The inevitable rise of #worktok

Share using EmailShare on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Linkedin

Blue shirt worker with phone hero

By Ellen Nguyen31st August 2023

When work is life, and life is social media, it only makes sense that workplace discourse is thriving alongside make-up routines and viral dance videos.

Viral challenges and dance routines; career advice and workplace venting. Just another day on TikTok. 

The hashtag #worktok is soaring – 1.8 billion views as of this writing – turning the social media network into a bustling forum for candid work-related discussions. Increasingly, TikTok users are sharing the intimate details of their professional lives online. 

In some instances, workers are live streaming quitting their rolesbuilding reputations as career coachestalking about their dream jobs; providing walk-throughs of their daily work routines; flaunting their workplace attire; explaining their salary journeys; and starting trends that have found their way into common parlance.

But these aren’t hired brand ambassadors or company evangelists getting paid to share their workplace experiences: they are everyday employees offering unsanctioned, often unfiltered, glimpses into their work environments. Their videos are entertaining, but also help workers feel seen and make sense of their professional lives.

The new era of workplace community

“#worktok emerged because people started using TikTok at a time when we were going through such uncertainty in the workplace,” says Sara McCorquodale, the founder of UK-based influencer intelligence business CORQ. Indeed, data shows TikTok use skyrocketed in 2020 at the height of the pandemic with 100 million active monthly US users, and has continued to grow. In March of 2023 Tik Tok reported that they’d grown to 150 million active monthly US users.

McCorquodale believes that new hybrid- and remote-working models have inadvertently created a void in workplace camaraderie and direct mentorship. “If you’re working from home, you don’t have that water cooler moment. Maybe if you come into a job during the pandemic, you might not have workmates who you’re super close with.” 

These elements have pushed professionals to seek community and validation online, she says – especially on the social platforms they increasingly frequent. It’s enabled #worktok to thrive.Mitchie Nguyen's #worktok presence took off when she made a video talking about her salary journey and the roles she had held (Credit: @_misomelon / TikTok)

Mitchie Nguyen’s #worktok presence took off when she made a video talking about her salary journey and the roles she had held (Credit: @_misomelon / TikTok)

This is exactly what Los Angeles-based Mitchie Nguyen observed once she staked a claim in the #worktok world. When the 28-year-old began her journey on TikTok in early 2022, she didn’t expect to be in the workplace discourse. Nguyen, then a remote product marketing manager at Meta, saw the platform as a creative outlet – one where she felt comfortable venting, having just her boyfriend and some bots as her followers.

At first, she posted montages from videos on her phone, without showing her face. But one day, she decided to make a video talking about her salary journey and the roles she had held up to that point in her career. It changed her trajectory on the platform: the video unexpectedly went viral, garnering more than 650,000 views to date, and exponentially increased her follower count overnight. 

Nguyen says she believes sharing intimate information about her job, particularly at a tech giant, filled a knowledge gap for many, and led to the popularity of her video. She points to comments she received: “I didn’t even know this was a career path”, and “I saw your videos, I watched your tips, and I got my first product marketing internship.”

Responses like these have pushed Nguyen to wade deeper into #worktok discussions, sharing more on her job, salary and professional trajectory. She speaks openly about her journey from a growing up in a blue-collar family to a building a career in prestige tech firms. She says feels increasingly comfortable due to the way TikTok works – since the videos are distributed mostly to strangers, it’s removed some of her inhibition.

Beyond the community and knowledge aspect, McCorquodale also believes people acutely need a way to put a voice to their daily grinds – the rollercoaster of the modern workplace – which #worktok enables in spades.

If I want to talk about this, I’m going to talk about it. And I’m going to talk to other people, and I’m going to feel better – Sara McCorquodale

“People are under so much pressure,” says McCorquodale. “They want to talk about it. It’s not something they want to be isolated with. They see it as being something that’s in their control. If I want to talk about this, I’m going to talk about it. And I’m going to talk to other people, and I’m going to feel better.”

Cautions and caveats 

Yet #worktok content isn’t private unless a user chooses to lock their account. Employers have access to their employees’ videos, if they choose to seek them out. 

For Tony Piloseno, 24, posting on TikTok about his job as a paint mixer for Sherwin-Williams had bittersweet results. In 2019, he was working at an Ohio, US-based branch of the American paint and coating manufacturing company and created a TikTok documenting his experiments mixing leftover paint to demonstrate the process and create new colours. During the pandemic, the audience for his content surged. 

But in summer 2020, as his account reached 1 million followers, Sherwin-Williams’ loss and prevention team launched an investigation into Piloseno’s TikTok account. They later fired him for “gross misconduct“, determining he’d made the videos during work hours and used company equipment.Sometimes, posting about work can be a risk for employees, as Tony Piloseno found out (Credit: @tonesterpaints / TikTok)

Sometimes, posting about work can be a risk for employees, as Tony Piloseno found out (Credit: @tonesterpaints / TikTok)

Despite being let go, he continued to post: Piloseno took to TikTok to recall his lay-off story, which went viral, with 35.8m views of the post as of this writing. The story has a positive ending: “A week or so after the lay-off video was posted, I began receiving numerous job offers from paint companies all over the United States.”

Piloseno has since moved to Orlando, Florida, to start his own company, Tonester Paints. And although he says he was gutted when the company let him go, he doesn’t regret making work-related content on TikTok.

Nguyen was already aware of the risks when she began posting her job-related content. Despite her success on TikTok and passion for helping others through her content, she still has reservations about the medium. While her #worktok channel is alive and well, with more than 125,000 followers, she still acknowledges her posts could have a potential impact on her career down the line.

‘I own that’

Both experts and creators alike agree #worktok is an important and meaningful outlet for TikTok users. And, says McCorquodale, the forum will continue to thrive.

People will continue to share about their jobs on TikTok despite the risks because, at its core, this trend is about identity and autonomy, she explains. “Who owns me? Who owns my identity? It’s not the business that I work for; I own that,” says McCorquedale. This sentiment underscores a generational shift, where younger employees, especially Gen Z, prioritise personal agency and self-expression over corporate identity. 

Even Piloseno, who experienced the downsides of #worktok, encourages people to share their stories regarding work and employers. The authenticity, relatability and storytelling is powerful, he says, and can help people feel seen and validated.

And as this content proliferates, businesses – however nervous they may be about #worktok – may have no choice but to embrace the fact that some of their workers will be joining the conversation. McCorquodale says that especially in the era of remote work, “workplaces need to adapt to this shift”, especially if they want to know how workers are truly feeling during their day-to-day, and what they’re interested in learning.

After all, the impulse to share our lives on social media has become the status quo. And while the nature of where and how we work may be changing, work itself will remain a core element of our day-to-day, on-screen or off.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *