A video showing eight bank employees in China being lined up on stage and spanked with what appears to be a wooden rod has sparked fury. The humiliating episode took place in front of a crowd of onlookers and the video appears to have been recorded on a smartphone by an audience member.

The incident took place in Changzhi, northern China, during performance training for Zhangze Rural Commercial Bank's 216 staff, on 18 June, according to the South China Morning Post. In the video, a man can be seen berating the workers and asking why they did not "exceed themselves".

Various members of the group – which includes four women – respond with reasons which included "failing to make a personal breakthrough" and "inadequate team cohesiveness". The man then orders the employees to "get your butts ready" before proceeding to hit each of them.

As the man moves up and down repeatedly striking each worker, gasps can be heard coming from the audience. After the third round a woman tries to protect her hip, but the man orders her to remove her hands.

The South China Morning Post named the man in the video as Jiang Yang, a trainer from the Shanghai Hongfeng Leadership Academy, who later issued a public apology online for his behaviour.

Jiang later told the Beijing Times the aim of the training was to improve students' way of thinking and to encourage them to be more competitive.

Two executives have reportedly been suspended over the incident, which provoked a strong reaction on social media regarding staff treatment. "When I first saw this, I thought it was another cheap public relations stunt from a bank but I can't believe this is real," one Weibo user posted.

"This is nothing but degrading and it's so obscene to watch, where are the leadership values?"

Another commentator said such a company should not be allowed to operate. "Expose this rotten company and the awful leadership it claims to possess. This company should be closed down if it thinks it can get away with treating its employees like that."

Speaking to the Beijing Times, an unidentified staff member said the humiliation was not limited to spanking and that 16 employees were forced to have their heads shaved.