It’s not a secret that almost each and every one of the Chinese tech companies are expanding their offices around the world, including in Southeast Asia. There are many people who are wondering what it is like to work for a Chinese company, and, as reported by CNBC, a number of tech workers turned down job offers at TikTok, which is owned by China’s ByteDance. The reason, probably, are the stories about an intense work environment, where a so-called “996”work culture is said to be practiced. For those of you who are not aware of “996”, it requires employees from 9 a.m to 9 p.m.m six days in a week. However, a TikTok spokesperson declared that they do not have those policies.
Www.cnbc.com interviewed 10 employees of Chinese tech firms. Some of them are former employees, some of them are current employees, but most of them requested anonymity because of fear of repercussions or because they do not have permission to speak to the media.
Some of the former and current employees who work for Huawei revealed that people who work from home most of the time, join on a video call every morning in order to show that they are ready for the working day, and discuss all the plans before the working process. Their managers, in their turn, take a screenshot of everyone in the call.
However, there are three things that pop up in conversations with workers from Huawei, Tencent and one Tencent subsidiary: a heavy reliance on Mandarin, the use of fixed-term contracts, and work outside normal business hours.
When it comes to speaking Mandarin…
According to a former employee who quit his job soon after he was hired, a big part of the work and communication is connected with Mandarin, even though the interview he had attended was in English. That was the reason for him to leave the company, because he had difficulty with the language barrier. In his words, even the documents were in Mandarin, and it was hard for him to fully understand everything, as his level of knowing the language is average. However, there are employees who said that they haven’t had a problem with languages.
According to Patricia Teo, who is an Executive Director of Technology Practice, Kerry Consulting, it is necessary to work in Mandarin. In the current worker’s opinion, if some of their colleagues in China prefers to speak in English, they can do it. Tencent announced that it has an intention in switching to using English in the international team, but the process will take time, as most of the documents and systems are currently in Mandarin.
Another former employee described the way all meetings, training and conversations took place. In their words, it was all in Mandarin, making the situation “overwhelming”.
An intern, who asked to be identified with the name Jun, and was a part of the company four years ago, revealed that when he sends English emails or texts, he receives Mandarin replies.
What about those fixed-term contracts?
Some people who talked with CNBC revealed that it’s common for Singaporeans to be hired at Chinese firms on contracts of one to three years. On the other hand, Teo commented that most of the roles are permanent, because there is a shortage of candidates.
According to the former Tencent employee who left because of the heavy use of Mandarin, there is a chance for people to get a permanent role after a year of working for a company. However, a former employee, Ong Xuan Jie, said that he wasn’t offered a permanent role after a year in the company, but in his opinion it was because the company had already hit a cap it set on permanent slots. However, once they were asked to comment on contract roles, both Tencent and Huawei declined.
According to Matthew Durham, who is a lawyer with experience in handling employment matters in mainland China, fixed-term contracts are common there for new hires. The reason is the employment law in China which says that the contracts lets employers terminate contracts only under specific, limited grounds. Durham said:
“Employers can use a fixed-term contract to ensure that they have a guaranteed ‘out’ after a certain period, so that they are not ‘locked in’ to contracts.”
There is no real rest time?
According to one of the former employees’ words, she received questions from her bosses based in China at nights, during the weekend and even on the public holidays.
“You could just ignore it, but would you really be able to relax knowing your boss is waiting for your reply? There’s no real rest time, only work time and standby time.”
Ang, a former employee at the same Tencent subsidiary who asked to be identified by his last name, said co-workers in China tended to put in extra hours to make up for lost time before the Lunar New Year and Golden Week holidays. Colleagues would contact him during the weekend, he said:
“You will feel like you’re working double, but you’re not getting any leave.”
However, not everyone reported inordinately long hours.
Let’s talk about the ’996′ culture in Singapore?
According to Kerry Consulting’s Teo, Chinese companies are trying to improve work-life balance because ’996′ culture has been the “main deterrent” for potential employees in Singapore. In an email to CNBC, a Tencent spokesperson said:
“As a fast-paced global technology company, we know that striking a healthy work/life balance is critical for employees to do their best work. We strive to offer a unique working environment that balances the energy of a start-up with the resources of a global innovation leader and will continue working with employees to develop a career path and work/life balance that is suitable for each individual,”
The former employee who left his job because of the heavy use of Mandarin, said that he was working hours beyond his contractual obligations when he was there, but not on Saturdays.