WeChat e-commerce platform Youzan treats its employees like garbage

Society & Culture

At many Chinese corporate annual parties, bosses force employees to watch their horrendous karaoke and dance performances, while many of the victims of these events simply get drunk. After all, it’s all about getting loose and celebrating the holiday season. But this year, one tech company in China decided to take an unconventional approach by turning a cheerful event into an all-hands meeting to roast its workers for their lack of productivity, announce plans for further exploitation, and glamorize workaholism as a desirable lifestyle choice.

Yǒuzàn 有赞 is China’s largest third-party WeChat shop platform — for a fee, the company operates the WeChat stores of millions of small businesses and social media personalities. On January 17, Youzan held its annual party ahead of the Spring Festival holiday. One employee at the event took to Zhihu to share some notes (in Chinese) about the event. His description of the party prompted a torrent of outrage online, and heated discussions about how the Chinese tech world forces workers to embrace extreme workaholism at the expense of everything else.

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Some of the major announcements made at the party include:

  • Employees are expected to work from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays. People involved in urgent projects should be willing to work more than six days a week.
  • Team-building events will be canceled in order to cut unnecessary costs.
  • Workers who disagree with Youzan’s values should quit their jobs ASAP.
  • Massive job cuts are imminent.
  • Those who want to take more than three days off work around national holidays should submit applications to the company’s CEO.

According to the notes, Bái Yā 白鸦, CEO of Youzan, also complained that the people at the company don’t work hard enough. He also said the following:

  • “People born after 1995 are lazy.”
  • “Divorce is an effective way to solve conflicts between work and family.”
  • “The company is not responsible for hiring cleaning staff. Employees should clean things up themselves.”
  • “Youzan sees no need to cover its employees’ health insurance anymore because most people didn’t use it in 2018.”

It’s no secret that venture capitalists and tech moguls like brainwashing their staff and that burnout efforts are the key to success in the hyper-competitive and fast-paced tech industry. The mythology is so ingrained in the startup world that in Chinese internet companies, “996” work culture — where employees are expected to work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week — has become a norm that is not up for debate. But it’s still rare for companies like Youzan to say so explicitly to employees’ faces that it does not care about their job satisfaction, and that it expects workers to give up everything to ensure the firm’s prosperity.

On the Chinese internet, many people are encouraging Youzan’s employees to quit their jobs as a form of protest. “There is no point of working for a company that treats you with zero respect,” one Weibo user commented (in Chinese). But, clearly, not everyone at Youzan is privileged enough to leave without any financial concerns and many of them have to stay in miserable work conditions. What needs to change fundamentally is Youzan and the culture of employee mistreatment in the Chinese tech world.