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Workers are filming their layoffs, then posting them to TikTok. What could go wrong?

Workers are filming their layoffs, then posting them to TikTok. What could go wrong?

In an era of remote work, some employees are recording and posting their video layoffs and firings on social media. It can be empowering in a lonely situation, but is it wise?

Workers are filming their layoffs, then posting them to TikTok. What could go wrong?
Workers are filming their layoffs, then posting them to TikTok. What could go wrong?

Millions of people across social media have watched tech worker Brittany Pietsch get let go from her job in a video call. On 12 January, Pietsch, a former account executive at US IT company Cloudflare, posted a nine-minute video to TikTok. The caption: “When you know you’re about to get laid off so you film it.”

The video shows Pietsch’s impassioned reaction as two company representatives she’s never met explain she’s failed to meet “expectations for performance” and will be terminated. In the conversation, she defends her work, detailing the positive feedback she’s received, and probes the company representatives for specific reasons why she’s among the workers being cut. (The employees on the other line declined to provide any.)

Similar videos are gaining traction across TikTok and X (formerly Twitter), as rolling layoffs continue to impact industries worldwide. In a new twist for the current landscape of work, many of these dismissals happen to workers over video calls in their own homes – an isolating event for a young worker, especially if it’s their first layoff.

Some viewers might see layoff videos as transparent and empowering, especially those who can identify with the experience; comments can also be a place to share work advice for navigating a dismissal. In Pietsch’s case, she recorded and uploaded the layoff “so she could share what happened with family and friends”, she told the Wall Street Journalon 16 January. But experts caution that turning a layoff into social media content – however well intentioned – can have long-term professional implications.

Content meets solidarity

The TikTok hashtag #layoffs has garnered more than 366 million views. The spike in interest is hardly out of the blue: the mass tech-sector layoffs of 2023 have continued into the new year, with staff reductions at Google, Amazon and other major players since 1 January; media layoffs also continue to impact thousands.

For the Gen Z professionals at the centre of the live-layoff trend, the videos could be construed an extension of the slice-of-life content otherwise embodied by Get Ready With Me (GRWM) videos, a sector of TikTok in which creators showcase their daily routines. Creators gain traction by giving followers a peek at their inner lives; within that standard, a layoff could be a perfectly normal thing to share on social media. Simply, it can produce good content, particularly in line with trending formats and zeitgeist-y topics.

Workers are filming their layoffs, then posting them to TikTok. What could go wrong?
Workers are filming their layoffs, then posting them to TikTok. What could go wrong?

For viewers, the videos offer a way to feel less alone in a new world of work, where layoffs now often occur during 10-minute video calls in one’s home office, instead of in the privacy of a windowless conference room. Pietsch’s video garnered comments of empathy and support: “I am so sorry to hear this,” writes one viewer. “I was let go after 7 years of loyalty to a company I worked for. It literally almost killed me.” Writes another: “Companies do not care about you, so might as well put these people on the spot.”

Yet for all its entertainment value, this content also reflects the current work landscape, where an employee-favourable shift in power has emerged, particularly in the past year. Alongside worker-led labour movements, including last year’s ‘summer of strikes’ – a period of widespread and highly publicised union activity in both the US and the UK, where workers struck record deals – live-layoff videos challenge the norm of employers always having the upper hand.

The videos also speak to the idea that employees are less worried about protecting a potentially outdated standard of professionalism and are more energised around organising and solidarity in the workplace. For many of these creators, that means holding employers accountable even after they’re off the payroll.

Farah Sharghi, a San Francisco-based tech recruiter, content creator and career coach, feels that the layoff videos are a natural consequence of a tumultuous job market in the social-media age.

“The public sharing of layoff experiences on platforms like TikTok reflects a shift towards greater transparency and a desire to share personal stories in a digital world,” says Sharghi. “It also underscores the emotional and professional impact of corporate decisions on individuals. It’s one thing to talk about being laid off – it’s another to experience it with the person being impacted as it’s happening to them in real-time.”

Sharghi adds that videos like Pietsch’s may communicate a growing sense of dissatisfaction with employee-employer relationships. “The company [may try] to shift the blame of the layoff onto the employee – when in reality, if it’s a mass layoff, it could either be the failing of leadership or a shift in technology that’s driving change,” she says. “These videos are exposing the failings of companies.” 

Post with caution

While the layoff video creators may be justified in their ire, some are urging young professionals to reconsider their approaches – even directly criticising them as naïve and unthinking. 

On X, Conservative commentator Candace Owens called Pietsch “young and stupid” after her video went viral: “Now any company that googles Brittany Pietsch will come across this video of her secretly recording the company she was employed at to expose them for doing their job. Unbelievably shortsighted.”

Another commentor called out both Pietsch and Cloufdare for acting poorly: “Getting fired is tough, but it’s important to handle it with dignity. Firing someone is also hard, requiring compassion and respect. Total disaster on both sides here.”

Sharghi doesn’t agree with the extreme takes, but she does urge caution. “While these videos can offer support and solidarity, they also have the potential to affect that person’s future job prospects,” she says. “Big tech, for example, is a small world in [companies’] respective vertices and if one of these videos has gone viral, more than likely a recruiter, hiring manager or interviewer has seen it.”

A company may think twice before hiring a candidate who could “expose the company’s inner workings publicly”, she says. In ways, it’s an extreme form of the “opinionatedness” on social media that could give hiring managers pause. 

In some instances, these videos could even land creators in hot water. Before seizing the urge to post, Sharghi recommends laid-off individuals consult their severance agreements, which may contain non-disparage agreements or limitations around discussing their experiences at the company. While the US National Labor Relations Board ruled in 2023 that non-disparagement clauses in severance agreements were unlawful, there are some exceptions to that ruling, including sharing company secrets or making malicious, false statements.

“Publicly sharing details about the layoff process, especially if they portray the company negatively, could breach these clauses,” warns Sharghi. 

Essentially, the message from experts: take a beat to think before you post. What’s the point of the video – and what are the potential ramifications?

If there’s one thing to be learned from #layoff TikTok, it’s that workers’ idea of a professional image is shifting in a major way – and creators like Pietsch are driving the change. She told the Wall Street Journal that she has no regrets, and that other workers are telling her, “I wish I would have stood up for myself the way you did”.

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