Users all over the world are keen to use the short video platform, TikTok, for leisure and entertainment. However, some American employees who used to work on TikTok claim that they are very stressed. According to these workers, they lack sleep, need to work overtime on weekends, and have to work across time zones. TikTok, with seemingly endless pastimes, claims to be the happiest place on the internet. Nevertheless, employees at TikTok’s U.S. offices say the company’s internal management style is too rigid. They claim that TikTok’s work ethic is a far cry from its lively public image.
Many of the voices are from senior employees of other large technology companies. They said TikTok emphasized relentless work and strict secrecy, uncommon in the tech industry. TikTok continues to grow at a high rate, resulting in an increasingly fast pace of work in the U.S. offices. TikTok, founded six years ago, set a record for app downloads in the first quarter of 2022, according to analytics firm Sensor Tower.
As of mid-2020, TikTok had about 1,500 employees in its U.S. offices. TikTok said last year that number was on track to increase to 10,000. Much of the work of TikTok’s U.S. employees includes converting products developed by parent company ByteDance in the Chinese market into U.S. products and continuing to explore the U.S. advertising market.
Lack of sleep – a major complaint from employees
At TikTok’s U.S. headquarters in Los Angeles, some employees complained that frequent weekend overtime and working across time zones caused them to lack sleep. Several former U.S. employees claim they had to squeeze in more time to do the work at hand while they were at TikTok, meeting an average of 85 hours a week. Another employee said he convinces his boss to stop working consecutive nights after he submitted the results of a medical test that suggested that staying up late could be life-threatening.
Some former TikTok employees report negative conditions such as weight fluctuations, higher stress or low mood. In many cases, these employees had to seek medical attention. One of them claims that while working at TikTok, he was under a lot of pressure to attend meetings in a row. In fact, he didn’t even have time to take a tampon during his period.
American e-commerce Amazon has a harsh work culture, and TikTok is learning from it. TikTok executives often repeat a quote from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, telling employees that “it’s always day one.”
The walls of TikTok’s offices are plastered with mottos such as “Be pragmatic,” and “Be honest and clear”. How well employees perform depends in part on how committed they are to these ideals.
TikTok claims it had made some adjustments to its management approach and work culture in order to achieve its goal of “building and nurturing a global team that can support our growing growth”. “We encourage a culture of transparency and good feedback, and are committed to building a fair platform and business where our communities and employees can thrive,” the company added in a written statement.
Fast-growing companies often require tedious work
In a fast-growing technology company such as TikTok, it is nothing new for employees to work long hours and to complete deadlines. Many companies also have the problem of staying up late and working overtime. However, several people who have worked at other U.S. tech companies said TikTok’s U.S. employees were more stressed.
Some former employees describe themselves as experiencing wild mood swings in a tense work atmosphere. Another challenge is the need to interpret Chinese text using software that didn’t always capture subtle differences in meaning. This means you have to spend more time to get the true information from the text.
Melody Chu, a former senior product manager at TikTok, said, “Working at TikTok is unbelievably stressful and has taught me more about product strategy, execution, and cross-cultural nuances”. Even so, Melody Chu, a veteran of Nextdoor, chose to leave TikTok last November.
According to her, she spent so much time on the phone with her Chinese colleagues at work. This also affects her time with her husband and she had to seek marital therapy. Melody Chu claims she lost weight dramatically and slept poorly.
Melody Chu: “If I knew it would take so much effort to work in TikTok, I would never have joined.” But Melody Chu also added that after reflection, she does not regret joining TikTok, because doing so is to prove to herself that she can be a success.
No boundaries between work and life
Many employees have long endured long hours and no boundaries between work and life. This is because they could be paid a hefty sum if the parent company goes public. “You definitely want to get on a rocket,” said Pabel Martinez, TikTok’s former global account director for ad sales. Martinez left the company in February of this year. He said that while the project he was in charge of was progressing as planned, he himself objected to working all weekend, so he left. A manager responded to him at the time: “We don’t do that here.”
According to a person familiar with TikTok’s business operating model, TikTok’s revenue hit about $4 billion in 2021 and should reach $12 billion this year. By contrast, Facebook didn’t earn $12 billion in annual revenue until 10 years after its founding.
The company TikTok often has multiple teams working on the same project, competing with each other to see who can complete it the fastest, according to former employees. The tactic is meant to push employees to get work done as quickly as possible. However, some former employees say it makes them extra concerned about falling behind co-workers or getting frustrated when projects never come to fruition.
TikTok can be weird sometimes
TikTok doesn’t provide employees with company org charts. It also prohibits them from creating and sharing their own departments’ org charts. The purpose of this policy is to prevent competitors from poaching their staff. Some former employees claim they were told they didn’t need an org chart because TikTok’s structure is flat. This means that anyone can reach anyone at the company. However, this is not always the case.
The result can be confusing for employees. You will not know who to contact on other teams, or who exactly is messaging them. For months, members of the human resources and finance teams in the New York office were unaware that there was a team in California performing the same function, some former TikTok employees said.
Jamie Lim Yin Yin, a former Singaporean employee who left TikTok in December, said that when she gets emails from colleagues, she has to check on LinkedIn, a recruiting platform, to find out the team they belong to.
“Let’s put it this way, LinkedIn is a tab I use frequently on my browser,” Lin Yinyin claims in a YouTube video, explaining why she had to leave after just four months on the job.
A TikTok spokesperson claims there is a way for employees to view other employee profiles. Martinez, a former ad sales account director, claims that TikTok’s presentations often remove or obscure some data. This includes his manager’s request not to share certain data with lower-level employees.
“The signal I got is: ‘We don’t trust you,”… Martinez said, adding that TikTok’s level of secrecy is “very different”.
TikTok did not comment on the specific experiences described by employees. TikTok describes itself as a platform for “happy, fun, diverse and unexpected experiences.” But in an internal memo released as he left, a former TikTok employee said: “TikTok’s treatment of employees is the exact opposite of what the platform represents.”
So if you are thinking of joining TikTok, this should give you an idea of what to expect. Money is one of the major reasons why people work. Thus, if the pay is worth the stress, you may as well join if you have the opportunity.