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China tech

ByteDance offers bonuses to boost morale amid TikTok uncertainty

Cash rewards aim to prevent possible departures during China-US tussle

HONG KONG -- Chinese entertainment upstart ByteDance is offering cash bonuses to its employees, a move that aims to prevent potential talent outflow at a time when its flagship streaming app TikTok faces an uncertain future amid persistent regulatory headwinds.

"Over the past few months, we have been working together to overcome challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and changing macro environment," Beijing-based ByteDance told its employees in an internal memo reviewed by the Nikkei Asian Review.

"Thank you for your hard work and dedication. Let us continue to live out our mission to 'inspire creativity and enrich life'," the memo says.

Full-time employees who have put in a minimum of 26 working days during the period from July 1 to Aug. 31 are eligible for receiving cash rewards equal to half of their pretax monthly salary, according to the letter. The number of employees who qualify is unclear, but the company employs roughly 60,000 people globally.

A ByteDance spokesperson confirmed the details of the letter but declined to comment further.

The move comes as the fate of TikTok took a surprising turn late last month, when Chinese regulators added a certain type of artificial intelligence technology that is known as the backbone of the streaming app to its export control list, raising questions over whether ByteDance will be able to reach a resolution in its regulatory dispute with U.S. authorities.

President Donald Trump has issued an executive order to ban TikTok from the U.S. market, citing national security concerns. A failure to sell the app to American buyers before Nov. 12 could risk a shutdown in the U.S., one of its most important markets.

TikTok has already been blocked in its largest market, India, as part of Delhi's ongoing crackdown on Chinese apps following a deadly border clash between the two countries earlier this year.

The uncertainty in the U.S. market and the departure of Kevin Mayer, who resigned as TikTok's chief executive in August, three months after joining the company, have weighed on the morale of ByteDance employees, with some U.S.-based new hires already considering contingency plans.

"People seem more pessimistic about the situation," one employee said in an interview last month with Nikkei.

It is not rare for Chinese companies to try to retain talent by offering financial incentives.

Huawei Technologies, a Shenzhen-based telecommunications giant that has been blacklisted by Washington and taken a hit from U.S. sanctions, also announced last year that it would deliver cash bonuses totaling 2 billion yuan ($292.67 million) to its staff as a gesture of appreciation for their work despite geopolitical tensions.

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