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China tech companies, in search of passion and energy, promoting younger employees

HONG KONG/BEIJING (Reuters) – the Chinese tech giants are in the hunt for a young, energetic employees in the place, in some cases, experienced managers.

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a poster with the QR codes for the search of work in an internet-expo at the fifth World Internet Conference (WIC) in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, China, November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

The companies deny that the movements, who are concerned some older workers, as a reflection of any form of discrimination on the basis of age. Explicit age discrimination is prohibited in many countries, but not in China.

Chinese tech companies are known to prefer young employees, partly as a result of the requirements, such as the so-called “996” schedule that requires employees to work from 9 am to 9 pm, six days per week.

On Thursday, Tencent Holdings confirmed plans to redeploy 10 percent of the managers.

“Let some of the older members of the management committee retire from their positions,” Tencent Holdings President Martin Lau said. “Their jobs will be taken by younger people, new colleagues with more passion.”

Asked to tell about the reorganization, Tencent cited in the annual report if the indication of the employment in the practice complies with the laws and regulations and “do not discriminate on grounds of gender, ethnicity, race, disability, age, religion, sexual orientation or family status”.

Analysts said the move to promote younger managers is driven in part by the emergence of a new generation of Chinese internet companies such as Pinduoduo and Bytedance, which are usually led by entrepreneurs and engineers born in the 1980’s or 1990’s.

“The environment and external pressures are pushing these companies to reform if the leadership is too old, it’s easy for them to fall behind,” said Li Chengdong, a Beijing-based tech analyst who used to work at Tencent and e-commerce giant JD.com Inc.

“In the US and Europe you rarely see companies going through structural reforms to the year, but it is quite common in China… the core of the leadership can be replaced within a very short time.”

PENSION

On Baidu CEO Robin Li said in an internal letter that the company made public that it intends to accelerate efforts to be more youthful this year by promoting more workers born after 1980, and also announced an executive retirement plan.

The first board on the basis of that plan is the president for new business, Zhang Yaqin, who will retire in October, Li said. Local media reported Zhang’s age of 53.

“For senior managers who have worked hard for the company and must be accompanied by the growth, if they want to choose for a new life as a result of personal or family reasons, we will take care of them under the executive retirement plan,” Li wrote.

A Baidu spokesperson said that the age is not a factor in the question of whether managers chose to retire or not and that it is up to them whether they wanted to join the plan.

Lei Jun, head of the Chinese smartphone-maker Xiaomi, said at a press conference on 20 March that the company was the appointment of new, younger general department managers as part of an organisational restructuring.

A Xiaomi spokesperson of the company was not cutting the senior management team, but that for the “young talents” to support the rapid expansion.

Chinese tech workers in their 30’s and 40’s, told Reuters they had to accept the industry’s preference for youth, but worried that it is becoming more extreme, especially in the up-and-coming fields, such as artificial intelligence.

“I’m not worried so much about losing my job, but it is definitely sure that I will not get promoted,” said the 38-year-old engineer JD.com. Like other workers interviewed for this story, he declined to be identified because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

A JD.com the spokeswoman said that it does not discriminate and that a high-performing employee is eligible for promotion.

LONGER TIME TO PROGRESS

A 29-year-old woman programmer for one of China’s top short video platforms, said ageism was of greater concern for women.

“It may take longer for women on the road to better jobs, so the age restriction more strongly affect women,” she said. “There is definitely the feeling that if you’re older, you don’t understand the product.”

Older workers have few legal options.

“The only recourse of Chinese workers have is if they are not properly compensated for if they are once fired,” said Geoffrey Crothall of China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based labour rights group.

While age discrimination is illegal in the United States, it is often difficult to prove. Bias in favor of younger employees often shows itself openly in the Silicon Valley start-up scene, where investors often prefer to back entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s.

In China, some in the tech industry, said the older employees can still move forward if they were the top performers. On telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, known for an aggressive internal culture where everyone’s contract is renewed every few years, one employee defended the approach as is customary in the industry. Huawei declined to comment.

“Companies are aware of the traditional iron rice bowl type of mentality,” he said.

Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing and Josh Horwitz in SHANGHAI; Writing by Brenda Goh; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Richard Borsuk

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