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Judging Chinese tech companies by their Glassdoor reviews, part 1
Editor’s note: This was contributed by Elliott Zaagman a trainer, coach, and change management consultant who specializes in aiding Chinese companies as they globalize. To contact him, check him out on LinkedIn, or add ezaagman on WeChat.
This is the first part in a two-part series measuring how Chinese companies perform on Western HR website, Glassdoor. The first part looks at Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, and Huawei. The second part looks at Lenovo, ZTE, Cheetah Mobile, and LeEco.
If you don’t spend much time on the English-language internet, Glassdoor may be a new name to you. As one of the most popular HR-related sites, it is a go-to source for job listings, news, and most famously, its employer reviews section. Glassdoor’s employee reviews provide current and former employees a platform to give a 1-5 star rating of a company, with sections for “pros,” “cons,” and “advice to management.” For many job-seekers, checking out a company’s Glassdoor page is essential before accepting a job offer.
For those interested in working for Chinese tech companies, this can be a helpful resource to better understand what to expect from each company. For the companies themselves, it can provide valuable feedback for how to improve their practices for attracting and retaining both foreign talent overseas and globally-oriented talent in China.
In this article, we look at 8 top Chinese tech companies: Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, Huawei, Lenovo, Cheetah Mobile, ZTE, and LeEco. In order to better ensure that the reviews are statistically representative, only companies with at least 30 reviews have been taken into consideration. Furthermore, while all companies will inevitably have a few disgruntled employees who may have had negative experiences for their own personal reasons, this article attempts to look at broader trends in the employee reviews, in order to provide a clearer picture of the general culture, atmosphere, and tendencies of each company represented.
With a rating of 4.4/5, Alibaba had the best overall score of any of the companies examined. What may be most impressive for the Hangzhou-based tech giant is that with the exception of one 1-star review from 2014, none of its 149 reviews were less than 3 stars. Kudos to Alibaba for that.
Even Alibaba is not without its imperfections, however, and while many reviews spoke highly of the company’s compensation and working environment, work-life balance and high pressure were common complaints.
It should also be noted that the vast majority of Alibaba’s reviews were from employees who were located in China. Most were also quite limited in detail (as in the case of the ones above) and full of small “Chinglish” grammar mistakes, which likely indicates that most, if not all of the reviewers were native-born Chinese nationals.
Tencent is another company with an overall positive rating and few negative reviews. Of their 213 reviews, the vast majority were 4 or 5 stars. As in the case with Alibaba, work-life balance was also identified as an issue, and some employees expressed an inability to handle their high-pressure environment. While few reviews criticized the company systems or leaders, there were many which complained about politics and lack of professionalism among mid-level managers.
One of the most notable positive highlights was how frequently Tencent’s HR and perks were praised, particularly from employees located in mainland China.
The company does seem to have had a bit of trouble translating their people-management success domestically to their Palo Alto, California office, however, as their score was only 3.2 stars when search results were filtered to select only US-based reviews. While the sample size of US reviews was quite small, complaints included language issues, a lack of autonomy, and an unspecific accusation of encouragement of illegal behavior.
Like the other two BAT giants, Baidu’s scores were overall quite positive, with its 317 reviews dominated by 4 and 5-star ratings. While the trend of work-life balance complaints existed here as well, there seemed to be less of it for Baidu than for Alibaba and Tencent. Employees also seemed to value the creative environment there and the teams of talented individuals. Even when reviews were filtered for only US-based employees, the majority of reviews were positive, with an average score of 4.5 stars.
While reviewers often spoke highly of CEO Robin Li and the company in general, there were frequent complaints of internal company politics and a lack of respect for employees on the part of mid and senior-level management.
With over 2,400 reviews, Huawei received the most reviews of any Chinese company looked at for this project, by far. The reviewers were also widely diverse in their cultural and national backgrounds, with all six continents represented. Throughout Huawei’s reviews, there was a glaringly clear trend that emerged: while they consistently received positive feedback in compensation, products, and as a place to gain early-career experience, they were resoundingly criticized for lack of professional HR practices, poor inclusion and autonomy for overseas employees, and even discrimination and questionable ethics.
On the positive side, Huawei seems to have a solid grasp on their task-oriented basics. Reviewers praised their customer-centricity, and their dedication to coming through on their promises, delivering good quality at low prices.
On the more critical side, in nearly every country where Huawei has a presence, reviewers reported a lack of transparency, inclusion, and diversity. There were numerous reports of racist, ageist, and sexist practices, indicative of an approach to HR that reviewers from many overseas offices saw as outdated, or even unethical. While Huawei certainly has a global presence, reading these reviews could cause someone to easily assume that localization in overseas markets is not very high on the priority list for them.
With Huawei’s tremendous success, it is difficult to be too critical. After all, this approach seems to be working for them quite well. However, it does not seem to be a place where non-Chinese staff can expect much career development.
- BAT were top performers, but also had relatively low numbers of reviews from those who were based outside of China. Also, while reports of unproductive internal politics and abusive managers are somewhat unavoidable, it may benefit the companies for their HR department to take these complaints seriously and evaluate how to address the root causes.
- Work-life balance seems to be an issue for just about all of these companies. It may just be a necessary byproduct of working in the fast-changing world of a Chinese tech company, but if that is the case, companies may want to consider how to improve employees’ experiences while they are working those long hours.
- For many of these companies, a lack of an inclusive culture for overseas staff is clearly an issue. These companies may want to establish talent development employees for some high-potential non-Chinese employees that include Chinese language lessons, cultural training, and opportunities for trust and relationship-building with the Chinese leaders of the company.
- Of all the companies with significant overseas presences, Lenovo seemed to be the best at managing its non-Chinese staff (in the second part). This may be a result of the growth-by-acquisition strategy that they have taken over the last 15 years, but credit should also be given to Chairman and CEO Yang Yuanqing and Global HR SVP Gina Qiao, who have actively taken steps to implement inclusive practices, including mandating that the board of directors is no more than 50 percent Chinese, appointing a “CDO,” (chief diversity officer), and investing heavily in English language and cultural education programs.
Finally, one last note from me: While fairness and objectivity were aimed for in writing this piece, I recognize that it oversights are inevitable. I welcome any questions or concerns from those who may be impacted by this article.