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Rage Rooms Offer a Chance to Vent … and Smash Stuff

Although their methods have detractors, two HR practitioners are taking a swing at employee catharsis.

By Carol Brzozowski

T

he woman from an IT firm frustrated by challenges in both life and work glided through the warehouse swinging a baseball bat, a golf club and alternately a sledgehammer attempting to destroy office equipment and glass bottles sitting on a table.

In most any other scenario, an HR professional may have called security or referred Jane Gardner to counseling.

Instead, an HR practitioner applauded the effort. Kathy Barrios, a human resources business partner for Polyconcept North America, and Massiel Reyes, a recruiter with staffing firm Westaff, offered Gardner water and a smile after she was done “raging.”

Barrios and Reyes own Smash the Rage, a 1,500-square-foot facility in a Miami area industrial complex. It’s one of the nation’s newest so-called “rage rooms” in which patrons are encouraged to funnel their anger through what they believe is a more appropriate and enjoyable outlet.

Workplace frustrations account for the reason most patrons visit the facility. Some are repeat customers; others are referrals.

“A lot of retail employees come in and complain about their customers. People are frustrated with their workloads; their bosses and their colleagues are a major issue,” said Barrios.

Other Smash the Rage events center a theme on parenting stress, divorce parties and holiday blues. People also celebrate victories like conquering cancer.

“Kathy came into my office upset one day and wanted to smash things,” said Reyes of Smash the Rage’s genesis. “Of course, when people talk like that, you give them a pat on the back and say, ‘You know what, champ? It’s OK. There will be better days.’ ”

Barrios instead researched rage rooms and suggested to Reyes they open one. They still maintain their day jobs and manage the rage room at nights and on weekends.

The woman letting out her frustrations works as an accountant at an IT company and discovered that in order to advance she needed to become a licensed CPA. She found studying for and taking the CPA exam intensive and difficult.

Exasperated, she took out her annoyances during a Smash the Rage visit.

“Each time, it’s like a workout,” she said. “It gives you an exhilarating feeling.”

Owners of rage room Smash the Rage
Recruiter Massiel Reyes, left, and HR practitioner Kathy Barrios own rage room Smash the Rage.

On the low end, patrons pay $30 to bring in their own box of items to smash during a 15-minute session. An “office smash” costs $100 for one person for 25 minutes. Additional people pay $30.

Patrons must sign a waiver and wear closed-toe shoes. Protective gear includes a safety suit, a helmet with a face shield, goggles for extra precaution and gloves with phone-friendly fingertips for those wanting to photograph their sessions.

Patrons use a number of weapons for raging, including bats, sledgehammers, golf clubs, legs of tables, wrenches, metal poles and shovels.

Patrons can pay $30 to bring in their own box of items to smash in a 15-minute session

Barrios and Reyes source most of the materials for destruction through conducting free bulk pick-ups from people seeking to get rid of items. After the rage session, the broken items, including glass, metal and aluminum, are sorted for recycling or disposal.

The Smash the Rage website makes it clear the facility is for entertainment and not therapy.

Even so, “we try to make it a therapeutic experience in the way we welcome them,” said Reyes of patrons. “We tell them they’re in a safe space to let it out and let it go. They’re doing something unconventional they’re not raised to do.”

Reyes and Barrios are aware that some psychologists believe rage rooms are not a healthy way to manage anger, instead believing they encourage and promote it.

“We are in a world where sometimes the physical outlet — what we call raging — is sometimes more cathartic in dealing with a high level of emotions than sitting in a small space in the quiet with your eyes closed trying to take a deep breath,” Reyes said.

Customers who arrive with pent-up anger leave the facility “sweaty, red and relaxed,” Reyes said.

“We give them a cold bottle of water, a pat on the back and say, ‘All right, have a good day and take a deep breath for tomorrow,’ ” she added.

As an HR professional, Barrios said she believes rage rooms could be a useful employee benefit.

“We’ve had customers whose companies just had major layoffs and they were affected and frustrated by the system,” she said. “They go through many emotions and come here and tell me they felt completely different afterward.”

Raging crosses a line people normally are afraid to cross, Reyes said. “We definitely don’t want to promote violence. We tell them we want them to let it out here so they don’t carry it out with them.”