reported in February 2021 that two employees of Pinduoduo, a Chinese commerce company, died within one week due to harsh working conditions; one of them committed suicide. According to the Chinese tabloid Global Times, one content reviewer at Bilibili died from a cerebral hemorrhage in February 2022.
According to the BBC, working overtime is not unique to tech companies; it is part of Chinese workplace life. “Death from overwork” has now become a reality in China.