The Alibaba Group has been criticized over what it calls its latest job alignment policy at the South China Morning Post newspaper, where many of the senior journalists and writers have had their job titles changed.
In an internal email sent at the end of April, just before Labour Day, SCMP, owned by Alibaba, informed its 1,000 colleagues that they had developed a new streamlined title structure that aligned the business titles with the global marketplace. As a result, 45% of its staff were to be given new titles, the email said.
“As we continue investing in people development, having a transparent and consistent structure for business titles is important for corporate and individual growth,” according to the email seen by Asia Times.
“Currently, there is incongruity across grades and departments, leading to conflicting and opaque career paths. We have 500 business titles amongst 1,000 colleagues!”
To prepare for the digital age since taking over from Malaysian tycoon Robert Kuok Hock Nien, Alibaba has tried to reinvent the business model much like Amazon and the Washington Post – and as a result, the company has made unorthodox hirings such as “growth analyst” and “assistant manager, audience insights.”
Among the changes, there will be no more heads of department at the paper. In the newsroom, for example, chief reporter either becomes senior writer or correspondent. The assistant photo editor, for example, simply becomes photographer.
The less controversial changes will be standardizing “Associate Director” in place of “Assistant Director” and the use of “assistant” for manager levels.
The announcement, however, stirred up some discontent among staff, who felt their titles were diminished. One staff member who spoke on condition of anonymity said many were unhappy with the changes because they felt betrayed despite their long service. A new title would also present problems in the next job after the newspaper, he said.
But most worried that the new titles could imply further cost-cutting measures. Some staff said they had received smaller bonuses last year after the company built a multi-story office that it called the modern newsroom at Times Square.
According to the email, SCMP management emphasized that “changes in title do not affect grading, salary or benefits.”
Alibaba is no stranger to human resources controversies. Last month, outgoing chairman Jack Ma backtracked on his signature 12-hour work doctrine “996” – 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week – because it was a huge privilege, in his view, to serve clients.
After his comment caused a storm on social media, he clarified that no one likes working at a company that forces you to do “996.” Not only is it considered inhumane, it’s also unhealthy and even more unsustainable for long periods – plus workers, relatives and the law did not approve of it.
According to an SCMP company spokesperson:
“The ultimate intent of the review was to ensure alignment across a complex global organization and improved transparency for training and career growth. During this process, no employees’ grading, salary or benefits were affected in any way.
“SCMP values our employees and have rewarded the contributions of those who have exceeded expectations through our staff performance reviews. More importantly, average bonuses to full-time staff have not been reduced as we firmly believe outstanding performances should be rewarded accordingly.”
This article has been updated on May 10.