‘996 Culture:’ Former TikTok Employees Describe ‘Crushing’ China-Style Work Culture

TikTok app fined in US for illegally gathering children's data (© GETTY/AFP/File Joe Scarnici)
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Former TikTok employees are criticizing the Chinese-owned company stating that they experienced an intense culture of overwork, unrealistic productivity expectations, and secrecy surrounding salaries. Among the former workers’ complaints is the company’s enforcement of “996 culture,” a management style common in China in which employees are expected to work from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. six days a week.

Business Insider reports that multiple former TikTok employees who worked in the company’s San Francisco and New York offices from 2019 to 2022 had openly criticized the workplace culture of the Chinese-owned firm, claiming that they were forced to contend with intense overwork and unrealistic expectations.

ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming

ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming (STR/Getty)

The employees described “996 culture,” which means working from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. six days a week. They claimed that this caused an unhappy workplace and affected their mental health and personal lives. This “996” culture is reportedly a common working practice in China.

Business Insider spoke to two former employees and obtained an internal memo sent by one. Chloe Shih joined TikTok in 2020 s a lead product manager but quit just one year later, she now works as a product manager at Discord. In 2021 she posted a 15-minute video on YouTube to explain why she left TikTok saying that she regularly worked 12 to 16 hour days.

“I knew that the work-life balance would be a little bit wild,” Shih told Insider. “Anyone working for a tech company based in China knows that they don’t play. They really don’t, but I didn’t know how bad it would be.”

Shih was forced to be available to colleagues worldwide in the UK and China meaning that she often worked until the early hours of the morning. When she complained, her executive team said that she didn’t have to attend meetings but Shih felt pressured to continue working late.

“I couldn’t say no most of the time, it was really hard. I tried to block my calendar to say, ‘I can’t work these hours,’ but it was just way too hard. It’s harder to swim upstream against the current,” she said.

Pabel Martinez, a former global account director at TikTok, told Business Insider: “The 996 policy is infamous. I do think that the culture of working too much or not having as much of the work-life balance does permeate throughout the organization, and it is often encouraged you work ‘after-hours.'”

Read more at Business Insider here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address lucasnolan@protonmail.com

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