A top Chinese AI developer punished scores of staff who took a longer lunch break than allowed, reviving memories of the relentless work culture that plagued the country’s tech sector years ago.
(Bloomberg) — A top Chinese AI developer punished scores of staff who took a longer lunch break than allowed, reviving memories of the relentless work culture that plagued the country’s tech sector years ago.
IFlytek Co. this week fired off a companywide memo upbraiding more than a hundred employees it accused of abandoning their workstations to line up for free chicken lunches at the campus cafeteria. As a disciplinary measure, those who took more than the allotted hour will get a “C” review rating, according to a copy of the memo that was posted online and verified by a company representative.
The post drew more than 66 million views on Chinese social media platform Weibo and highlighted the immense pressures on the country’s AI sector, now the hottest slice of a tech arena still struggling to regain its footing since Beijing cracked down on the industry in late 2020.
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For many users, the incident showcased unreasonable demands on the rank-and-file as scores of startups and sector leaders from Baidu Inc. to Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. race to unlock their own ChatGPT-style services. Many argued that tech employees often chalk up a lot of overtime without pay.
“Colleagues, iFlytek is moving forward at full speed as AI embraces another phase of rapid development today. But there are both opportunities and challenges for us,” the memo read. “We will say ‘no’ to any actions that contravene company values.”
Shanghai-listed iFlytek, a developer of products from robot translators to AI software for cars, is a key player in Chinese AI and one of the first companies to publicly demonstrate its generative AI platform.
Once deemed necessary for survival in a cut-throat tech arena, the industry’s “996” culture — 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week, with added overtime — became the subject of national debate after the deaths of several employees. In response, China’s top court outlawed the practice around 2021, and the practice appeared to fade out during the industry slump of the Covid years.
Read More: In China Tech, ‘996’ Means Work, Work and More Work: QuickTake
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