The viral hashtag is flooded with disgruntled employees, girlboss work routines, and a widespread rejection of society’s live-to-work culture
Corporate millennials make up a whole subsection of their generation. Not only have they created an entirely new vocabulary for themselves (think: girlboss, burnout, side hustle), but they’re the first generation to experience working from home as the norm. Gone are the days when professional success looks like a 7AM commute into work, followed by an intense day at the office, and then drinking your colleagues under the table at the pub when 6PM hits. An impressive lifestyle within the corporate world nowadays mostly involves at-home pilates, a standing desk, and a subscription to HelloFresh. Although young people might romanticise the working worlds they see in films like The Wolf of Wall Street, in reality, their corporate lifestyles look nothing like Jordan Belfort’s (and neither do their salaries).
The idea of a ‘young professional’ has taken on a whole new meaning in recent years, and the 20 and 30-somethings who make up this demographic have taken to TikTok to try and define it. The tag #CorporateTikTok has over 300 million views on the app, and if you click on it you’ll find morning routines created by young people in corporate jobs – often involving them getting up three hours before their working day starts – and employees using popular TikTok sounds to mock their bosses, point out the issues with working from home, or draw attention to their inadequate salaries. Creators also try to appear relatable by contrasting their weekend activities to their nine-to-five jobs – “I’ve got three words for you: coke, whores, and violence”, is the sound one creator uses in a TikTok with the caption, “When your coworker asks how your weekend was on Monday morning”.
You might be surprised to see work-focussed videos frequenting TikTok rather than LinkedIn – the corporate millennials’ usual preferred social media platform – but self-optimisation content is on the rise on the video-sharing app. If you don’t follow Emily Mariko, you’ve probably at least heard about her viral salmon sushi bowl video. It made Mariko one of TikTok’s biggest stars and the reason people love her so much is, simply, because she has her shit together. Productivity hacks and ‘what I eat in a day’ videos have finally made their natural evolution from YouTube, where they were birthed, to TikTok, culminating in something called #ThatGirl. The trend sees young (mostly white and thin) women documenting their fitness, nutrition, and work routines, and sharing tips about how to become #ThatGirl, i.e. a productive, beautiful, healthy (and ultimately, unrealistic) version of yourself.
The popularity of corporate ‘day in the lives’ makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Gen Z has popularised the idea of romanticising your life, and after nearly two years of sitting at home in front of a computer screen, it’s unsurprising that people in nine-to-five jobs are looking for ways to make their lives seem more appealing. One TikTok user manages to make it to the gym, take a walk in the park, blow dry her hair with a Dyson hairdryer, make a coffee, and listen to a podcast all before her working day starts at 8:45AM. Her video contains perfectly shot clips of each activity with a viral sound layered on top.
But many creators are also sharing some of the more realistic parts of their corporate job, like 27-year-old Kenzo Mizumoto, who’s made a number of viral videos about the struggles of working maximum hours for minimal money in London. “At the company I used to work for, a lot of the salaries – especially for people in junior positions – were frozen for the whole pandemic,” he says, explaining that he quit his job at a music company in London two months ago to start creating TikTok content full-time.
“We offer free tap water on Sundays, no health insurance, and for every milestone you achieve, it’s either pizza or an Amazon voucher but never actual cash,” Kenzo says in one of his recent TikTok sketches, impersonating an employer interviewing candidates for an entry-level role.
Ania Magliano, 23, also found herself in the ironic position of being able to quit her corporate job thanks to the success of her TikTok content about her corporate job. “Making TikTok content about my job made me more cynical towards corporate jobs because it made me feel disillusioned with it, and I realised how empty a lot of the chat they spout out is,” she says. Ania made multiple videos mocking the ways in which companies handle events like International Women’s Day and Pride month with disingenuous box-ticking.
“There are some serious issues (with corporate culture), and I think TikTok can help get these issues noticed,” says Mark Jones, the founder of TribeShake, a company helping startups reinvigorate their teams. TribeShake creates TikTok content to point out some of these issues, like employees’ wants being ignored when it comes to returning to the office, and the weaponisation of ‘wellbeing’ at work.
You might assume that employees would get in trouble for complaining about their work and their boss’ online, but apparently this isn’t the case. Kenzo and Ania agree that their colleagues and boss’ either enjoyed their content or never came across it. The same is true for LA-based Jenna Hushka, one of the biggest creators within the world of corporate TikTok, with over six million likes on her videos. “I think it is refreshing that we can openly talk about and poke fun at real world situations,” she tells Dazed, adding: “We are so accustomed to thinking that our jobs are our personas.” Although Jenna’s content often points out the negative aspects of her job, she has found that creating it has made her happier in her role, as it has stopped her from being so defined by her work.
For Kenzo and Ania, however, becoming a part of this side of TikTok made them feel uncomfortable about working within the corporate world, encouraging them to get out of it for good. “If I was to go back into the corporate world – God forbid – I would (be able to see through the) jargon and would be more cynical about it, rather than instantly believing it like I did when I first got my job,” Ania says.
With the return to offices imminent within most companies, is corporate TikTok the revolutionary movement needed to overturn the capitalist hierarchies that are detrimental to young workers? Probably not. But if the content gets them through the working day… then they’ll be through with the working day (and will have more time to spend scrolling through TikTok).