It was sweltering inside the nightclub where Alexander was DJing, in the US state of Virginia. Though it was more than 40°C outside, the club’s air conditioning was broken. It felt extra sticky and humid because the club was hosting a special event: a Pokemon-themed foam party, where upwards of 400 clubbers were frolicking in suds.
“I literally had ice packs on my neck in order to not pass out,” remembers Alexander, now 35, of the 2016 event. The heat was also damaging his gear, and he’d had enough. Over the microphone, so everyone could hear, he berated the club owner for lying about fixing the air conditioning and for the equipment-frying conditions. “I’m done,” he said, then stormed out.
Many of us have fantasised about leaving a bad job in a similarly dramatic fashion. Yet far from throwing a temper tantrum, ‘rage quitting’ is a sign of serious flaws in a workplace: from lax health and safety standards to exploitative working conditions and abusive managers. The Covid-19 pandemic has only intensified the stressors that can lead employees to quit on the spot. But as rage quitting tends to be the culmination of a series of work issues, employers can avoid being left in the lurch by paying attention to the warning signs – before an employee drops the mic on their way out the door.
What a ‘rage quit’ looks like
The idea of angrily walking out of a job has been around since long before the phenomenon became celebrated in pop culture, like the 1970s country music anthem Take This Job and Shove It; and before video gamers started using the term ‘rage quitting’ in the 1980s to refer to angrily exiting a frustrating game.
Though rage quitting can look and feel impulsive, dissatisfaction with a job tends to build up over time, until an incident triggers the actual resignation. And having a safe space to land – such as an abundance of job options, another source of income (like unemployment insurance) or an upcoming opportunity (like graduate school) – can make it easier to pull that trigger.