The ‘crying CEO’ sacked two people then posted a weeping selfie on LinkedIn. No wonder the backlash was swift | Arwa Mahdawi

People make fools of themselves on the internet every day. But Braden Wallake’s tear-stained post on the networking site was something special

Braden Wallake had a difficult choice to make. The 32-year-old CEO of HyperSocial, a marketing agency, had just sacked two of his 17 employees and needed to choose between quietly helping the newly unemployed pair move on with their lives and turning their misfortune into self-aggrandising online content.

You guessed it: Wallake chose option two. You see, no one really thinks about CEOs’ feelings. Wallake wanted everyone to know that chief executives are humans, too. They get hurt and feel pain just like mere mortals do. So, he snapped a selfie of himself crying and posted it on LinkedIn, along with an inspirational message about what a great guy he was.

“This will be the most vulnerable thing I’ll ever share,” he wrote. “Days like today, I wish I was a business owner that was only money driven and didn’t care about who he hurt along the way. But I’m not. So, I just want people to see, that not every CEO out there is cold-hearted and doesn’t care when he/she have to lay people off.” Then he clicked “post” and sat back to watch the likes roll in.

Quite a few likes did come in – but not at the same pace as the backlash. Rather than being floored by how “vulnerable” Wallake had been, the consensus seemed to be that the guy was a tone-deaf narcissist. The post went viral and the “crying CEO” quickly became a meme.

Internet detectives started mining Wallake’s online history and discovered that he had donated to the World Wildlife Fund in July to financially support a sea otter. This would be a sweet thing to do in normal circumstances, but doesn’t sit so well if you are the internet’s baddy du jour.

“Maybe it’s not a great idea to adopt a sea lion [sic] at the beginning of a recession?” one person snarked in Wallake’s comments. Meanwhile, news outlets started taking an interest; Wallake’s crying selfie was picked up by the Washington Post, the New York Post, Fast Company and more.

People make fools of themselves on the internet every day. The reason this particular piece of content generated so much attention is that Wallake’s performative empathy is a perfect encapsulation of everything that is irritating about LinkedIn and, by extension, everything that is wrong with corporate culture.

LinkedIn used to be a handy but unexciting online Rolodex. In recent years, however, it has become a cesspit of toxic positivity and a temple to cringe. There is a subreddit called LinkedInLunatics that catalogues “insufferable LinkedIn content”.

It is not enough for people to be CEOs, entrepreneurs or middle managers any more; they also have to be inspirational thought-leaders. LinkedIn is now a self-help blogging platform for business types. As an aside, they all seem to be incapable of writing properly, using single-sentence paragraphs instead. This form of writing has been called “broetry” – and it is brery brirritating.

Amid all the cringe, there is a silver lining. Once upon a time, a man would be mercilessly mocked for crying in public. Wallake, however, was mocked mainly for the performative nature of his crying, rather than the crying itself.

It has become a lot more acceptable for men to express emotion in public. Indeed, crying seems to be all the rage among male leaders – a quick way to express authenticity and prove you are not an unfeeling robot.

Andrew Cuomo, the former governor of New York, shed tears during some of his daily Covid briefings. So did Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles. Matt Hancock, Britain’s health secretary when Covid emerged, was brought to (fake-looking) tears on TV after the vaccine was introduced. Malcolm Gladwell shed tears this month when he told a podcast host how horrible it was that people were still working from home.

So, what is the moral of this story? Well, in true LinkedIn fashion, I will give you a list of three key learnings.

1 Crying is cool now.

2 LinkedIn is insufferable.

3 Don’t adopt a sea otter at the beginning of a recession.

• Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist


Arwa Mahdawi

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
People are quitting their jobs in record numbers. Companies should take note – and treat them better | Arwa Mahdawi
Labour shortages are causing widespread disarray. Perhaps employers might consider something radical: paying people more and exploiting them less, writes Arwa Mahdawi

Arwa Mahdawi

23, Jun, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
‘It just doesn’t stop!’ Do we need a new law to ban out-of-hours emails?
During the pandemic many workers have felt more under siege than ever from work emails that arrive at all hours. Could the legal right to disconnect help?

Elle Hunt

29, Jun, 2021 @4:56 AM

Article image
Being open about pay would make it harder to hire minorities? That sounds like corporate BS to me | Arwa Mahdawi
New York passed a law to improve pay transparency, which would shrink the gender pay gap. But a group of companies are using some vile tactics to delay it

Arwa Mahdawi

03, May, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
Should you ask for a pay rise? Not according to the former Pepsi CEO | Arwa Mahdawi
Indra Nooyi claims she has ‘never, ever, ever’ asked for a raise – and finds the whole idea cringeworthy, writes Arwa Mahdawi

Arwa Mahdawi

13, Oct, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Sleeping in the office is making a comeback? Elon Musk would approve – but what about having a life? | Emma Beddington
I love my job so much that I’d do it even if I won the lottery. But you have to draw the line somewhere

Emma Beddington

27, Nov, 2022 @2:30 PM

Article image
Is commuting good for you? I miss the break between work and home | Emma Beddington
How do you switch off at the end of the day if there’s no journey involved? Gardening? Sex? Crisps?

Emma Beddington

13, Feb, 2023 @7:00 AM

Article image
Retired early and wondering what to do? How about fighting for the rest of us? | Emma Beddington
I don’t begrudge the comfortably off ‘silver quitters’ their good luck. But those of us who still have to work need their help on the barricades, writes Emma Beddington

Emma Beddington

29, Jan, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
The great resignation is here! Seven things bosses should do to make brilliant staff stay
Millions of people around the world have quit their jobs or are planning to. Here is my advice for business leaders worried about the growing gaps in their workforce, writes Emma Beddington

Emma Beddington

04, Nov, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
The hidden life of a courier: 13-hour days, rude customers – and big dreams
An army of drivers risked their health to get us goods during lockdown. But what is it like making deliveries while negotiating parking fines, traffic jams and spiralling costs?

Sirin Kale

01, Mar, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
‘It’s the biggest open secret out there’: the double lives of white-collar workers with two jobs
Remote working has made it easier than ever for staff to moonlight. But how do they cope with clashing meetings and two bosses? And can the rewards be worth the lies?

Daisy Schofield

16, Nov, 2021 @10:00 AM