Zhuhai district government proposes ban on WeChat work group messages sent after hours

PHOTO: Reuters

Tencent’s WeChat super-app enables its Chinese users to chat, play games, shop, read the news, pay for meals and much more, providing unparalleled convenience for its one billion users. However, Chinese workers are finding that such convenience comes at a price as company bosses increasingly use WeChat to assign tasks to their employees.

Now authorities in the Xiangzhou district of the southern Chinese coastal city of Zhuhai are pushing back with proposed measures designed to separate work from play on the app. “No working messages should be sent to WeChat working groups during non-working hours,” according to a proposal announced earlier this month on the district’s official WeChat account.

The proposal comes at a time when communicating via WeChat has become an extension of daily life for most Chinese people due to the dominant position of the Tencent-owned app in providing social media services.

WeChat representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“WeChat groups originally served to improve working efficiency but [with more and more groups forming] it has become a heavy working burden to employees,” said the proposal. “In principle, one company can only form one WeChat group [and] the group for a project should be disbanded after it is done.”

The proposal also suggested that workers should not randomly send messages or post emojis in the WeChat group unless it is related to important new information about the project.

The discussion went viral on the internet and struck a chord with Chinese netizens, most of whom said they were dealing with the same problem.

“I really envy the people who work in Xiangzhou,” said one netizen. “I hope the measures will be widely applied to all companies.”

“We have to respond to working messages every minute of the day,” another complained. “The boss knows I am always on WeChat, so he expects me to respond immediately, even on the weekend.” Some netizens were pessimistic that the measures in the proposal would be carried out by companies. “You are too naive if you believe it,” said another.

WeChat, or Weixin as it is known in China, has amassed 1 billion users since it was launched by Tencent in 2011. Over the past decade it has come to dominate Chinese people’s daily lives, offering the ability to chat to family and friends, shop online, play games, read the news, make doctor appointments, and even book a time slot to file for divorce at the civil affairs authority.

In recent years the app’s reach has expanded to workplace environments. Although designed as a mobile app, the number of people who logged into WeChat on a computer increased almost 10 times in 2018 compared to 2015. When logged into WeChat, employees can build work groups for assignments, share content, conduct video chats, take part in surveys, make group buying purchases, and even send money to group members.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post