At age 29, I was about to quit my writing job for the greener pastures of motherhood and freelancing (little did I know). Along with handing in my resignation, I wanted to tell my boss exactly what I thought of his autocratic management style. (I survived the job because of two co-workers, one of whom remains my best friend.) Fortunately, I often commuted with a wise “older” woman, the mother of two successful adult children. When I told her about my planned parting salvo, she urged me to resist, explaining, “The first six months and the last six months of any job should be your best so you wow them when you go in and make them sorry to see you leave. Also you never know when you need a reference!”
I heeded her advice and over the years passed it on to my children and my students. However, I fear that social media have made that advice obsolete as evidenced by two recent viral videos posted by millennials, one seeking work and the other quitting. The videos prove to be cautionary tales, not only to pass along to our adult children, but also for we Baby Boomers who must navigate carefully through a changing workplace populated by millennials with a compelling need to share everything online.
We all are aware the privacy is fast disappearing, from Big Brother NSA to Facebook posts. But is nothing private? The job-seeker tale begins with Diana Mekota, a 26-year-old planning to move to Cleveland, who wanted to access a local online jobs bank run by marketing professional Kelly Blazek. She contacted Ms. Blazek via LinkedIn, receiving in reply what CNN called a “verbal smack down.”
“Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky,”Ms. Blazek wrote. “Wow, I cannot wait to let every 26-year-old jobseeker mine my top-tier marketing connections to help them land a job.”
Yikes! Perhaps Baby Boomer Blazek was having a really bad day. Obviously there were better ways to handle the request, even ignoring it. The plot thickens when Ms. Mekota did not take the rejection quietly. In true millennial style, she posted the email on an online message board where it quickly went viral on Reddit and Buzzfeed. Ms. Blazek has apologized and has since deleted her social media sites, learning the lesson that when it comes to GenY never to put in an email anything you wouldn’t want shared.
The internet buzzed with reaction, and while most commenters agreed that a LinkedIn request did not warrant such a rejection, others questioned whether the resulting post was a smart move by a job seeker. In a CNN interview, Marian Salzman, the CEO of Havas PR, applauded Ms. Mekota’s initiative in trying to make a job connection but not her next move, saying, “Once the rejection got posted it made me very nervous. …Just let it go, not let’s share it with the whole world and turn it into a cause celeb.”
Sharing online is a standard practice for a generation that lives in cyberspace, and the truly savvy millennial knows how to make cyberspace work for her as evidenced by 20-something Marina Shrifrin. Last fall, she announced that she was quitting her job in a video that went viral and garnered more than 11 million views.
Ms. Shrifrin, a University of Missouri graduate, was working in Taiwan as a video editor for a company that produces satirical news clips 24-7 on a global news cycle. The emphasis is number of views, not Pulitzer Prize-style journalism. After two years Ms Shifrim decided to quit and one night, while working the overnight shift, made a video which she titled, “An Interpretive Dance for My Boss Set to Kanye West’s Gone.”
The video showed her dancing around in a sound booth, music blasting and captions scrolling:
“I work for an awesome company that produces news videos. For almost two years, I’ve sacrificed my relationships, time and energy for this job. And my boss only cares…about quantity and how many views each video gets. So I figured…I’d make ONE video of my own. To focus on the content instead of worry about the views. Oh, and to let my boss know… (dance break) I quit. I QUIT! I’m gone.”
As it turns out though, her leave taking was not exactly spontaneous. Before she even informed her boss about the video, she sent the link to Gawker and other social media sites.
Ms. Shifrin’s departure is reflective of an attitude shared by many millenials, posited Jeff Yang, in a Wall Street Journal blog. Gen Y is “increasingly focused what we might as well call the hustle — end-running rules and standards if it’s necessary to get ahead,” he wrote citing a survey that found that “65% say they feel they have to ‘take whatever they can get in this world, because no one is going to give them anything.’” Not a surprising attitude for a post-recession generation who is living at home with college debt and unable to get a job. And, as Mr. Yang notes, GenY has been advised to “brand” themselves by their elders:
That’s the only solution that prior generations of careerists really have to offer to the new kids in the cubes: Roll your own. Manage your social network. Advertise yourself. Find ways to stand out and be noticed and generate hype about your skills, your image, your identity — independent of where you work and what you do there.
Ms. Shrifrin’s branding certainly worked as after the video went viral she appeared on national TV from the Today Show to Queen Latifah’s talk program, during which she was offered a job as the show’s digital content producer. News update: According to her blog, she’s now freelancing, describing herself as a “writer, comedian waitress.” In a HuffoPo piece explaining her quitting Ms. Shrifrin wrote, “For the past six years I’ve been a writer trapped in journalist’s body.” (Perhaps she should commiserate with Lena Dunham whose “Girls” character Hannah expressed the concern “that a 9-5 job that isn’t quite “spiritually fulfilling” will destroy her ability to be a “real writer.” )
So what’s the 2014 version of telling your boss off? Do you leave quietly or share it with the world? I still prefer my older, wiser friend’s advice to leave them weeping when you quit. Perhaps millenials might think it through before hitting the “record” or “post” button and remember that the first thing most people (even Baby Boomers) do before meeting someone new, especially a job candidate, is to Google the name. The bottom line: Whatever you do, do you want it on the Internet for eternity?