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Inside ‘toxic’ work culture at TikTok’s QVC-style shopping channel

Joshua Ma, who led the app's European e-commerce team, will

Joshua Ma, who led the app’s European e-commerce team, will “step back” after telling shocked British TikTok employees that as a “capitalist” he “didn’t believe” companies should offer maternity leave as more allegations are made about the company’s alleged “toxicity”. culture originated

TikTok’s London staff will resign or be fired over a culture clash with the Chinese owners who are accused of forcing them to work all night and during holidays – or demote them if they refuse, whistleblowers claimed today.

More than 20 employees have left the company’s e-commerce team since it launched TikTok Shop eight months ago, with anonymous current and former employees criticizing the “toxic” and stressful work practices at its UK headquarters.

The string of layoffs and layoffs has been linked to the UK launch in October of the company’s online retail business, branded an Anglo-Chinese QVC that sells luxury brands on social media.

Two people have reportedly been paid out following complaints about working conditions and allegations that those who failed to meet ‘unrealistic’ sales targets were singled out and reprimanded on internal bulletin boards. TikTok has said it is investigating.

A former team leader told the Financial times: ‘The culture is really toxic. Relationships there are built on fear. They don’t care about burnout, because it’s such a big company that they can just replace you. They kissed on the TikTok brand.

Another said: ‘People leave every week. It’s like a game: every Monday we ask who got fired and who quit.”

The row joined the tech giant as a senior executive to “take some time off” after saying “don’t believe” in maternity leave because it violates “capitalism.”

Joshua Ma, a manager of ByteDance, the Chinese owner of TikTok, will resign from his role as the leader of the app’s online shopping operation in the UK after the comments emerged as part of an investigation into the aggressive work culture.

The row has broken out over how TikTok runs its online store in the UK and how its staff are treated

The row has broken out over how TikTok runs its online store in the UK and how its staff are treated

TikTok's London office in Farringdon, where it signed a lease last year

TikTok’s London office in Farringdon, where it signed a lease last year

Whistleblowers within TikTok’s UK operation have claimed:

  • People are leaving every week – with employees even playing a game to predict who has quit and who has been fired;
  • Two workers paid settlements over working conditions, including long hours and working late into the night and 12 hours, says to deal with talks with China and spikes in usage;
  • Several employees are already sick of the stress caused by alleged ‘toxic culture’;
  • People who fail to hit targets are shamed internally, it is alleged;

Staff at TikTok’s London offices were outraged after Mr Ma said at an employee dinner that as a “capitalist” he “didn’t believe” companies should offer maternity leave.

What is the TikTok QVC-like online shop?

Social media app TikTok has grown tremendously since its launch in 2017.

The app allows people to post videos between 15 seconds and 10 minutes and has become extremely popular, with reportedly over a billion monthly active users worldwide.

TikTok Shop is an attempt by the app to monetize some of its content.

It hosts live streams on which it displays advertisements for store items – much like QVC on broadcast TV.

TikTok is approaching companies to host their brands and items on the live streams, which viewers can purchase by clicking an orange basket in the stream.

These goods often come from low-cost manufacturers and some are inexpensive compared to established brands.

However, people like L’Oréal and Charlotte Tilbury have sold items through the store.

The company takes five percent of the sale price as a commission, although TikTok reportedly waives this at times to attract brands to participate.

This has proved very successful in China, where the company rolled it out to the UK in October last year.

In an email to staff, TikTok said it was investigating the allegations, labeling it “discouraging.”

Hopefully this painful experience will make us a stronger, closer and better team in the long run.

Ma’s comments, reported by The FT, came amid a culture clash within TikTok’s London e-commerce team, which reportedly involved a staff exodus amid complaints of a toxic corporate culture that set unrealistic goals and went against the grain. standard UK work practices.

Employees said they were often expected to work more than 12 hours a day, while some team members found themselves being removed from customer accounts after taking annual leave.

Working until the early hours or while taking a vacation was also celebrated by the company as an example of good practice.

Two employees would also have received compensation in connection with the working conditions at the company.

The string of layoffs was related to the UK launch of TikTok Shop, the company’s online retail business, in October last year.

Products sold through the app include those from brands like L’Oréal and Lookfantastic, with TikTok often encouraging merchants to offer high discounts and “flash sales,” which are often subsidized by the company itself.

Employees complained that TikTok had set “unrealistic” sales targets for the division after launch in an attempt to ramp things up.

In an email to staff seen by the Financial timesTikTok said it was investigating the claims.

In the email, titled ‘Maintaining a positive work culture’, the company responded to ‘some discouraging allegations’ about its UK e-commerce team.

Hopefully this painful experience will make us a stronger, closer and better team in the long run.

It added that “the well-being of our team is our top priority” and staff could contact an anonymous hotline to report violations of the company’s code of conduct.

Patrick Nommensen, who has worked for ByteDance since the app launched and led the launch of the UK e-commerce team, was named in the email as a successor to Ma, who has “stepped back” from his role as it investigation takes place.

A TikTok spokesperson declined to comment specifically on Joshua Ma, but said it is “investigating alleged statements and actions to determine whether there has been a violation of company policy.”

TikTok is one of the world's most popular social media apps, and the company claims to have over a billion active monthly users

TikTok is one of the world’s most popular social media apps, and the company claims to have over a billion active monthly users

It added that it had a clear maternity leave policy, with 30 weeks of paid leave.

One of the main reasons for these problems is a clear culture clash between working practices in the UK and what the Chinese company expects of its staff.

Whistleblowers spoke of punishingly long days when they had to arrive early so they could talk to Chinese colleagues and also stay in the evenings, because that’s when live streams work best.

They also said the company praised their commitment to staff working into the early hours, while giving someone who said they would work during the holidays as an example of something all employees should strive for.

A TikTok spokesperson said: “As with many service companies, employees in some positions sometimes have to work hours that match the customer’s usage pattern.

“We aim to make this the exception rather than the norm and support our team with flexible working hours, regular no-meeting times and robust health and wellness offerings.”

It also responded to claims by former employees who claimed that failing to meet “unrealistic” sales targets on live streams or answer emails after office hours would result in censure by bosses.

It said: ‘TikTok Shop has only been operating in the UK for a few months and we are investing quickly in expanding the resources, structures and processes to support a positive employee experience.

‘Examples are a holistic onboarding program for new employees; regular employee surveys to solicit and provide immediate feedback; and dedicated training, mentorship and recognition programs to support and celebrate professional development and achievement.”

The app, which claims to have more than a billion active monthly users worldwide, has proven controversial in the past.

Despite its popularity, especially among young people, governments in the West have expressed concerns about the use of users’ data.

In 2019, the US military announced it was investigating the app’s ties to the Chinese government, particularly over its data-sharing policies.

It came after national security experts raised concerns about Tiktok’s collection and processing of user data, including user content and communications, IP addresses, location-related data, metadata and other sensitive personal information.

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