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Inside TikTok: ‘The company does not value any of their workers... there was no compassion’

Interviews with multiple TikTok employees based in Dublin have revealed concern over the fairness and transparency of the redundancy process at the social media giant

For some months, there were rumblings at the Sorting Office, TikTok’s 200,000sq ft Grand Canal Dock office, that something was amiss. Still, the company’s announcement on February 19th was met with collective shock.

That day, plans for a large restructuring of the company’s training and quality team were unveiled. As a result of the global plan, almost 900 Irish jobs at the social media giant, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, were placed at risk of redundancy.

The exact number of employees set to be made redundant at the company is not known, although it is believed to be between 250 and 300. Affected employees this week were signing off on severance packages, and on Friday, they were expected to report for work at the company for the final time.

Interviews with multiple TikTok employees based in Dublin have revealed concern over the fairness and transparency of the redundancy process at the social media giant. Some suggest that aggressive hiring during the pandemic laid the groundwork for February’s announcement.


TikTok said that restructuring would allow the company to “further enhance our quality assurance processes”, and said that supporting affected employees was a priority.

“Ireland remains a hugely important base for us, and we’re continuing to hire for roles across our business here,” a spokesman said.

Employees who spoke with The Irish Times did so on the condition of anonymity, as they were not authorised to speak publicly about the company.

“The way it was carried out, they’re losing a lot of valuable, good people,” one senior staffer said this week, days before he was due to be made redundant. “The whole [redundancy] process has been a joke, if you ask me.”

In early 2020, as the video-sharing platform approached two billion mobile downloads worldwide, TikTok established its EMEA trust and safety hub in Dublin.

Scores were hired from firms such as Accenture and Covalen to fill the hub, with most employed as quality analysts, a content moderation role. People were enticed by the promise of opportunity, good benefits and better pay.

Within a year of establishing the hub, the headcount at TikTok’s Dublin operation had grown to over 1,100 employees, according to a blog post published by Cormac Keenan, then head of trust and safety at TikTok.

They don’t care who. They want to fulfil their quota. They want to find somebody

“They were hiring like crazy, 2020, 2021,” says a senior staff member in the trust and safety department. Employees worked remotely at first, and as coronavirus restrictions eased, moved into WeWork spaces based in the south inner city.

The company was in a rush to get people in the door, but according to a number of employees, the recruitment process’s quality controls were severely lacking.

“I don’t think they were very selective, which created a lot of chaos, and which led to a lot of conflict between different employees, different departments,” says one trust and safety team leader, who had knowledge of the company’s interview process. “They just hired people and they didn’t invest in learning and development.”

Some employees are highly critical of the environment created by rampant recruitment during the pandemic.

“No one knew what we were doing,” says the trust and safety staffer.

“Communication [from management] was very poor,” another senior trust and safety staffer says. “They don’t actually tell you anything. And if you reach out, for aid or for help, no one’s actually able to do anything.”

Despite all this, there were employees who found a way to enjoy the workplace.

“[There were] very good benefits for us, very flexible working hours,” the team leader says, who initially worked as a quality analyst.

Everyone was told that it doesn’t matter how you do, you can’t fail, there’ll be no repercussions, nothing will happen to you

Last year, as TikTok’s competitors were laying off staff in Ireland and across the globe, management in Dublin were reassuring staff that their jobs were safe. Staff numbers in Dublin last year climbed to about 3,000.

“We had a meeting last year, around February, that everything [was] fine with us ... [that] we shouldn’t worry,” one staffer said.

With the benefit of hindsight, the staffer says, the warning signs were apparent.

Twice-yearly performances reviews became the subject of controversy within the company last year following allegations that managers were being pressurised by TikTok to assign low grades to employees.

There is “a lot of pressure” on team leaders to fulfil a quota of low-performance grades, the team leader says. “They don’t care who. They want to fulfil their quota. They want to find somebody.”

A TikTok spokesman said that the company provided guidelines to ensure “consistency and objectivity” throughout the performance review process, but that ultimately, managers were responsible for their team’s performance grades.

Several employees state that from last year, underperformers – generally defined as employees who received two low-performance review grades in a row – were offered payouts to leave the company, the alternative to undertake a performance improvement programme.

Separately, in November 2023, employees in the training and quality team were asked to complete a policy proficiency test. In a moderation task, employees were asked to label a queue of 100 videos according to a specific policy employed by the company to moderate material posted to the app.

Everyone was told that it doesn’t matter how you do, you can’t fail, there’ll be no repercussions, nothing will happen to you

Employees had to undertake the test whether they worked directly as a moderator or not, whether they worked with policy day-to-day or not, according to multiple employees. Some employees were asked to complete the test in a language they did not normally work in. Other employees said they experienced glitches during their test, with videos failing to load.

Employees were not provided with a breakdown of where they went wrong in the test, according to sources, although the company did provide employees with a final score.

“The way that they sold it was that they’re just trying to see how people’s levels of quality and policy knowledge,” one senior staffer says. “Everyone was told that it doesn’t matter how you do, you can’t fail, there’ll be no repercussions, nothing will happen to you.”

The company said that “standard” proficiency tests are often carried out at TikTok, and that when the November tests were conducted, it was not linked to the restructuring plan. It also said that the job role of all employees who took the test in November was, in some way, linked to policy, and that employees were expected to have a high level of policy knowledge.

Contrary to what was initially communicated to employees, the proficiency test would have consequences, some months down the line.

On February 19th, an invitation to an online meeting before lunch prompted alarm among TikTok’s Dublin workforce.

At the town hall meeting, TikTok’s plans for restructuring were unveiled by the company. A letter sent to training and quality employees after the meeting, seen by The Irish Times, confirmed that their jobs were at risk of redundancy.

TikTok said that the restructuring would be informed by new mechanisms piloted by the company to measure the quality of its moderation efforts.

Morale at the company took a nosedive following the announcement. A special accommodation allowed employees affected to work from home, and some elected to stop attending the office. People were stressed.

With a limited number of alternative roles within the company available for at-risk employees, selection criteria was decided on to determine who would be retained at TikTok, following consultations between the company and 20 elected employee representatives.

“[It] just shows how the company does not value any of their workers ... there was no compassion.”

To much internal ire, eligibility for retention hinged, in part, on the November policy proficiency test and performance review cycle results. It is understood that some employees considered taking legal action against the company, alleging that the inclusion of these factors in the selection criteria amounted to unfair dismissal.

On March 14th, those at risk of redundancy were informed of their fate. In the region of 300 employees were told that their employment was “potentially” the subject of termination “by reason of redundancy”, according to a letter seen by The Irish Times.

“If you got that email, you were pretty much done,” says one senior staffer, who was facing redundancy.

Those told that they were not eligible for retention were facilitated in applying internally to other positions, in line with the company’s stated aspiration of avoiding redundancies.

However, two such employees say that they were rejected from multiple postings. It’s understood that employees were often unsuccessful in applying to internal positions, despite similarities between their previous job and the new opportunity.

One employee, who was directly involved in discussions with the company during the redundancy consultation process, says that the company was not receptive to many of the suggested amendments to the selection criteria, or the proposed severance package.

In response to suggestions to remove the November test from the criteria, the company maintained that it was a “fair, objective and uniform” assessment, according to internal documents seen by The Irish Times.

Following consultation, the severance package available to affected employees offers four weeks of pay per year of service, plus an extra month’s gross salary and their notice period.

This week, many of those who were not selected for retention in the new restructure were signing off on the package. In excess of 250 employees, but less than 300, will be made redundant.

One senior staffer said that he doesn’t mind getting let go if there are more qualified employees available to the company – but the way that employees were treated during the process has left a sour taste.

“I’m sad because, the market here is different, it’s more challenging to find jobs nowadays,” he says, days before being made redundant. “These kinds of jobs are not as well paid as they used to be, and they are not as stable as they used to be.”

Another senior staffer reasons that, following the intensive hiring that occurred during pandemic times at TikTok, the company needed to shed extra weight within the trust and safety department to improve efficiency. Unfortunately, some workers are losing out because of a “callous” redundancy process, she says.

The process has left her feeling undervalued, she says. “[It] just shows how the company does not value any of their workers ... there was no compassion.”