Managerial Technique and Worker Subjectivity in Dialogue: Understanding Overwork in China’s Internet Industry

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The article theorises three different organisational processes that uniquely organise and normalise overwork in China’s Internet industry: coercive formalised overtime schedule, normative informal overtime culture, and disguised work-related time expenditure, work-for-labour. It reveals the ‘double flexibility’ in management strategy, namely, flexible, combined use of coercive and normative control techniques inside the company in addition to its pursuit of flexibility in employment relationships. It then theorises the pendulum movement of worker subjectivity between the ‘self-as-business’ metaphor, which justifies market competition as meritocracy and encourages individuals to polish ‘employability’ in overwork efficiently, and ‘self-as-property’ metaphor, which reflects a conventional, Marxist understanding of employment relationships. The pendulum movement is manifested in the spectrum of workplace behaviours, ranging from the individualised psychological distancing to the collective noncompliance and online activism. The article provides a dynamic understanding of labour relations through the management-labour dialogue in the Chinese Internet industry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1699-1716
Number of pages18
JournalWork, Employment and Society
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • China
  • Internet industry
  • employment relationships
  • overwork
  • self-as-business
  • self-as-property
  • worker subjectivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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