Essence Gibbs felt overworked and underpaid as a sales associate at an athletic apparel outlet.
During her 18-month tenure, she claimed the store’s upper management often shorted or delayed her biweekly paychecks without any explanation. What’s more, she said special perks and allowances were given to employees who were close with the boss.
So, Gibbs decided to take matters into her own hands.
But rather than doing the bare minimum on the sales floor during each shift or quitting her job altogether, she chose to kill the company with kindness — aimed at benefiting customers but not the company’s profits, that is.
“The managers at the job treated us horribly, so I gave one customer 50% off a pair of $110 Air Force Jordans,“ Gibbs, 19, a business administration student from Lake Charles, Louisiana, told The Post.
A TikTok clip of her giving a customer the massive discount as an act of corporate defiance scored more than 435,000 views on the social-media platform. While she was allowed to give discounts to customers, slashing prices, especially after feeling slighted by her superiors, became routine for Gibbs.
“They’d mess with our money by putting payroll in late, so I’d mess with theirs by [using special discount codes] to help out a customer,” said Gibbs, who now works as a manager for a national pharmacy chain after leaving the store in May 2021. “I did feel a little guilty, but my managers did not respect me, so I found ways to put a smile on my face.”
Disgruntled Gen Z and millennial workers are banding together under the trending hashtag #MaliciousCompliance — or being overly accommodating, agreeable and generous to customers or clients on the company’s dime. It’s considered an offshoot of the “quiet quitting” craze, which saw employees do the bare minimum on the job amidst the post-pandemic Great Resignation movement. Defenders of these small, vengeful acts maintain that they’re justified due to poor treatment in the workplace.
But despite their ad hoc nature, the movement could cost companies millions in business disruption, productivity and revenue loss, fines and penalties, and reputation damage, according to a study from data integration imprint Globalscape and the Ponemon Institute.
“Use whatever power you have in your role to do random acts of kindness for people because you don’t care if you get in trouble for it,” the Los Angeles TikToker known as @SpeechProf explained in a video with more than 646,000 clicks.
“Give people employee discounts. You have free tickets to something? Hand them to some random person. Waive overdraft fees. Upsize their food. Do whatever you want because you don’t care.”
A malicious compliance advocate on TikTok named Katerina also celebrated the subversive movement. Her checklist for disgruntled employees and managers looking to undermine their higher-ups? “Approving all time off requests,” “[Giving out] weekly appreciation awards [to subordinates] and “[Encouraging customers to] keep whatever you want.”
But burned out workers bragging on the Malicious Compliance subreddit are already way ahead of her.
One user, who worked at a diner, recalled gifting patrons with 18-ounce cups of coffee after their manager viciously belittled them in front of a customer in a post with more than 22,000 views.
Another anonymous Redditor scored 43,900 views on a post praising a maliciously compliant waiter who treated his kids to massive bowls of ice cream after his boss humiliated him for asking if the restaurant was out of its small dessert dishes.
However, while these acts of sabotage can wreak havoc on a business’s bottom line profits, they can backfire on employees, too.
Human Resources expert Jackie Cuevas, based in Orange County, Calif., tells The Post that companies plagued by the problem will likely reallocate funds from employee benefits.
“If an employee is simply giving away [perks] to multiple customers a day, over time that can get extremely costly,” said Cuevas. “And the company is going to have to cover that cost, which could mean they’ll have to take away money from something else.”
The guerilla tactics could also lead to an employee’s unceremonious termination.
Instead of wickedly plotting against an employer, Cuevas suggests dissatisfied workers have a conversation with their direct supervisor about burnout, mistreatment or extreme workloads in an effort to set boundaries and change the situation.
“A good manager will advocate for you, not punish you for being honest,” she said.
Philadelphia small business owner Robyn L. Garrett said she’s “thankfully avoided” a malicious compliance revolt from her employees by prioritizing staff needs.
“I look for opportunities to advocate for my employees — I’ll fight to get them a bigger raise, I’ll work to approve their paid time-off requests,” Garrett, 36, told The Post. “My goal is to help people feel good so that they can be great at their jobs.”