The Satisfaction of Viral Quitting
The Bright Side is a series about how optimism works in our minds and affects the world around us.
Samantha Rae Garcia held her restaurant job in Midland, Texas, for four years before deciding last year that she could no longer tolerate her boss’s criticism. Ms. Garcia, a psychology major at the University of Texas Permian Basin, consulted her parents. She recorded her decision moments before she quit. Then she made a TikTok video about it.
In the video, which was recorded spontaneously, Ms. Garcia, then 23, bats her eyelashes, smiles and gives a satirical thumbs up. Her boss, off camera, says she is tired of babying Ms. Garcia. The text on the video reads: “My boss didn’t know I was right here while she was talking about me.”
Ms. Garcia, using a word that can’t be printed, whispers a response, calling her boss a “bad manager.”
Since she posted the video in February 2022, it has been viewed 3.7 million times.
Users responded to Ms. Garcia’s push back: Along with the views came thousands of supportive comments on TikTok. One of them read, “I don’t know how you keep your composure but proud of you for not going off.”
“I felt validated,” Ms. Garcia said in a recent interview.
While her mother worried that the video could harm future opportunities, Ms. Garcia, after dropping off resumes at various restaurants, landed another job the next day. (The person who hired her didn’t know about the video. When she told her new boss about it, Ms. Garcia said, “They laughed about it and said, ‘Oh my gosh, we won’t treat you like that.’ ‘”)
TikTok is full of advice about what to do after quitting a job. Ms. Garcia is part of a different trend, one that predates TikTok, in which young people are posting mini dramas that draw millions of viewers. And in some cases, these very public videos can translate into new career opportunities, helping those who post them build their online personalities.
Quitting videos or QuitToks, as they are sometimes called, reflect “a breakdown of the social contract that if you work hard and play by the rules, the American dream is still there for you,” said Ann Swidler, a sociology professor at the university of California at Berkeley whose courses include the sociology of culture. Company loyalty isn’t what it once was, Dr. Swidler said. There is “a cultural disillusionment with the promises that ride behind the world of work.”
Service workers in low-wage jobs are proclaiming, publicly, that the implicit trade-off of working for money is no longer a fair deal. And with 1.9 job openings for every person looking for work, they can afford the risk of going public.
The common theme to the videos is “frustrated expectations,” said Joseph Fuller, a professor of management practice at Harvard University Business School. “No one takes a job thinking, ‘This is going to be terrible; I can’t believe I have to do this.’,” he said.
“By and large, people don’t quit jobs,” he added, “They quit bosses.”
Marching bands and interpretive dances
Before quitting videos appeared on TikTok, users were sharing similar stories on YouTube and Facebook.
In 2011, Joey La Neve DeFrancesco, then 23, posted a YouTube video of him quitting his hotel job with the support of his marching band. In a recent interview, he said he had been frustrated by the long hours, the low pay, the shared tips and the opposition to unionizing. “I wanted to send management one last message and make something that was going to be funny to co-workers and perhaps inspire fighting union-busting managers,” he said.
In the video, a smiling Mr. DeFrancesco and his band members confront one of his managers who, upon seeing the musicians, tries to order everyone out. “I’m here to tell you that I’m quitting!” Mr. DeFrancesco responds. He tries to hand his resignation letter to the manager, but it floats to the ground. Then he raises his arms triumphantly and the band blares a celebratory marching tune. The video has been viewed 8.5 million times.
The three-minute video landed him appearances on “Good Morning America,” “Access Hollywood” and “Anderson Cooper 360.” It “changed my life,” he said, although it did not change his values: Mr. DeFrancesco primarily works as a labor organizer.
Many recent quitting videos appear to be spur of the moment. Like Mr. DeFrancesco’s video, Marina Shifrin’s was planned. In September 2013, she was 25 and working in Taiwan, animating, as she called them, “celebrity fluff pieces.” After experiencing “consistent harassment from my boss,” she said, “I was unraveling.”
And she felt trapped in a system that abused young women, she said. “I felt I had no resources to get myself out of the situation, so I turned to the internet because that’s where I spent most of my time.”
Ms. Shifrin took a methodical approach. “I’m probably the only person who posted a viral video who wrote a pros and cons list,” she said. Her cons included, “no more health insurance” and “will never get hired in the corporate world.” Ms. Shifrin decided the pros outweighed the cons.
In the video, titled “An Interpretive Dance for My Boss Set to Kanye West’s ‘Gone,’” Ms. Shifrin writes that she is at work at 4:30 am She is the only person in a room full of cubicles. Wearing a green blazer and her employee badge, she performs the interpretive dance of the title, in a bathroom, in a recording studio, on a desk and in the aisles, as overlaid text lists her reasons for leaving. As she pops up from a cubicle, the text reads: “I QUIT!” When she leaves the office, she flicks off the lights. The text reads, “I’m gone.”
The job she was leaving was focused on getting as many views as possible; Her response video succeeded, she said, because she was focusing “on content instead of worrying about views.” That her video went viral, she said, was “sweet justice.”
In less than 24 hours, while Ms. Shifrin flew from Taiwan to Los Angeles for an appearance on “The Queen Latifah Show,” she said, and she gained about 2.6 million additional views. Hollywood agents came calling. Ms. Latifah offered her a job on the air. For seven years, she worked in TV and published a book called “30 Before 30: How I Made a Mess of My 20s, and You Can Too.”
Ms. Shifrin’s video has been viewed nearly 20 million times. After she posted the video, the song “Gone,” which had been released eight years earlier, hit the US Billboard Hot 100 chart at 18.
Ms. Shifrin understands why people are drawn to I quit videos. “One of the most relatable experiences is to feel mistreated in a work environment,” she said. Once posted, the videos “balance the power a little bit.”
The videos by Mr. DeFrancesco and Ms. Shifrin was a kind of performance art. Today’s quitting videos are less about presentation and more about specific complaints. Many feature minimum-wage workers, often young women.
The emotional punch
In February 2020, Maria Kukulak recorded her decision to leave her job at Wendy’s because she said her new managers were “being really mean.” Ms. Kukulak says she’ll quit after completing her shift, “I’m going to sweep and then hop out the window.” Midway through the TikTok video, she learns that a manager labeled her “a lost cause.” She hops out the window as promised. “I’m not a lost cause and I quit,” she says to her boss. “Goodbye.”
Her video has been viewed over 15 million times. Ms. Kukulak now works as a personal trainer and does not make a living from TikTok, but would like to. “I love taking videos of myself,” she said in a recent interview. With 227,000 followers, she dreams of becoming a full-time content creator. “I feel I have talent,” she said.
LikeMs. Kukulak’s TikTok, the most popular videos tend to be dramatic and short; Viewers come for the emotional punch, not for the details.
On Feb. 5, 2020, a McDonald’s manager named Nelly (she doesn’t reveal her surname in the video or on her account) had a co-worker film her joyously pressing the soft ice cream dispenser lever. “Let’s see how big we can get this cone! Free cone challenge!” she announces. Then she hands the cone through the window to a delighted driver as she declares: “I’m about to quit! Free cones! Free cones!”
Her video was viewed 6.5 million times.
Nelly later posted a thoughtful 18-minute video to YouTube in which she says she does not approve of companies that take advantage of their workers. As of the publication of this article, her in-depth explanation has a view count of 66.