We learned recently with the “great resignation” that American workers have had enough. They want higher pay, work-life balance, job security and an increase in workplace diversity and inclusion, among other things, according to a 2022 Gallup study. In January 2023, the unemployment rate hit an all-time low of 3.4%—“the lowest jobless level since May 1969,” according to CNBC—showing that it’s an employee’s market.
So now, when employees get fed up at work, they aren’t feeling as stuck as they once did. Instead of organizing awkward conversations about systemic change with their toxic bosses, they are turning to another tactic: rage applying. This involves turning to job boards or other resources to apply for multiple jobs when you are mad at your current one, including positions that you consider “out of your league.”
In one TikTok, an employee talks about getting mad at work and “rage [applying] to like 15 jobs,” resulting in a $25,000 raise at a company that she calls “a great place to work.” While many commenters have had no luck with rage applying, others chime in that the same is working for them, with one even saying it resulted in a $35,000 raise. They are showing that this generation of workers isn’t looking for a company to call home for 30 years. They’re looking for the best opportunity for their current needs.
Where does the “revenge” aspect come from? The fact that the average cost of hiring a new employee was $4,683, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2022 “Talent Access Report.”
But you have to consider the long game, experts recommend. Here’s what they say to consider if you are thinking of rage applying your way out of a toxic workplace.
Why are people rage applying?
Last year, when you felt underappreciated at work, you may have turned to quiet quitting—doing the least amount of work possible to get by, resisting any additional asks in silent protest. But people who are ready to get out are not doing this, according to Smriti Joshi, chief psychologist at Wysa.
“As they begin to identify their own signs of burnout and the red flags in their workplace, they’re going into a fight-or-flight mode to manage their frustrations, and using rage applying in this flight attempt,” she says. Rage applying, Joshi notes, often happens when one of the following circumstances occurs:
- People feel unimportant or unheard, and have chronic workplace dissatisfaction
- They have unresolved emotional concerns or conflicts that might make them feel psychologically unsafe or hurt at work, and they are frustrated
- They have bottled-up feelings about their workplace that they transfer into rage applying to numerous jobs whether they fit the background or not
There’s an increasing awareness of the complicated and intertwined nature of personal and workplace mental health issues. Wysa’s October 2022 workplace research shows that “40% of employees screened positive for symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.” Yet, their research also shows that management is largely unaware of how prominent this issue is. In fact, 6 out of 10 employees “stated that their employers weren’t aware of their anxiety [screening] positive for anxiety,” and 5 out of 10 employees “stated that their employers weren’t aware of their depression [screening] positive for depression.”
Does rage applying work?
It does for some people. When Erica*, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based high school English teacher, gave it a try, she found her dream job. “The new superintendent was misogynistic and verbally abusive, so much so that there was a mass exodus of female employees,” she says. Another teacher who had been working at her school for decades left, taking a pay cut, and warned her that the district leader had “called her the c-word in response to a tweet I posted about toxic positivity.” She had also fought against racism from other leaders, and parents threatening teachers over wanting to ban books, including one that said their department should be “put up against the firing squad.”
“I was majorly depressed last year, fatigued, burnt out… I needed out,” she says. “Rage applying looked more like raging in my head while going to various press sites and looking for open positions. I applied to a few. It was a slower burning rage and less of a fury.” For her, a serendipitous offer at a nearby district was the ticket out. But the process wasn’t easy.
“Downsides? Definitely. The existential crisis of who am I and what the hell am I going to do for the rest of my life? Am I a coward for leaving people I love in the same toxic stew? I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to leave since teachers are often capped at a much lower pay scale when they change jobs,” she says. She advises others in the same situation that their mental health isn’t worth the price of a toxic environment.
But be cautious throughout the process
While rage applying paid off for Erica, Joshi warns that it can lead to both benefits and difficulties. “This action may lead to some doors opening in terms of more job opportunities but can actually also lead to feeling hopeless or unhappy, if they don’t hear back from places they have applied to or later find it’s not a role they wanted or is not a good fit,” she says. “Rage applying can actually lead to poor decision-making with regard to the opportunities one is applying to, out of desperation or anger rather than a thoughtful decision.”
How can employees be more strategic when rage applying?
Channel that rage into a strategy that leads to a better job, rather than guessing and hitting “apply” at random. Kelly Robinson, CEO and Founder of Panna Knows Recruiting, says you can’t ignore these three questions before applying:
- Am I truly qualified for this job? Have I mastered the necessary skills?
- Am I actually passionate about this role?
- Will this role fulfill me?
“Rage applying can really be a waste of time not only for the organization and its recruiters, but also for the jobseeker,” she says. “If they took the hour they spent applying to five jobs and instead used it to tweak their resume and craft a meaningful cover letter, they would most likely see better, more accurate results.” The trend can also prove costly for employers, who might find themselves spending time on candidates who aren’t truly the best fit for that job.
“If an organization has recruiters who are working on a commission-per-head-based model, there’s a good chance they are working quickly filling positions in order to boost their pay,” Robinson says. “For organizations who may hire rage appliers (although it can be hard to recognize), they most likely will have difficulty keeping these employees happy and retained.”
Robinson warns that the short-term calm and sense of accomplishment from rage applying won’t often lead to a “long-lasting career move.” Employ some strategy instead. In the end, a meaningful new placement will feel like the best revenge anyway.
*Name has been changed for privacy.
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