One of China’s most profitable private firms has found itself at the centre of a public debate about work-life balance after the details of penalties for staff who used entertainment apps during office hours were made public. Ten staff members of electrical appliance retail giant Gome received a warning and demerit for watching movies, TV shows, and short videos at work, according to an internal document leaked earlier this week, triggering heated public debate about whether the punishment was fair. Labelling such behaviour as “touching fish”, or mo yu, a term in China to describe laziness at work against the backdrop of an increasingly stressful work culture, the company said one of the penalised staff used 20 gigabytes on the Tencent Video app within four days, according to the internal memo that went viral on social media. ‘Overtime is really good’: Chinese firm pressures staff to work extra for free The company, ranked 12 on the government’s list of China’s top 500 private firms, released a statement late on Wednesday after news of the penalties became one of the most-searched topics on Weibo. “Gome encourages the spirit of hard work and effective action. We are alarmed at behaviour such as mo yu and tang ping at work,” the company said. Tang ping , or “lying flat”, is another Chinese term referring to the attitude of not overworking and being content with reality so as to cope with a modern culture of hard work, which many consider overwork, for seemingly little reward. An influential work culture in China known as 996, working from 9am to 9pm six days a week, which is widely observed in Chinese tech companies and start-ups has aroused great controversy in the past few years and fuelled debate on work-life balance. The trends of “lying flat” and “touching fish” among younger workers have developed in response to the increased pressures placed on China’s workforce in recent decades. Many workers grew up under the one-child policy, and are expected to work longer hours and shoulder more responsibilities than their predecessors due to China’s rapidly ageing population and a shrinking birth rate, which have placed significant strains on the economy and society. Gome was also accused by many web users of infringing the staffer’s privacy, as it discovered their activity after tracking their use of the company’s internal network for entertainment apps such as Tencent Video and Douyin. But Zhuang Zhiming, a Jiangsu-based lawyer said under Chinese law infringement of privacy only occurs when the disclosure of one’s private matter causes harm to the person, and the case was nothing more than Gome taking action over a violation of company rules. “I think Gome’s announcement has not caused harm to the staff … it’s not right to mo yu when someone pays you to do something, but how the company dealt with such behaviour shows the wisdom of the management,” he said. In Wednesday’s statement, Gome said it would penalise the person who leaked the document as it was meant for internal circulation only and was to remind all staff to focus on work and improve efficiency.