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Let the Cat Vids Scroll!

A Gen X Deep Dive Into TikTok's Influence on Salary Transparency, Layoffs and Recession

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I don’t know whether to thank him or to ask him for my time and blissful ignorance back.

Who you ask?

I’m talking about the Chief Financial Officer candidate I worked with almost two years ago who said to me “Oh, you have to be on TikTok to know where the world is headed.” This was the CFO of a $3 billion global organization. Surely, he doesn’t have time to waste on an app that doesn’t add value to his life and career.

Off to TikTok I went.

I waded in the morass reluctantly at first. I thought of it as medicine I had to take if I believed the children are, in fact, our future. I’d scroll for ten minutes here, five minutes there. Yes, it was a lot of repetitive sound clips, dances, make-up tutorials, and University of Alabama freshmen showing their Outfit of The Day (OOTD, of course) as they rushed sororities (#bamatok in 2021 was a magical time, iykyk.) My first impression was TikTok didn’t have much of substance to offer to this (incredibly hip, vibrant, youthful) GenXer, but I admired these creators for putting themselves out there.

And then?

The algorithm started working.

Before I knew it, I was being fed useful content from interior designers, immunologists and virologists, Diversity Equity and Inclusion warriors, registered dieticians, New York stage actors, human resources executives, physicians, and veterinarians. And a lot of very attractive and funny cats.

Have I been influenced? You could say so. I am typing this in my home office while strolling along on my new treadmill that sits underneath my new standing desk. Thank you to the many 20- and 30- somethings who showed me a day in their life working for a Big Four/Big Law/FANG company from home with the treadmill setup.

I’m not here to tell you how you, too, can get more than 20,000 steps a day while also feeling more energized, productive, and optimistic. But I did want to share with you what I, a GenX executive search consultant, has gleaned from TikTok that is relevant, useful, and instructive to my career and outlook on business in general.

I scroll so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

The Push for Salary Transparency

Hiring executives and those working in recruiting are aware of the new legislation in New York (and beyond) requiring employers and their agents to include a salary range on any sort of job posting. It remains to be seen how effective and/or how much trouble these ranges will incite; we’ve seen salaries range of upwards of $500,000 which I would argue defeats the purpose of a range in the first place. That said, I have observed on this platform a significant push from Gen Z and Millennials to drop the veil on compensation, much as they are pushing for transparency on all kinds of things that would make older generations blush. There are “man on the street” interviewers walking up to strangers on the street in busy metropolitan areas asking, “how much do you make?” And people tell them! All kinds of corporate and non-corporate jobs. There are freshly resigned managers from well-known companies outing their employers when they post their role with a salary range that is lower than what they paid them. There is a general, active push to normalize the salary conversation (just as they are normalizing what they weigh, how messy their house usually is, or their colostomy bag) to take out the mystique and power of those doing the hiring.

Ok, Boomer

A spotlight on just how different the generations approach work. There’s a video trope in countless iterations poking fun at how different generations respond to all manner of workplace situations (i.e. how different generations handle a meeting being scheduled on a Friday afternoon, taking PTO, or the clock striking 5pm). If these “funny” videos are to be believed, Gen Z is only concerned about getting through today because the world is going up in flames anyway, so don’t expect them to work one molecule beyond their job description or schedule; Millennials are anxiety-ridden and people pleasing; and Boomers love rules and how things have always been done. Amusingly, Gen X is more often than not entirely skipped over; we do not exist in the Gen Z content creator’s world. And because I am Gen X, I’m absolutely fine with that. I’ll figure it out on my own. I always have. While many of these videos are incredibly reductive (understatement), I do think that there is truth to be found in the “comedy”; with four generations working alongside one another, it is up to us to investigate what those differences in perspective are and how we can leverage them to be more successful together.

Recession or Not, We’re Battening Down the Hatches.

In the last two weeks I’ve witnessed a blossoming of “de-influencing” videos. In contrast to the tried-and-true influencing content that tells me, either directly or covertly, that I must have an air fryer, a Gua Sha facial massager, a Stanley cup (not about hockey), or a standing desk with a treadmill underneath it, these videos go through lists of products that they have tried and are not actually worth your hard-earned dollars. We could also just call these “honest product reviews” but that wouldn’t be as catchy. What I gather from this trend is that the economic contraction is being felt at a granular level, and there is pushback on consumerism from younger generations. I’ve also heard and seen a lot from trend forecasters on TikTok about “recession core” as an aesthetic becoming popular amongst the wealthy. It emphasizes dressing more simply, less jewelry or expensive accessories, and more emphasis on functionality. Are these leading or trailing indicators of a dip in the economy? Time will tell, but it’s good to stay vigilant.

Layoffs, Layoffs, Layoffs

Two or three weeks ago, if you were scrolling through TikTok, you could reasonably conclude that every single tech employee in the US was being laid off. RIFs have been a fact of corporate life since the Dawn of Corporations, but in the past, it looked and felt more like faceless numbers in the headlines and a nebulous, encroaching sense of doom. This time it feels different. With access to a tool like TikTok, the individuals affected can share their stories directly to the camera and access a limitless audience. Multiple videos have gone viral that show the actual layoff happening over Zoom; the more cold and heartless the dismissal, the more viral. From there, I’ve followed several laid off tech employees as they share their “day in the life” videos looking for their next job and trying to stay sane (or trying to go viral and not have to get another tech job.) The window this access has provided into the layoff and job search process has spawned, in turn, countless reaction videos and deeper thought into the waves of hiring and firing and what employers owe their employees. Again, transparency, enabled by new tools and direct access, is likely to change the dynamics within the org chart.

Take all of this with a grain of salt.

The double-edged sword of TikTok is the algorithm; it will get to know you quickly to a sometimes-spooky degree, but it can lead you to think that everyone out there is interested in and seeing the same things as you. I will tell you what that CFO did not: go forth, engage with a few opposing points of view, set a time limit, and follow @veronicaandthebabyboo if you like cats.

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