Phone app TikTok is pictured on a mobile phone
The viral video app TikTok is owned by China’s ByteDance © Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

The TikTok executive at the centre of a culture clash with employees at the company’s UK operation has been replaced in his role after making comments that he “didn’t believe” in maternity leave.

Joshua Ma, a senior executive at China’s ByteDance — owner of the viral video app — will “take some time off” and “step back” from his role leading the UK ecommerce team, according to an email seen by the FT and sent on Wednesday.

The move follows an FT investigation, which revealed Ma’s comments at a dinner with employees of TikTok’s London ecommerce team.

In the email to staff, TikTok said it was continuing an investigation into the allegations.

“As you may be aware, the Financial Times today published an article that had some disheartening allegations about our TikTok Shop Operations in the UK,” said the email to staff under the subject heading “Maintaining a positive working culture”.

“Hopefully, this painful experience will make us a stronger, closer and better team over the long term,” the email said.

The FT article, which was based on testimony from 10 current and former employees, revealed how the launch of TikTok’s livestream shopping feature in the UK had triggered a staff exodus from the London ecommerce team. Some staff complained of an aggressive company culture, with unrealistic targets and expectations that run counter to British working practices.

Staff said they were expected to frequently work more than 12 hours a day, starting early to accommodate calls with China and ending late as livestreams were more successful in the evening, with overtime celebrated in internal communications. Some members of the ecommerce team were removed from client accounts after going on annual leave.

“The wellbeing of our team is our top priority . . . [and] leadership 100% supports the use of annual leave to fully recharge and spend time with friends and family,” the email to staff said. TikTok said it was investing heavily in expanding the resources, structures and processes to support a positive employee experience.

The email also urged staff to report any breaches of the ByteDance code of conduct through an anonymous hotline.

Patrick Nommensen was announced as Ma’s interim successor. According to the email, Nommensen led the launch of ecommerce in the UK and has been in charge of creator operations, as well as beauty and other categories.

According to his profile on LinkedIn, Nommensen has worked for ByteDance since 2016 when TikTok was launched, and also, a viral music app that ByteDance acquired in 2017. “He knows the business very well and will be a strong interim lead,” the email said.

TikTok declined to comment on the email.

On Wednesday, a document was shared internally by one of TikTok’s staffers suggested that key words related to the FT investigation be censored from comments in TikTok Shop livestreams. The list included the words: “Financial Times,” “Article,” “Culture,” “Toxic,” “Joshua Ma,” “Capitalist” and “Maternity”.

Referring to the internal document, TikTok said: “although we welcome and encourage independent ideas from team members, not all ideas are implemented and this one was never under consideration”.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023. All rights reserved.
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