The label “corporate villain” may call to mind one of the morally bankrupt executives that populate film and television, from RoboCop and Blade Runner to Succession and The Simpsons. But on TikTok, and across social media, there’s nothing that nefarious about entering your corporate villain era. Unless you think ignoring a work email sent after 7 p.m. is outright evil.
While older generations have been known to claim that millennials and Gen Z are lazy, entitled and never willing to go the extra mile for an employer, there’s reason to believe the opposite: Workaholics abound in these age groups. If you work remotely, tethered to your company by email, Zoom and Slack, it can seem like you’re always on call, expected to answer any question or problem no matter the time of day or what you’re busy with at the moment. To be villainous in this context, then, is to reclaim your off hours. Clock out, shut the laptop and silence your phone.
In previous weeks, inspired by a scene from the teen soap opera Euphoria, TikTok users declared 2022 the year of the villain and encouraged one another to give up their people-pleasing tendencies for more authentic self-expression, even at the expense of a gentler image. Villain mode was framed, as so many trends now are, as a boon to mental health. Now that framework is finding application in the labor market, where various currents of capitalism make it difficult to maintain boundaries between a day job and everything else in your life.
The joke, of course, is that we’re hardly thwarting the corporate superstructure by taking our allotted vacation weeks or having lunch somewhere besides our desks. In the long run, this stuff actually makes us better workers — but the system is so extractive that there’s a cultural pressure to deny ourselves even those allowances. If seizing what we were always meant to have identifies us as unproductive “villains” to the bosses, well, fine: We’re tired of the sacrifice it takes to seem like the ultimate team player, and we won’t be cowed into overcommitment. Sure, we’ll go on creating value for those at the top, but only because we feel like it. (And have some bills to pay.)
Got a problem with that? Don’t worry, you can expect a follow-up email. Eventually.