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    Taking Aim at Corporate Hierarchy, NetEase Backs Staff Nicknames

    In a move toward dismantling the rigid corporate hierarchy common at many Chinese companies, game developer NetEase is allowing employees to choose their own preferred nicknames.

    What if, instead of the excessively formal “Elder Brother Lin,” your colleagues were obliged to address you by a more colorful epithet of your choice — say, “Linsanity”?

    Employees at NetEase now have precisely this option.

    In a statement Tuesday, the Chinese gaming giant said it had decided to eliminate the hierarchical connotations of terms like “elder brother,” “big sister,” and “boss” — as many people in China’s white-collar professions refer to each other — and instead encourage employees to come up with their own nicknames, which they can “claim” in the company’s internal network from noon Tuesday.

    NetEase’s only requirement is that the nicknames be “positive” and easy to remember.

    “State-owned enterprises should learn from this,” read the top comment under a related post on microblogging platform Weibo. Other netizens suggested that all companies — whether state-owned or private — consider similar rules.

    “I wasn’t fast enough to reserve the name ‘White Chocolate,’ so I chose to call myself ‘White Milk,’” Bai, a NetEase employee whose surname is also the Chinese word for white, told Sixth Tone. “Before, we would address people at the same level by their full names, and use ‘boss’ or ‘teacher’ for people at a higher level.”

    Guo, another NetEase employee, said the nickname policy will encourage a friendlier working environment. “It may be hard for some of our senior employees to change how they address people,” Guo told Sixth Tone. “But this seems helpful for (creating) a better internal culture.”

    On Weibo, however, some took a more cynical view.

    “There’s no such thing as a ‘flattened hierarchy’ — he’s your boss no matter what you call him,” one user wrote, adding that the key to a healthier corporate culture “should not depend on this kind of formality.”

    A NetEase employee intimately familiar with the new policy said it is “encouraged” rather than mandatory. “Most of our staff were happy with the change and had lined up to submit their preferred sobriquets,” the employee, who requested anonymity, told Sixth Tone. “Our aim is a free and open environment.”

    NetEase is not the first Chinese tech company to advocate for a flattened hierarchy by encouraging nicknames among staff. Employees at e-commerce giant Alibaba have been using nicknames inspired by Chinese martial arts for years. The founder of Tencent, another leading game developer, goes by the equine moniker “Pony,” and encourages his staff to choose their own preferred English names.

    “I think it’s definitely positive for the company because there will be a more relaxed atmosphere when we communicate,” said Bai, the NetEase employee. “It’s also fun for us to come up with interesting nicknames.”

    Editor: David Paulk.

    (Header image: People Visual)