Rage-quitting a job is a popular fantasy. In so many films and TV shows, suddenly quitting a job is a moment of vindication after all the frustrations and resentments a person had to put up with at their miserable job. They finally get to dump their work phone in a Parisian fountain and send their boss to voicemail, as Andy did in “The Devil Wears Prada.” Or they get to tell a co-worker “I can’t do this anymore” as they leave their unwanted work responsibilities behind and exit the office building smiling, as Issa did in “Insecure.”
Even if you don’t act on them, dwelling on elaborate scenarios of how you would quit on the spot, too, is a big flashing clue that something in your work life needs to change.
“It’s a sign that something is amiss. Our discomfort, our anger, our rage is information that indicates to us that there is some kind of need that is not being met. Or some kind of truth that we are not aware of,” said Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, a licensed psychologist and executive coach.
It can be a tempting to escape into the rage-quitting daydream when work is a nightmare, but it’s not a useful exercise to keep doing all the time. “It can keep you from actually taking useful or actions that are appropriate to the situation,” Horsham-Brathwaite said. “It can contribute to people feeling trapped rather than looking at the underlying cause or issue that are leading them to fantasize about quitting.”
Instead of escaping into a fantasy, here’s how to face reality and channel that anger into productive action that can free you from the job that’s causing you unhappiness:
1. Get acquainted with the source of your rage.
Before acting on your rage-quitting fantasy and making it real, Horsham-Brathwaite recommended getting acquainted with what exactly is causing your anger through introspection.
Sometimes, this is a difficult first step for people to do.
“Because we may not have learned that it’s OK to have rage and anger, we may go to ‘There’s something wrong with me, I need to get rid of this emotion’ and not necessarily look at, ‘Well, perhaps that there is something in the environment that it’s reasonable to be enraged about,’” Horsham-Brathwaite said. “Maybe you are not getting paid equitably or because of shifts, you are no longer doing one job, you’re doing three jobs.”
To get clarity, Horsham-Brathwaite recommended journaling your thoughts and emotions around your job and seeing if this activity can bring up possible solutions.
2. Talk to others who can give you an outside perspective.
Because anger can cloud our judgment, it’s useful to talk with mentors and trusted advisers outside of your terrible job who can give you a fresh perspective on your work woes.
“It starts to create some hopefulness that this doesn't have to be your life forever.”
This person can tell you, “‘Here is the part that is the environment, and here’s the part that I’m hearing about how you navigated the challenges that perhaps you might consider doing differently in the future and here’s why,’” Horsham-Brathwaite said. “I think it’s helpful to have people in our lives to tell us what they believe to be the truth and then we can decide if what they share resonates with us.”
Psychologist and career coach Lisa Orbé-Austin said you can reach out to mentors not only to complain, but to ask them for ideas on how you can be strategic about your next step forward.
“It starts to create some hopefulness that this doesn’t have to be your life forever when you can plan for the future, and you can begin to think about other options,” she said. “Oftentimes in these moments, we get constricted in our world.”
3. Do network, but don’t spend the whole time trash-talking your current job.
Networking for better opportunities is a proactive step you can take to leave a job that’s giving you so much grief. But while you’re meeting up with colleagues or peers, don’t let anger over your current job define the career story you tell other people.
Horsham-Brathwaite said professionals should not network “while trashing the place where they work or their manager. It’s just not helpful. It doesn’t give people a vision of what kind of team member you would be in that new environment, or whether they would feel comfortable recommending you to a hiring manager.”
4. Take time off if you can, and center your health.
Orbé-Austin recommended that if you’re in a rage-quitting headspace, you use job benefits like PTO for your own benefit, and work through your feelings with a professional such as a therapist.
“It’s not just the quitting that is going to resolve all the feelings that were left over from whatever happened,” Orbé-Austin said. “Oftentimes, when we’re so angry, we’re not doing anything but [venting], and so I think it’s really important that you’re taking care of your holistic health, and to just take a step back and see what you’re missing in your self-care process.”
5. Plan your exit strategy, or accept the consequences if you must rage-quit without notice.
What movies and TV shows don’t always tell you is that quitting on the spot can feel great in the moment, but have long-term consequences.
Orbé-Austin quit a past job without notice, but she does not advise doing so on the spot without a plan. “It can have consequences in terms of your professional reputation you might not even think about,” she said. “I, at the time, knew those consequences.“
If you do decide that you must quit your job on the spot, be prepared to deal with colleagues gossiping about it. “A lot of people will never know the circumstances underneath and will only see your rage-quitting,” Orbé-Austin said. “On the other side of me leaving were all these people who were saying, ‘How could she do that? How unprofessional. How could she ever be trusted again?’”
But don’t wait around, either, hoping your work situation will get better. Internal opportunities such as getting a new boss or joining a new team may eventually come along and relieve the pain point causing the anger. But, Orbé-Austin said, you should be proactive and take steps that are in your control, like networking and job-hunting, to get you out of your circumstances.
If you feel like rage-quitting, “you want to establish a greater sense of agency and control in your life,” she said. “It requires you doing things to move yourself forward and not necessarily waiting for something better to come along.”