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Take this job … and post it.

October 18, 2013
tags: , ,

Published by the Center for Digital Ethics & Policy

On September 28, 2013, Marina Shifrin posted a video on YouTube called “An Interpretive Dance For My Boss Set To Kanye West’s Gone.” The video opens with a close-up of Shifrin’s face and a caption: “It’s 4:30 am and I am at work.” It ends with the words “I QUIT” superimposed over Shifrin dancing in front of a row of empty cubicles. Then she walks to the door, turns off the lights and the screen goes black: “I’m gone.”

Most of the one-minute, 45-second video features the former Next Media Animation staffer bobbing, shimmying and gyrating in a sound booth, a bathroom stall and in front of those cubicles, her employee ID badge swaying around her neck.

“For almost two years I’ve sacrificed my relationships, time and energy for this job,” she writes in the video. “And my boss only cares about quantity and how many views each video gets. So I figured I’d make ONE video of my own.”

Ironically, Shifrin’s unorthodox resignation has gone viral. In two weeks, it received more than 15.8 million views on YouTube — certainly enough to make most bosses happy.

The majority of viewers have responded positively. There are more than 93,000 “thumbs up” votes on YouTube, more than 23 times the number of “thumbs down” votes. A sampling of the 18,000 comments includes praises such as “What an awesome, creative, getcha way of quitting a job!” and “good for you!!”

Shifrin’s efforts garnered plenty of media coverage, too, and even earned her a job offer from Queen Latifah. On her talk show, Latifah asks Shifrin if she has any regrets.

“No, sometimes I think that you need to forcefully close one door in order for the other one to open a little easier,” explains the 25-year-old aspiring comedian. Her response was met by claps and whoops from the studio audience and an understanding smirk from Latifah.

Of course, not everyone has loved Shifrin’s video — quite a few YouTube commenters criticize her dance moves, for instance. In response to a story about the viral video, one reader writes, “Just another member of the lost generation without a backbone (not facing boss to actually deliver the news) and feeling entitled…”

Another says, “I’ve been in management for close to 20 years, and I’d NEVER hire her. If she did this to her last company why wouldn’t she do it to us?”

Actually, it’s likely that Shifrin’s popular video will land her multiple job opportunities. But will she set precedent for others who follow her lead? Her video may seem like a novelty now, but future video quitters could ruin their professional reputations and lose prospects for future employment.

There are also moral considerations. Was it ethical for Shifrin to quit her job through this channel — a public video? Not only did she deride her employer, she did it using company equipment and facilities. If she hadn’t been resigning anyway, there’s a chance Shifrin’s video would be reasonable cause for termination.

Many employers have policies that prohibit using company property for personal pursuits. These codes can get murky in the digital age. (Is an email address considered property? What about a Twitter handle?) But a video camera used to film a silly, “stick it to the man” interpretive dance sequence isn’t so debatable. It’s a material object in the same vein as a company computer or phone.

Some employees sign a contract upon hire that explicitly forbids using property this way. If they break the rule, then they can be fired on legal grounds. Not all companies have such a clause, but one can argue that an employee crosses an ethical line by using company property for activities unrelated to the job.

Is all personal use of company property equal? Is checking Facebook for 10 minutes as unpardonable as taping a YouTube video bashing your boss? Keep in mind that Shifrin didn’t make her video in the privacy of her own home. She did it at work, in a space belonging to the company and intended for business-related activities.

Even in a country that lauds free speech, Shifrin’s video is ethically contentious. While condemning her employers is her right (in the United States — not necessarily in Taiwan, where Next Media Animation is based), the virtues of the way she chose to do it are not as clear-cut.

These ethical points are important to consider when looking at this trend — posting public videos to share personal announcements — on a larger scale. In addition to resignations, people have made videos to announce pregnanciescome out of the closet and to circulate marriage proposals.  Teenagers taking part in a craze called promposing tape themselves elaborately asking their dates to prom. Some rack up millions of YouTube hits for their efforts.

Promposing may seem harmless to all but a few disgruntled educators, but the stakes will be higher if YouTube quitting becomes the next big thing. Not all companies will react like Shifrin’s former employer did: with a video of their own.

Three days after Shifrin’s move, Next Media Animation, a 3D animation studio headquartered in Taipei, Taiwan, responded with a close imitation of the original. In addition, a rep from the company sent an email to Gawker, addressing Shifrin’s allegations.

“I do not think she intended to hurt anyone, but it has happened,” wrote Mark Simon, a commercial director at the company. Later he adds, “There is an image now of a sweat shop, we are not.”

In a Q & A with The Washington Post[i], Shifrin backtracks a bit, and says the company treats employees well.

“They understand that the video was a joke and a tip of the hat to my time there,” she sums up.

In the end, the quit video was good marketing for both parties involved. Shifrin has amused millions of YouTube fans. But she didn’t take the high road.

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