It was just two weeks back when Chinese developers protested over the “996 work schedule”, that requires employees to work from 9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week in China. And now the news of Chinese tech firms firing employees over the age of 30 is trending.
Shelly Banjo, Roving Asia Tech Reporter, at Bloomberg published a post in May last year where she shed light on the grotesque reality of the ageism work culture in China. One such example is of Helen He, a tech recruiter in Shanghai, who has been instructed by her bosses to not hire people over 35 years of age. “Most people in their 30s are married and have to take care of their family—they’re not able to focus on the high-intensity work. If a 35-year-old candidate isn’t seeking to be a manager, a hiring company wouldn’t even give that CV a glance”, said Helen.
Ageism within tech firms is at its peak in China and is taking a toll over its employees, as they are forced to move out of the industry. Banjo states that the “30+ middle-age crisis”, is rife in China. For instance, close to three-quarters of tech workers in China are below thirty in age and the employers further promote this concept.
The core reason behind Chinese employers fortifying this practice is because employees over thirty years of age are not considered as efficient as the young. Apart from that, anybody over 30 years old is likely to be experienced and demand a higher wage. Whereas, young employees can be hired at lower wages (as most don’t have a family to look after), contributing to higher profits on the lower scale for the company.
Banjo states that China’s 996 work schedule and its hiring young policies reflect China’s obsession with achieving global tech domination. However, the consequences of this obsession are hard-hitting. Banjo gives an example of Ou Jianxin, a 42-year-old, research engineer at ZTE Corp. who committed suicide after he was fired from his role without informing him of the reason. However, after the news went public, people had their suspicions and many blamed it on his age, saying that, he would have already been considered “too old” to be an engineer in China.
Another example presented by Banjo is of a job search results on Zhaopin.com that over 10,000 job postings calling for applicants younger than 35. One such job posting is from e-commerce retailer JD.com Inc, which seeks an applicant with a master’s degree for a senior manager position between the age of 20-28.
Moreover, although China has national laws that prohibit discrimination based on gender, religion, and disability, there are no laws based on declining someone an offer based on his/her age. “Age-dismissal victims rarely ask for help from lawyers,” says Lu Jun, a social activist and visiting scholar at Fordham University School of Law. But there are some who have fought against the ageism policy.
For instance, in 2011 the Shenzhen Stock Exchange had put up a recruitment notice on its website asking for applicants younger than 28. But, the director of a local nonprofit wrote an open letter about this listing to the municipal bureau of human resources, after which the media made the story viral, leading to stock exchange investigating into the listing and taking it down.
Others have a different way to fight ageism. One such example presented is of Liu Huai Yi, 33, who was fired from his IT role at Nokia Corp. in Chengdu. Liu says the incident pushed him “to change and improve.. skills to get a better job. I don’t buy the idea that after 35 you can’t get a job. Someone in IT has to just keep learning to keep up.” After a long job search, Liu got another IT job in a multinational healthcare company.
However, the ageist policies are not just a part of China’s work culture but have also spread to other parts of the world. For instance, in March 2018, ProPublica conducted an investigation that showed that IBM cut 20,000 older employees in the U.S. over a course of last five years to “sharply increase hiring of people born after 1980.”
A user named “duxup” on Hacker News commented, “A little bit like the US maybe? I was already in a technical field, was laid off after a company buyout, I changed careers and took a coding Bootcamp. The other two older guys (at Bootcamp) and I got a lot of “culture” related questions. One dude was actually told by the recruiter that they were worried he was too old, he was surprised they’d actually say it to him so he asked … and the recruiter repeated herself happily”.
Another user “jdietrich” commented on Hacker News, “Older workers expect higher wages and are less willing to tolerate unpaid overtime. They’re harder to bullshit with cheap “perks” like foosball tables and beer on Friday. An experienced developer might be better, but who cares when you can get two junior devs for the same price and they’ll work 14 hour days during your quarterly “crunch”? They don’t believe in the 10x developer, they don’t even believe in the 1.1x developer; their employees are just meat in a seat”.