Gabrielle Judge’s job at a tech company did not end with a whimper, or with a bang, but with a video. It captured a gruelling, and in Judge’s words “cringe”, performance review meeting during which she told her managers she was leaving.

Judge, who had been doing the job alongside a part-time career as a content creator, posted a truncated version of the online meeting on social media under the moniker “Anti Work Girlboss”. The aim, she says, was to show viewers she had walked away from the low-pressure and relatively well-paid role after her employer began laying off her team and giving her extra tasks.

The very public resignation became a viral hit among young workers, many of whom were also feeling dissatisfied and undervalued in their posts.

In another video posted on TikTok, Christina Zumbo looks shocked and teary-eyed — “numb”, she says — having just pressed send on an email informing her boss she is quitting. The job was making her unhappy, she states, as words of support from her followers stack up below. The recording features a call from HR about her decision — and then Zumbo is free.

Such clips, posted with titles such as “quit my job with me” or the hashtag #layoffseason, are part of a wave of “Quit-Tok” videos that aim to take what would usually be a private chat in a side room with managers and make it as public as possible.

Gen Z workers in particular are posting videos of online calls in which they resign or are made redundant on social media sites such as TikTok as they wage a campaign of workplace transparency. Tech workers and schoolteachers are the source of many of the videos but they have also been posted by blue-collar workers. The vast majority of the people behind them have been women.

“I think Gen Z overall is very sceptical and a little bit nihilist,” Judge told the Financial Times.

One motivation for these company leavers is to boost their own social media presence — some of the videos have been viewed millions of times — but the trend is also a way to expose, and change, what the employees view as poor working conditions or bad treatment by bosses. Some have labelled the craze “loud quitting”, in contrast with the “quiet quitting” trend during the coronavirus pandemic whereby workers did the minimum possible to keep their jobs.

“It touches on the economic crisis, disbelief in the nine to five . . . all of those topics that Gen Z care about,” says Shira Jeczmien, chief executive of Screenshot Media, whose 18- to 24-year-old-focused site has featured many such stories.

“Every time we touch it, it is viewed by millions. The lead-up, getting the email, jumping on the call, looking at the computer, you can hear their manager asking questions. It’s huge.”

The workers making the clips typically film themselves on video calls and their managers on the other end do not know they are being recorded. Others take place inside the workplace. One nine-second clip, for example, features an empty McDonald’s restaurant, supposedly after all the employees had quit en masse. Another, from KennyMan DMV — who does not give his real name — shows him in his blue Walmart uniform angrily telling his manager he will not be stacking shelves any longer before storming out.

There is a risk employees could be challenged for covert filming but most TikTok users appear unconcerned that their employer would pursue a legal case.

Media observers say the trend is reflective of Gen Z culture: bringing in personal and often emotional responses to show “authenticity”, and taking charge of situations causing anxiety or stress. It also highlights a lack of regard to the sort of long-term corporate ties and hierarchies that older generations may have honoured.

The effects of the videos are already being felt in tech companies and the HR sector. Executives, employment lawyers and outplacement firms — which sometimes carry out redundancies for companies — do not want to become the butt of a viral TikTok. The trend has forced some employers to up their game when it comes to staff communication and the way they carry out job losses.

Nolan Church, former head of talent at tech company DoorDash, and now chief executive of pay data platform Faircomp, says lay-off videos have become “an accountability mechanism to ensure people are being treated humanely”.

A wave of tech redundancies has added to a feeling of distrust among workers. According to industry tracker, tech companies have made more than 312,000 job cuts since the start of 2023. Redundancies conducted without a manager present, without a proper reason provided, or without severance can be devastating for the people going through them. “Employees feel like the social contract has been broken,” Church says.

He believes the trend has been prompted by the rise of platforms such as Glassdoor and Blind — anonymous forums where tech workers can discuss their company and pay.

While post-pandemic trends such as hybrid working have prompted some companies to more closely monitor staff, TikTok lay-off videos may be turning workplace surveillance back on management.

“I think the next evolution of this is somebody having an iPhone running all day long as they talk to their manager,” adds Church.

In one widely shared video, Brittany Pietsch filmed herself being fired as an account executive from Cloudflare after just three months. Pietsch — having heard from her co-workers what was happening — filmed the call with an HR executive and another director who told her that having “finished our evaluations of 2023 performance, this is where you have not met Cloudflare expectations for performance. We have decided to part ways with you.”

She spent the rest of the clip arguing with the pair over her performance.

The post forced Matthew Prince, chief executive of Cloudflare, to respond on social media platform X, saying “clearly we were far from perfect” and that the video was “painful for me to watch”. He added: “Any healthy org needs to get the people who aren’t performing off. That wasn’t the mistake here. The mistake was not being more kind and humane as we did.”

Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, says the videos can be a “wake-up call to leaders about potential management shortcomings”.

“Younger employees are much more likely to be open and transparent about how they view their employer.”

But that can also bring risks for the worker. “Any employee who badmouths their employer publicly could find themselves viewed as a ‘troublemaker’, which might affect their future employment chances,” Francke adds.

“My advice is to be aware of the potential consequences no matter which side of the camera you’re on.”

But have employees gained any tangible advantage from these public outbursts? Church says the videos are having an effect on redundancy processes, prompting more thoughtful communication and, in some cases, better severance.

But Lindsay Witcher, global managing director at outplacement firm Randstad RiseSmart, says some organisations are distancing themselves from the redundancy process, or serving notices in writing to avoid potential reputational risks. “It remains shocking to me how little attention companies put in the planning and execution of a lay-off.”

She argues employers should spend the same amount of resources on laying off employees as they do recruiting them. Time spent planning the process, adequate severance packages and helping employees find new jobs can bring advantages for companies.

If redundancies are done well, former employees can be strong advocates for the company throughout their career, says Witcher.

And crucially, a bungled job termination can also have a strong impact on the morale of the remaining workforce — particularly those who are asked to step up their own productivity after others lose their jobs.

Witcher is hopeful TikTok videos will prompt a bigger shift. “I hope it forces companies’ hands a little bit and moves the needle on the practices and the benefits they give people.”

Source: March 18, 2024 | By Josh Gabart-Doyon