Working at TikTok Is a Lot Like a Chinese Gulag

The tech industry is already notorious for a terrible work-life balance, 20 hour days, crunch time, hiring kids out of Stanford, paying them astronomical amounts in their twenties, draining everything they have and then tossing them out a decade or two later, leaving them unemployable because they're now "too old".

The rest of the work is outsourced to Asian and Indians, either here on HB-1s or outsourced abroad, who can be pushed to work even harder.

What do you get when you blend that ethos with the ChiCom approach to work? Tiktok.

The Wall Street Journal has a profile of what working at the Chinese company is like and, unsurprisingly, it really captures the feel of a Zoom Gulag.

Several former U.S. employees said they averaged 85 hours of meetings a week during their time at TikTok, and had to carve out additional time to complete their work. Another said he persuaded his boss to spare him from working back-to-back all-nighters only after he shared medical lab results showing a potentially life-threatening condition.

Former employees described weight fluctuation, stress or emotional lows so severe they sought therapy. One said she felt such pressure to be present during back-to-back meetings at TikTok that she bled through her pants rather than excuse herself to get a tampon.

As the WSJ correctly points out, some Big Tech companies in America are also notoriously miserable places to work, like Amazon and Netflix, but this still feels uniquely ChiCom.

She said she spent so many dinnertimes on calls with colleagues in China rather than with her husband that they sought marriage therapy. Her weight dropped precipitously and she had trouble sleeping, she wrote. All interests, including time with her parents and her own mental health, took a back seat to TikTok.

And there's the usual Battle Royale stuff

TikTok frequently has multiple teams working on the same project, pitting them against one another to see who can finish it fastest, according to former workers. The tactic is meant to push employees to work as fast as possible, but some ex-employees said it fueled paranoia about falling behind colleagues

Along with the general paranoia

TikTok doesn’t make an organization chart available to employees and bars them from creating and sharing their own. It’s a policy common among Chinese companies that want to deter competitors from poaching. Some ex-employees say they were told that a chart wasn’t necessary because TikTok has a flat structure where anyone can contact anybody.

Along with Mao's Red Book style slogans.

They said those evaluations were based in part on whether employees were deemed to be following the maxims on workplace walls, known as Byte Styles. Many felt that maxims such as “Aim for the highest” and “Be grounded & courageous” were so vague they allowed managers to simply reward employees they liked. Others said that fear of running afoul of one Byte Style—“Be open and humble”—made people wary of speaking out.

The vast majority of American TikTok employees being quoted are themselves Chinese. While Chinese employees are common in Big Tech firms, TikTok was probably specifically recruiting Chinese Americans for tribal reasons and because they were seen as more likely to be in touch with the culture and understand the language.

So the people burning out under these conditions are themselves Asian. 

TikTok describes itself as a home for “joyful, entertaining, diverse and unexpected experiences.” In a memo posted internally when he left, Mr. Juhnke said: “The way TikTok employees are being treated is the exact opposite of what the TikTok platform stands for.”

Doesn't it?


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