Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The toxicity that lies behind the doors of TikTok’s work culture

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With the tremendous increase in competition and people ready to give up anything and everything to see themselves at the top of their careers, often we don’t realize what it is doing to our physical and mental health. It begins with thinking to yourself, “eh… it’s just about one meeting at midnight,” and sometime down the line you find yourself slogging day and night.

Between this, even employers have become irrational about their asks when it comes to how much effort an employee needs to put in the name of dedication. One such company is the social media network TikTok which has time and again faced backlash from its employees and ex-employees.

The Demanding Work Culture at TikTok

US workers at the tech giant have previously complained that TikTok has an aggressive work culture. Employees complained that the company demanded relentless productivity. In fact, one woman shared that the pressure was so extreme that she didn’t have time to change her sanitary protection in between meetings.

Employees at TikTok’s LA-based office also complained that sleep deprivation and frequent working weekends were common among the employees. Former US employees also addressed that they averaged out 85 hours of meeting a week when they were a part of the company.

“If I knew that working at TikTok would cost me this much, I would never have taken the job,” said Melody Chu, a former TikTok employee who has worked in multiple tech companies while sharing her experience at TikTok.

Many similar instances at this tech company have caused employees to see weight fluctuations and mental stress to the extent that they opted for therapy. Many employees have resorted to other social media platforms sharing their experience working at TikTok. Some employees highlighted challenges like translating Chinese documents to English with imperfect translators.

Pabel Martinez, a former global account director for ad sales in the company, told WSJ that when he objected to having to work all weekend although his project was on track, his manager responded with, “That’s not how we do business here.”

The company also used to put multiple teams on the same project just to see who can finish it faster. This was meant to push employees to work fast but instead increased frustration when projects wouldn’t be released and also left employees feeling paranoid about falling behind their colleagues.

“If I knew that working at TikTok would cost me this much, I would never have taken the job,” said Melody Chu, a former TikTok employee who has worked in multiple tech companies while sharing her experience at TikTok. She also elaborated on her experience vividly through a Medium post.

TikTok Shop’s Culturally Failed UK Expansion

TikTok also faced backlash during its e-commerce initiative, TikTok Shop in the UK. Financial Times reported in June 2022 that Joshua Ma, a senior executive at ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok enraged employees after he said that he “didn’t believe” that companies should offer maternity leave. It was clarified that Joshua Ma had stepped back from his role and the company had a clear maternity leave policy that included a 30-week paid leave.

But, since the launch of TikTok Shop in the UK, employees were leaving the company almost every week! The members of the e-commerce team were expected to work late, start their day earlier to attend calls with China, and also end their day late after filing feedback reports.

Joshua Ma, a senior executive at ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok enraged employees after he said that he “didn’t believe” that companies should offer maternity leave.

Employees working early hours were applauded and their images were circulated internally as an example of commitment. A former London-based employee told FT, “They don’t care about burnout because it is such a big company, they can just replace you. They coast on the TikTok brand.”

TikTok’s 996 Work Culture

The 9-9-6 work schedule is not infamous in Chinese tech firms. 996 means 9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week. Last year, Byte Dance said that it would adopt the standard “1075” (10 am to 7 pm, 5 days a week) work schedule but many employees said that they were still expected to work long hours. The U.S. employees complained about trying to stretch work hours to manage meetings with China.

But this is also because, there is extreme competition in China’s tech sector and if you didn’t put in long hours, you wouldn’t survive.

Takeaway

The allegations and time-and-again accusations of TikTok’s work culture from the U.S., the UK, etc. cannot be neglected. From a bird’s eye view, it seems the company has tried to expand globally without understanding the culture of the location it establishes. There is a significant difference in the way people work in different parts of the world. It’s either this or being a huge company, it knows anyone who decides is replaceable. So, why bother?

There is a significant difference in the way people work in different parts of the world. It’s either this or being a huge company, it knows anyone who decides is replaceable. So, why bother?

Long hours, working weekends, untimely meetings, no work-life balance, etc. are certain things that nobody likes, in fact, sooner or later they will start harming your mental or physical health. As for TikTok is concerned, employees are the first marketers of any company.

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