I’m a TikTok “Work Life” Influencer
Within the chaotic content mix TikTok is known for, one corner of the app that’s blown up over the past two years is #corporatehumor. Thanks in large part to the shift for millions of people to remote work, users today can tap into an endless waterfall of relatable, head-shaking humor about the ups and downs of corporate culture and working from home. Too-real observations like Gen Z’s extremely casual approach to email sign offs, the coworker who calls way too early, microaggressions faced by Black employees, and the day-to-day fallout of the Great Resignation now make up their own super-popular niche.
In some ways, the genre is a response to the newer struggles that’ve come with paying the bills during a global pandemic, and in others, it feels like the culmination of the long, slow burn of workers growing fed up with the status quo. On top of being a way to vent and connect, these quick-hit clips also have payoff potential. The creator @rod, one of the earliest in the category to go viral—for his portrayal of being a burnt-out millennial in a desk job—has racked up 1.4 million followers and paid partnerships with brands like SpaghettiOs and Dr. Pepper.
So for the micro-influencers actually churning out these videos, what it’s like mining their day job for content, and is it problematic when coworkers find their account? To find out, I asked three #worktok creators about life behind the For You page.
How did you get started as a creator—or, to quote the viral Cardi B sound, “What was the reason!”
Alex Schroeder (@alexeating) began his TikTok as a foodie account highlighting his favorite local D.C.-area restaurants in 2020: “I started it as a way to support small businesses during lockdown. Then I saw the trend of corporate humor, and it was such a good way of poking fun at those moments at work when you’re like, ‘This would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad!’”
For Ceara O’Sullivan (@cearajane), TikTok was a way to keep her growing comedy career alive while working her day job from home: “I was a comedian before TikTok, but the pandemic brought me online—with live stages not being open, I started posting a lot more. Work-related jokes have always been a sweet spot for me. Not all comedians have corporate jobs, and I was able to speak to these really relatable moments firsthand.”
Chris Yon (@imchrisyon) had been scrolling for a few years before he decided to start posting his own content in late 2021: “I came across people like @corporatenatalie, and it was so funny and relatable. I thought I could try my hand at it. My first videos were really random, but those work ones gained a lot of traction.”
Real talk—how’s that 9-to-5 really going, and how awkward is it when your coworkers find your account?
Alex: “I have a full-time role in marketing that includes social media management, and I partly got the job because I have experience creating video and short-form content. I love my job right now, and my boss is fully aware of my account. There are some things I might poke fun at, but a lot of what I’m putting out there is based on old jobs or these universal experiences we all have.”
Chris: “A few people at work do know about [my TikTok presence], but I kind of ask them to keep it on the down-low. I recently started and my new company has been awesome, so I want to make sure people know a lot of my material is about older experiences or talking to friends. I’m treading water carefully on that front. Having a social media presence in addition to my professional life is a bit of a challenge since all of this is so new to me!”
Ceara: “I work at the Semel Institute of Neuroscience at UCLA, and my job really is very gratifying but it’s very administrative, so having a way to express my creative self is huge. The most important thing I try to convey to my colleagues is that I’m a comedian, so everything is blown way out of the water to be funnier. I’m not walking around with a notebook spying on everyone.”
How do you manage making content so it doesn’t take over your personal life? And how do you decide what to post?
Ceara: “If there’s something I’m really, really excited about, I’ll just make it quickly and post it. It doesn’t take up too much of my time. I would say less than 10 hours a week. Honestly I lose more hours scrolling! It’s not even the posting that’s a problem.”
Alex: “I make time during the weekend to film a bunch of content. I spoof off a lot of trending sounds, whatever is hot right now, so I’ll listen to a sound over and over again and then sometimes I get random ideas in the shower. I’ll create a draft that’s just my face with text over it and go back and remake it as a video later.”
The algorithm is all over the place, especially lately, and it’s evolving every day. Sometimes I post something and I’m like, ‘this is so hilarious, it’s totally relatable,’ and it flops. Other times something random will take off. It’s hard to gauge, so you have to just put things out there.”
The intergenerational office dynamic is a frequent setup on #worktok. How does that resonate with you? Do you think younger generations are changing workplace culture?
Ceara: “[Work culture] is so different now than before the pandemic; there’s also been a difference for me between working in my early 20s and in my late 20s. [My views have changed on] how to be authentic at work, and what parts of my job are energizing or not. Corporate comedy has also allowed us to realize that imposter syndrome is so widespread and we shouldn't let it get to us."
Chris: “I’m in my mid-20s and even I have seen a shift in workplace culture. The power of social media—even content creators giving [more straightforward] work advice—has provided so much value to all of us. Traditionally, for example, people say you should stay at a company for 15 to 20 years, but now we see the best way to increase your salary is to go to a new company every few years. Especially with inflation and the smallness of cost-of-living raises; a lot of people wouldn’t have known that before Tiktok and Instagram. It’s definitely not something I expected to learn when I downloaded an entertainment app.”
Work culture is in its pay transparency era—so how much does the influencer hustle actually pay off?
Alex: “I never thought I’d get paid for anything I make online. The Tiktok creator fund is like pennies per video, but brands are definitely starting to invest more in partnerships. I’ve noticed they’re more comfortable spending on Instagram ads versus ads on Tiktok, but I think that’s quickly changing. I created my own media kit after I got a certain amount of requests. That helps in terms of looking really professional, and I have a group of people in the same community and we can say, ‘What do you think of this, what did you do for them,’ etc. I feel a lot more comfortable going into those conversations now.”
Ceara: “As an actor and comedian, it helps with visibility. TikTok has made me some cool networking connections, like how [my videos] exposed me to my manager. It hasn’t been completely life-changing, but it’s been positive for my career so I’m really grateful. I’ve also been able to take occasional brand deals—I just used the money to help pay for the tail end of my graduate degree.”
Chris: “I’m not there yet but sure, I would love to explore doing this full-time if I could live off of it. I like the video editing, the creative aspect. A lot of people on TikTok have had a really big social following on another platform like Instagram first, which helps. I’ve been growing my Reels presence, but the brands I’ve worked with have been mostly interested in TikTok.”
Any advice for creators hoping to make it to FYPs everywhere?
Chris: “I would say, if anyone is thinking about starting an account, just go for it. You never know what’s going to happen. I got a lot of encouragement from other content creators. It’s a lot easier to go viral than you might think, and there are real opportunities out there, especially as brands are figuring out how to participate and capitalize on the app.”