Creators on #corporatetok, like Xie, have amassed hundreds of thousands of followers by poking fun at that passive-aggressive coworker, conferring career advice, and even embracing corporate alter egos. Some, like Xie, fell into the genre unexpectedly. Others, like Ross Pomerantz (aka @corporate.bro), have skewered work norms for years.
But the outlets and the material started to shift in the past two years—and so have attitudes toward work itself. Recent discourse on TikTok not only reflects timely conversations about office life, but also it’s actively shaping these revelations—and the terms we all use to describe them.
“Millennials [are] realizing we are entering our ‘corporate villain era’ where our jobs aren’t our whole personality and mental health is first,” creator Rod Thill (@rod) posted in June. The term has since spiked in popularity on the app, with creators describing “entering their corporate villain eras” as they sign off at 4:58 p.m. or enjoy midday walks back from yoga.
Or take the more recent “quiet quitting”: the newest workplace buzzword that sparked criticism from some traditional business gurus like Kevin O’Leary. Used to describe working within the parameters of your job description and rejecting hustle culture, the term first gained popularity with videos from creators like @zaidleppelin, who defined quiet quitting as simply “quitting the idea of going above and beyond at work.”
But workplace expert and consultant Lauren Stiller Rikleen says it’s not a new concept—just a new framing that younger generations have embraced. “They haven’t stopped doing their jobs. They’re simply saying, ‘I don’t want to do added jobs as well,'” Rikleen says.
TikTok Transparency Meets Pandemic Clarity
On her first day back to the office as a legal analyst in 2021, Naeche Vincent chose a blazer, waited in line for her badge, soaked in the views of the Statue of Liberty from her office window, and vlogged it all on TikTok. While she’d posted videos on the platform before, her corporate content struck a chord. “You don’t see young, Black women working these types of jobs, or at least you don’t see what goes on behind closed doors of these jobs,” Vincent says.
Y’all aren’t ready for the breakthroughs I’ve had recently. We are more than our jobs y’all #work #millennial #workfromhome #corporate
♬ Maneater – Nelly Furtado
She continued to embrace the “day in my life” storytelling that thrives on TikTok and started a series on her account asking peers how they made it to Wall Street. For Vincent, the platform’s power lies in its ability to transparently showcase unique (and even guarded) careers. “I saw somebody who’s an urban planner, and she’s going around in the city and looking at the buildings, and I never even knew that was a career,” Vincent says.
Creators even spark salary discussions on the platform, with some asking passersby how much they make and what they do. DeAndre Brown (aka The Corporate Baddie, @imdrebrown) says he’s seen this kind of financial transparency prompt real career reconsiderations. “People were like, ‘Well, how can I get into tech? You’re making six figures in tech while I’m in banking making less.'”
As TikTok facilitated these day-to-day career insights, the pandemic “distilled work into its purest essence,” as Xie put it. No more cereal bars or kombucha on tap at startup offices. No more networking events or conversations with colleagues in passing; just a laptop, a to-do list, and, for many, a hard look at their careers. It’s had a measurable effect: According to a 2021 Washington Post-Schar School poll, almost a third of workers under 40 considered changing jobs or fields during the pandemic.
At her firm, Xie attended one Zoom departure party after another. Eventually, she left, too. “Parallel to the pandemic, I began realizing that there were a lot of other paths,” she says. Now, she’s writing a book and creating content full-time, taking followers inside a different kind of day in her life: that of a “New York City lawyer-turned-writer.”
A Shift in the Power Dynamic
In addition to giving workers time to think deeply about their careers, the pandemic also leveled the playing field at work in certain ways, says creator Corporate Natalie (@corporatenatalie, who asked to use only her first name for privacy reasons).
“I can be on a call with someone who’s a senior director and not be terrified that I’m in the same room as them like I would have been when I was like 22 starting my first job,” she says.
With that access—and perspective gained during the pandemic—many people realized what they wanted from work, and a strong job market only strengthened their leverage. “You can kind of make demands you would have never been able to before. There’s a lot more power,” Pomerantz says. “If you’re really good, and they really want you, there’s just so many more negotiating points you have.” (And if you need tips for negotiating, TikTok has plenty of videos about that, too.)
It’s hard being better than everyone???? #corporate #workfromhome #passiveaggressive #9to5
♬ original sound – CorporateNatalie
Over the last year, U.S. workers quit their jobs at a rate not seen in more than two decades, spurring discourse and debate about the so-called Great Resignation. Many found satisfaction in the switch; those who quit and found new jobs in 2021 were “more likely than not to say their current job has better pay, more opportunities for advancement, and more work-life balance and flexibility,” according to the Pew Research Center, and younger adults were far more likely to quit than their older counterparts.
Even before the pandemic, generations expert Ryan Jenkins spoke at an event at which he told the audience that Gen Z employees could use LinkedIn to find a new job by lunch. A Gen Z woman stood up from the back and shouted: “Why wait until lunch?”
Today’s workers have many methods of finding new jobs available at their fingertips, and with the market on their side (at least for now), they found an opportunity to ask for what they want—or leave. “The world’s changed,” Jenkins says, “and that access has empowered all of us to take the reins of our careers.”
Balancing Work and Well-being
Corporate TikTok creators have embraced these pithy workplace trends—from the Great Resignation to corporate villain eras and quiet quitting—as they speak to dissatisfaction with work. According to Deloitte’s Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, “46% of Gen Zs and 45% of millennials feel burned out due to the intensity/demands of their working environments,” so it’s not surprising that a strong work-life balance ranked above all other priorities for these generations when choosing an employer.
Flexible work plays a key role in this, they say. In addition, Gen Z and millennial employees are more likely to stay with their employer for more than five years if they exhibit efforts toward creating positive societal and environmental impacts, as well as diverse and inclusive environments.
“Employers ought to be thinking about these issues from the lens of ‘What is the company doing or not doing?’ rather than trying to shift blame on a generation that’s simply trying to find their way in the world,” Rikleen says.
With Gen Z and millennials accounting for 46% of the full-time workforce, the insights and attitudes from this group matter tremendously and will undoubtedly alter the trajectory of work’s future. And if companies need any clarity on what these generations think about work, the answers are just a scroll away.