In September 2013, millennial Marina Shifrin quit her job at a Taiwanese animation company by posting a video on YouTube. The video was picked up by Gawker.com and immediately went viral, sparking a global online debate on employment practices, public resignations and working in Asia. Her employers responded with a letter to Gawker and a parody video to showcase their point of view and announce that they had a job vacancy. The overwhelming response to the videos reflects the varying attitudes of people towards their job, their personal brand and their criteria for a ‘good employer.’ The company’s management of the crisis is also a good example of how a quick response and two-way discussion can help deflate an online bubble and save a company’s reputation.
Shifrin’s video shows her dancing in her office at 4:30am, while working the midnight shift, to Kanye West’s Gone. Her video received 16 million views and 18,000+ comments within two months.
She posted the video with this note, explaining her decision to quit:
“I work for an awesome company that makes news videos. I have put my life into this job, but my boss says quantity, speed and views are what is most important. I believe it’s more important to focus on the quality of the content. When you learn to improve this, the views will come. Here is a little video I made explaining my feelings.”
Fun fact: the popularity of the video boosted Kanye’s song back into the limelight. As YouTube user Allen Jones commented:
“I want to know how she got this song to make in top 20 on the charts even though it came out 8 years ago just because it was playing on this video.”
Many people applauded Shifrin’s initiative to quit a job she was unhappy in. YouTube user Blackbyrd commented:
“She’s got my support. Some are so quick to bash her, but people deal with some crazy, illogical, psychological crap on a job, and I can only imagine the narcissism she put up with, the office egos, the feeling of oppression and having your talents squandered, and even the disgust at watching a company deteriorate because of poor management and ethics. Dance on, Marina!”
Some shared the same dissatisfaction with their jobs and the way their employers treat them, and identified themselves with her. sippoujulian commented:
“Totally agreed, some bosses are really terrible, like my case, my boss does not even pay me anything for half a year for all my hard works, in this case, i am worse than you , you have my support !”
Others didn’t approve the decision to quit, and wondered why Shifrin didn’t contribute to a solution at the company:
“People keep saying that she stood up for what is right and blah blah blah, but what did she do?… By quitting her job I don’t think she made a change;at all. By TRYING to change what the company is [doing] she would.”
Yet others questioned her decision to quit in a rough job market. OmgItsEvan commented:
“She’s not getting another job again. If somebody gave her a job after the fact that she quit in that fashion would be insane. Come on, there are so many people out there that need jobs, and you’re making a video tap dancing quitting a job that you’re probably making decent money at, it’s just tacky. Please.”
The video also inspired discussion around personal branding and the eternal memory of the internet. Comments focused around the question ‘Is it okay to quit in such a public manner?’ Dan Ryan commented:
“It probably wasn’t the best idea to quite in this way because now every time she applies for a job the employer will see this video which will probably ruin her chances of getting the job. Any employer would fear getting bashed like this.”
Another YouTube user noted that in a world driven by the number of views and clicks, this video demonstrates Shifrin’s understanding of the medium and makes her a talent worth hiring.
The video inspired a lot of backlash towards Shifrin’s employer Next Media Animation (NMA), and brought up people’s perception of Asian employers as sweatshop drivers. These responses actually moved the company to respond and share their side of the story. In a letter to Gawker, NMA’s Mark Simon wrote:
“There is an image now of a sweat shop, we are not… “I am not looking to slam her, nor am I engaged in anything but trying to help some other managers in their early 30’s, understand why the young lady they hung out with just cashiered them. I don’t think she meant for it to be seen as so harsh, but we are getting some nasty attacks on our managers, who she says she respects.”
NMA responded to video by writing a letter to Gawker, the news site that promoted Shifrin’s video, and by publishing their own video – a quick three days after the original video was posted. Rather than being defensive and attacking Shifrin, NMA spoke well of her and sought to clarify some of the concerns raised by viewers across the globe – they explained that Shifrin was paid a handsome salary, they were aware of her unhappiness with her profile and were working with her to find a more agreeable role within the company. NMA’s Mark Simon invited people to ask their questions on Gawker and answered them in the comments.
The response video featured NMA employees dancing around their office in the same style as the original video and highlight the company’s competitive offers – like a swimming pool and a sauna. The video ends with an announcement that the company has a vacancy and is hiring.
NMA’s quick response, openness to discuss the issue further and continued respect for Shifrin ensured a lot of support from the web population.
Mark Simon’s dialogue on Gawker also helped to dispel the perception of NMA as a bad employer:
NMA also reportedly received 100 applications to the position vacated by Shifrin.
Both videos also encouraged discussion around the cultural differences involved in working in a different country.
Shifrin became an instant web celebrity, and was invited to share her experience on The Huffington Post and on The Queen Latifah Show. Shifrin was offered a job by Queen Latifah, but appears to have turned it down. According to her social channels, Shifrin is pursuing her dream to become a comedian. In an interview with Mashable, she commented:
“My only plan was to just be funny, you know, and entertain people for a little bit. I just want people to know that it was made in good fun and not to diss the company. I’ve heard that some people are beginning to quit their jobs, and I just hope that if they do make that decision, they have a stable plan B. I definitely had a backup plan for when I was quitting.”
Several people joked about the authenticity of the videos, including TIME magazine, noting that it would have made for a very successful PR stunt. TIME magazine’s Laura Stampler wrote:
“Shifrin’s video accumulated almost 8.5 million views in only four days, while Next Media animation’s respo is up to 500,000 in just one. The whole thing makes us wonder, was this all some sort of viral marketing scheme? Does that puppet master Jimmy Kimmel have anything to do with this?”
YouTube user storyfinder5 commented:
“PLOT TWIST! THIS WAS THE LATEST CAMPAIGN TO GET VIEWS! Oh gosh, nah I’m totally joking. More power to you I suppose, (-: Good luck out there.”
Some people wondered if the buzz around “millennial workers” was responsible for boosting the viral reach of Shifrin’s video. Indeed, the video did spark some reflection on millennial attitudes and personal branding.
In a blog post on Wall Street Journal, Jeff Yang wrote:
“At professional gatherings like the Asian American Journalists Association national convention, which the NMA team attended during their recent U.S. trip, the buzzword “personal brand” is a near constant refrain. 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. “Seen in that light, Shifrin’s flamboyant exit was almost a logical strategic decision based on everything we’re telling and selling the Millennial generation about what they need to get ahead — and an incredibly successful one, at that.”
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