How TikTok employees are rewarded and reprimanded based on parent company ByteDance’s 6 culture principles




TikTok employees are asked to abide by a set of six workplace principles written by its parent company ByteDance that are dubbed "ByteStyles." TikTok; Samantha Lee/Insider


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TikTok employees are asked to abide by a set of six workplace principles written by its parent company ByteDance that are dubbed “ByteStyles.” TikTok; Samantha Lee/Insider

  • TikTok’s owner ByteDance has workplace values called “ByteStyles” that are core to its culture.
  • Being grounded, courageous, and treating every day like it’s “day 1” are all listed as ByteStyles.
  • But some current and former staffers said ByteStyles are also used as a tool to keep them in line.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In April, members of TikTok’s US sales team gathered for an all-hands call, an event set up for staffers to hear from management and ask questions.

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The conversation devolved into a discussion over how much employees were paid, with one staffer going back-and-forth with senior executives over whether TikTokers were earning less than their counterparts at Google and Facebook.

Management was not pleased.

Later that day, the employee received an email from another senior business team leader who wrote that the “argumentative tone” the staffer took during the call was “not inline with our ByteStyles.”

“We do want to hear from you but it can be done in a respectful manner as that will likely facilitate more effective discussions and will be more aligned with our ByteStyles,” they wrote.

The email exchange was later posted on Lark, the company’s internal messaging service, and shared with Insider by another employee.

TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance – like other major tech players Facebook and Google – has a public list on its website of workplace principles that it’s dubbed “ByteStyles.” These company precepts are often fairly broad: “be grounded and courageous” and “be open and humble” are both on the list. And some ByteStyles also mirror cultural tenets at other tech companies. For instance, ByteDance’s use of the phrase “Always Day 1” was coined by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

But ByteStyles aren’t just a way to signal the nature of TikTok’s company culture to potential recruits. Internally, staffers use ByteStyles as a way to call out what the company deems good or bad performance during employee evaluations, and some employees are rewarded for exhibiting ByteStyle values. They can also be used in a disciplinary context, as was the case when the TikTok employee was told to adjust their tone after a town hall call.

And while ByteStyles are central to TikTok’s culture, their open-ended nature can make them frustrating when applied to specific work situations, according to four current and former staffers at the company. These TikTok insiders felt ByteStyles were sometimes used as catch-all warnings to employees about behavior that the company didn’t like.

“They can be used to say someone is out of line,” one former staffer, who asked for anonymity to avoid damaging professional relationships, said of ByteStyles. “If they’re dissembling, they’re not ‘candid and clear.’ Or is it not ‘grounded and courageous’? Or maybe not ‘open and humble.'”

“‘That’s not ByteStyles!’ is like so general, but thrown around [when] anyone kind of does stuff the other person doesn’t like,” a current TikTok employee told Insider. (The staffer also asked for anonymity to avoid retaliation.)

“ByteStyles are the principles we aspire to as a global team, and represent our values as a platform and as colleagues,” a TikTok spokesperson told Insider in a statement. “They encourage us to embrace change, challenge our assumptions, and ensure the diversity of the world is reflected within our product and team.”

Exhibiting ByteStyles can help you rise at TikTok

In the US, tech companies have been touting their workplace philosophies for decades.

Google famously added “Don’t Be Evil” to its code of conduct in 2000 and then removed the phrase in 2018. And Netflix has a widely circulated culture deck that dives into its company principles. The goal is to design a framework for assessing culture fit and to attract employees who share the particular values of a company.

ByteDance, which was founded in Beijing in 2012, has taken a similar approach as it’s moved to internationalize its brand. The company uploaded “ByteStyle” explainer videos to YouTube, and put its cultural talking points front and center during employee training sessions in offices like São Paulo and Ho Chi Minh City.

ByteStyle concepts like “Aim for The Highest” and “Always Day 1” have appeared on office swag and Jenga blocks in its London and Culver City, CA locations. Employees receive gifts and awards for exhibiting ByteStyles, and staffers have promoted its principles in posts on platforms like LinkedIn since at least 2017.

“ByteDance is known for being, within China’s technology scene, the most Silicon Valley-like of all of the big companies,” said Michael Brennan, managing director of the tech-consultancy firm China Channel and author of “Attention Factory: The Story of TikTok and China’s ByteDance.”

“Zhang Yiming, the founder, is very heavy into researching into corporate efficiency of communication within an organization,” he said. “Every office is going to have its own local culture. And they have so many offices now around the world, and so it’s going to be a pretty tough job to get that culture through on such a global scale so fast.”

But while ByteStyle phrases are hard to miss at TikTok, sprinkled across company presentations, internal emails, and even employee backpacks, some insiders questioned their actual value in helping an employee navigate their career.

“It’s used like a catch-all and be-all,” the current staffer said.

Do you have insight to share on TikTok? Contact reporter Dan Whateley at dwhateley@insider.com using a non-work device.

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