Even if you weren’t one of the thousands laid off this year, you’ve probably watched a few layoff vlogs from your FYP.
Shot from the inside of a car, or even inside the airy and light-filled offices of big tech, these at-times intimate, cheeky, and even angry videos have become a theme as layoffs related to a post-pandemic tightening of the belt continue and workers—many of them Gen Z’ers experiencing layoffs for the first time—turn to the platform to vent or look for their next role.
“Come with me to steal company assets from TikTok because I was laid off,” one particularly viral layoff TikTok begins. Covered by the New York Post and New York Times, Simona Ruzer’s micro vlog about returning her work laptop (and swiping some snacks on her way out) has been viewed more than a million times and garnered nearly 300,000 likes. “I just didn’t see this coming,” another tech layoff TikTok from January begins. The creator, @itsbaileymaya, is still vlogging her journey, whether that’s about how she is selling solar door-to-door to make ends meet or reviewing coffee, regularly reaching thousands.
As satisfying as it must be to go viral and build an audience, the question remains: Is posting through a layoff really going to help (or become) your career? That depends, experts say, on how you approach it. But here’s what to think about before posting.
A key driver of the viral layoff vlog is the trend’s precursor: #worktok. Before there was a girl stealing snacks on her last day, there was a girl vlogging the glossy perks of life as a tech employee—and paying her rent with her earnings. While a viral layoff TikTok could feasibly launch you to the top of workplace influencerdom, it’s far from guaranteed.
“I’m sure it feels good to be recognized to go viral, but what’s your long game?” says Brooks E. Scott, an executive career coach. “The thing about virality is it’s funny and it’s great for those people. But there’s only a few who go viral. And even then, it’s not guaranteed to be a viable career path.”
The best advice is to be really clear on why you’re sharing about your layoff before you do it. Are you hoping to highlight an injustice, find your next role, or just vent? “Ask yourself: Is what I’m doing right now going to be useful for me to get back on my feet? It’s about utility,” Scott adds.
Part of what makes this so tricky is that we increasingly live our lives online. Even if you’re not trying to go viral, posting an authentic experience is a part of our social lives, especially for Gen Z workers. “Generation Z is the first generation to not know a time before social media,” says Jason Dorsey, president of the Center for Generational Kinetics, a strategy firm that studies generational trends, and co-author of Zconomy: How Gen Z Will Change the Future of Business and What to Do About It. “That creates a different level of trust, comfort, and dependence on technology. It’s really important as a form of community, which is hard for other people to understand.”
While it’s easy for recruiters and employers to say it’s a bad idea to post, experts suggest it’s really an example of what happens when you have a generation of workers dependent on technology—especially after a pandemic, when the only way they could interact was via social media solidified this dependency even more. In a lot of ways, they say, a blanket “don’t post” recommendation is just unrealistic.
At the same time, the career risks of posting are real. Nancy Drees, founder of Vacare Group, a tech staffing firm, has been working as a technology recruiter since the 90s. She’s worked in periods of high and low-unemployment and seen a variety of shifts in what employers are looking for in candidates. The one constant? “The number one red flag is—and always has been—saying something negative about a previous employer,” she says. “It used to be something someone said in an interview, but now it’s becoming more prevalent to find this out online. Employers use Google. It can absolutely have a negative impact on your candidacy if you’re putting things out there like that.”
If you must vent, the best advice is to post under a pseudonym or make an anonymous account. But always remember, the internet is forever. “You have to assume that anything you post, a future employer is going to be able to find it,” adds Tim Rowley, COO and CTO of PeopleCaddie, a firm that places in-demand contractors.
While using social media to highlight unfairness or advocate for better working conditions is protected under labor laws, it has to be part of a “concerted activity,” like a group protest. An individual gripe is not protected. It is totally legal for employers to look at your social media in the hiring process. And as Rowley points out, growing use of AI tools like ChatGPT and facial recognition are only going to make it easier for employers to find posts and connect them to you during hiring—even if they were posted anonymously.
Professionalism is one of those things that’s open to interpretation. It’s important to acknowledge the reality that what’s seen as “professional behavior” can be subjective and differ based on who you are. “Your height, your weight, your race, all those things play into whether we are being seen as professional or not,” Scott says. “Being able to air out a company is something that people in positions of privilege can do. It’s easier to get away with it. That’s just a fact.”
Perhaps the company that laid you off really does deserve to be held to account. But either way, you want to avoid posting in the heat of the moment. In many cases, a layoff is a layoff—it’s not going to change things at the company or in the wider culture if your only complaint is that you were laid off.
“Take a couple of days and really think about not why you were laid off, but about the good things you did at the company. Be honest. Layoffs happen,” Drees says. “But you can really spin it and have it work in your favor.”
Use your posts to share your achievements and what you’re interested in doing next. Show off what you did there. At the end of the day, that’s what’s more likely to pay off for you in the long run.
“It’s important for employers to think about how they treat people when they leave the company. But it’s important for employees, too,” Scott says. “It’s [a chance] to show when you leave, that this company doesn’t define who you are.”
Correction: This story originally misstated Tim Rowley’s role at PeopleCaddie. He is its COO and CTO.