Friday, May 24, 2024

A Chinese tech firm’s PR chief apologizes after her social media posts demanding workers be available ’24 hours a day’ sparks outrage

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Social media posts can get you in trouble at work—especially if you run public relations for one of China’s largest tech companies.

Last week, Baidu’s head of PR, Qu Jing, took to Douyin, ByteDance’s version of TikTok for the Chinese market, to share how she runs her office. In one video, she criticized a worker who refused to take an extended business trip. “Why should I take my employee’s family into consideration? I’m not her mother-in-law,” she said, according to CNN.

In another video, she advised PR workers to “keep your phone on 24 hours a day, always ready to respond,” and “don’t expect weekends off.”

She also warned against employee complaints. “I can make it impossible for you to find a job in this industry with just a short essay,” she said in another video post, according to the state-owned Global Times.

Qu later took to WeChat, a Chinese social media platform, to apologize for creating “misunderstandings” about Baidu’s office culture.

“I didn’t seek the company’s opinion in advance, which doesn’t comply with the relevant procedures and doesn’t represent the company’s position,” she reportedly wrote.

Social media users later uncovered a video of Qu whipping a doll labeled “SCMP,” the initials of the Hong Kong–based newspaper the South China Morning Post. According to the Financial Times, Qu was upset with a negative article from the paper. 

Baidu did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

What is Baidu?

Baidu is one of China’s largest tech companies, running the country’s leading search engine.

The firm is investing heavily in AI.

In August 2023, the company formally launched Ernie bot, a generative AI chatbot similar to OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Last month, Baidu CEO Robin Li claimed its chatbot had 200 million users.

The company is also investing in autonomous driving. Baidu recently agreed to provide mapping services for Tesla, smoothing the way for the U.S. carmaker to launch its assisted driving service in China.

How harsh is China’s working culture?

China’s tech sector is infamous for its “996” schedule: 9:00am to 9:00pm, six days a week.

Founders like Alibaba’s Jack Ma and JD.com’s Richard Liu praise long working hours as vital to a tech company’s success. 

Scandals have prompted companies and regulators to rethink workplace culture. In early 2021, two employees at e-commerce Pinduoduo died in a two-week period after logging long hours at the office.

Younger workers in China are increasingly unhappy with poor work-life balance, claiming that long hours and hard work do not make it easier for them to afford a home and start a family.

This frustration has spurred China’s Gen Z to start numerous trends on social media complaining about office work, most prominently the “lying flat” movement, where young Chinese prioritize individual comfort over professional success. 

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