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TikTok owner ByteDance dissolved a global team in its HR department in December

The ByteDance building of Shanghai ByteDance on Dec. 8, 2020, in Shanghai, China.
Xing Yun | Costfoto | Barcroft Media | Getty Images

ByteDance, the Chinese internet company that owns TikTok, eliminated a global team in its human resources department in December.

During a town hall meeting that lasted around five minutes, members of the company’s Talent Development team learned that their roles would no longer exist, said one former HR employee. Invitations to the Dec. 1 meeting were sent just hours before, she added.

Two former and one current ByteDance HR staff who spoke to CNBC requested anonymity for professional reasons.

The town hall was delivered in Mandarin with live English translation to the employees, who were based in offices around the world, according to one of the two former HR staff.

Chinese news media reported the layoffs in December.

According to an internal ByteDance memo circulated among HR leaders — the content of which was seen by CNBC — the employees whose positions were eliminated were allowed to apply for other jobs within the company. Fresh university graduates were guaranteed transfers.

Those who did not secure new roles within about three weeks had to leave the firm on Dec. 27, the two former employees said. They estimated that between 70 and 100 people were affected by the layoffs.

Another employee who was affected but managed to transfer to another internal HR role said the total number of people hit by the layoffs was “closer to 100 than to 10.”

ByteDance confirmed to CNBC that there have been layoffs, but would not specify the number of affected employees. The company said “most” transferred to new teams.

“All Talent Development employees were able to apply for different opportunities within the company, and most of the impacted employees have found new roles internally and have successfully transferred and integrated into new teams,” a ByteDance spokesperson said.

Memo explains why team was dissolved

ByteDance “took a fresh look at our teams and our employees’ needs and restructured this part of the business to be better integrated across the HR organization and other high growth areas,” the spokesperson told CNBC, adding that “Talent Development is still very much a priority for us and for our employees.”

The internal memo that HR leaders received said the team’s work had “limited practical value” and represented a “disconnect” from the company’s needs.

“We initially hoped to narrow down the scope of TD work, and then assess and determine which elements are indeed scalable and applicable in the long run. However, because the team has already grown quite large, we have decided to no longer retain the Talent Development Center as many of its roles and functions are not in tune with our current development strategies,” the note said.

One of the former staffers who spoke to CNBC questioned why the team was eliminated without discussion about how it could be restructured to fit into the company’s plans.

‘Mediocre quality’

According to the memo, ByteDance had found that some company staff were unaware of what the Talent Development team does.

“Many learning events, such as online talks of mediocre quality with over 1000 people or sharings given by [key opinion leaders] which could be easily found on the Internet, did not make very effective use of our employees’ time,” the memo said.

“Some respondents mentioned that employees believed such initiatives to be ‘personally helpful’, but candidly speaking, these are more like ‘feel good’ initiatives that are self-indulging and ‘doing things for the sake of doing things’, where the actual value is limited and questionable,” it added.

Separately, the nearly 1,000-word memo said that ByteDance values talent development as a concept, even if it was disbanding the team by that name.

“The fact that we truly value talent development is why we want to avoid wasting our teams’ time and energy, and not mislead them into an ‘illusion of growth.’ This was the very rationale for such major adjustments on our part. It’s easy to get carried away in the false impression that employees are growing professionally when they are not, and this is unhealthy and even harmful to both the employees and the company,” the note said.

Talent development efforts remain a “very active part of the organization,” said the ByteDance employee who transferred to a new role internally.

Other cuts

Last August, ByteDance cut a large number of education-related positions in China after the government in Beijing introduced new rules limiting after-school tutoring.

ByteDance dissolved its investment arm this month, CNBC reported on Jan. 19.

At the start of 2022, the company decided to “strengthen the focus of the business, reduce investments with low connection (to the main business) and disperse employees from the strategic investment department to various lines of business,” a spokesperson said in a Chinese-language statement translated by CNBC.

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