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Young employees rebel against Chinese work ethic by being lazy, refusing overtime, hiding in toilets. They call it 'touching fish'

HONG KONG — China's Generation Z is setting its own rules in the workplace by encouraging a growing philosophy of being lazy.

Young employees rebel against Chinese work ethic by being lazy, refusing overtime, hiding in toilets. They call it 'touching fish'

It is common for young people, usually in their 20s, to slack at work, mainly because their incomes are low or their salaries don't increase much, Ms Jennifer Feng, chief human resources officer at a leading job-hunting website, 51job.com, said.

HONG KONG — China's Generation Z is setting its own rules in the workplace by encouraging a growing philosophy of being lazy.

They call it "touching fish", a term borrowed from a Chinese proverb that states "muddy waters make it easy to catch fish", which means one should take advantage of a crisis to chase personal gain.

The philosophy gained prominence in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic as the country struggled to deal with its economic fallout.

Young people slack off by refusing to work overtime, delivering medium-quality work, going to the toilet frequently and staying there for a long time, playing with their mobile phones, or reading novels at work.

They say their laziness at work is a silent rebellion against the culture of working overtime for little reward. It is also a reflection of disappointment with their salary, which they believe is far from enough to realise their dreams, such as buying a house.

"I 'touch fish' every day and I am happy with it," wrote one user on Weibo, China's leading microblogging platform. "Why does my boss only give me one cent but expects me to pay my 10-cents-worth in effort?"

Another user wrote: "We are not willing to try our best to do our work. Instead, we spare time and energy to do our by-work. Isn't it better than spending all your efforts at work?"

A Shanghai-based white-collar worker using the alias Massage Bear shot to fame on Weibo in 2020 by promoting the "touching fish" philosophy.

One of her posts which went viral read: "How hard you work depends on how much money you receive and never be serious about your work."

"Once you work very hard, your colleagues will suffer bad luck," the blogger, who has over half a million followers on the internet, added. "It's because your boss will find that you are able to do the jobs of three people. In the end, your salary won't get raised, but the boss will ask you to continue to work that hard."

Ms Jennifer Feng, chief human resources officer at a leading job-hunting website, 51job.com, said it's common for young people, usually in their 20s, to slack at work, mainly because their incomes are low or their salaries don't increase much.

"According to our investigation, salaries offered by Chinese companies rose by 2 per cent on average in 2020, with half of enterprises not raising their employees' salaries," she told the Post. That is something that's expected to persist for the next three years, she added.

"It's no wonder that many employees are thinking of ways to diversify their income sources, such as browsing on the internet, giving likes to some online shops or relaying the online product links to earn petty cash," said Ms Feng.

She said while many workers born in the 1970s and 1980s follow the traditional spirit of enduring hardship and working with grit, those born in the 1990s had a very different philosophy. Generation Z placed a high priority on their own interests and other personal benefits.

"They would quit their job easily if they don't like it, thanks to their parents' financial support, which is stronger than that of the previous generations," Ms Feng said.

In general, Generation Z abhors the so-called 996 work rhythm — shifts that last from 9am to 9pm, six days a week — widely expected of employees by Chinese tech giants.

A survey by another job website, zhaopin.com, in November showed a sense of achievement was the main motivation for young people. It was followed by money, how interesting the work is and how new they are to the job, according to the survey, which canvassed 3,773 people born after 1990.

"The character of young employees has posed new challenges for employers, sometimes testing their tolerance," said Feng.

She said there was a case of a woman in her 20s who asked her boss to allow her to take one day's leave as she was feeling depressed over a relationship break-up. Middle-aged employees would rarely using such a reason to ask for leave, said Ms Feng.

Regarding the response from bosses, the blogger Massage Bear wrote: "Even if my boss scolds me (for 'touching fish'), calls me rubbish or blames me for being not responsible, I will just smile and will never get angry. I will never take the initiative to resign. If he fires me, I will receive compensation of 'N+1'."

China's Labour Law stipulates that if a company fires an employee without substantive reasons, it should pay them compensation, which is usually the employee's monthly salary times the number (N) of years they have worked for the company plus one.

Some companies have sacked people for poor performance. Mr Allen He, a senior manager at an international financial company in Shanghai, said his employer sacked those who were not performing.

"We have new employees every year, some being outstanding but some 'touching fish'," he told the Post. "Most of us are busy at work. Those lazy staff will find a bigger and bigger gap between them and their peers. In the end, they will be eliminated." SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

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China work work ethic lazy Generation Z

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