‘NATO Appliers’: Another Controversial Career Trend That Some Job Hunters Are Practicing

Job searching has always been a stress-inducing activity for those building their careers. Applicants often have to navigate numerous potential blunders while trying to secure a position. The pressure can have significant effects on the mental health of job seekers and may even interfere with their performance during interviews, leading to a cascade of concerns: What will the interview be like? Who will be conducting it? Will I be able to perform at my best?

### A Shift in Job Hunting Trends

This year, Gen Z and Millennial job hunters are challenging the status quo set by corporate America, which has imposed in-office mandates and orchestrated large-scale layoffs. In pursuit of work flexibility, job security, and work-life balance, they have turned the tables by resorting to unconventional methods like "coffee badging," "shadow policies," "quiet quitting," and "chronoworking" to bypass the control of big businesses. These trends have paved the way for a new phenomenon called "NATO applying," which stands for "not attached to the outcome." This attitude characterizes "NATO appliers," who refrain from emotionally investing in the positions they apply for.

### Understanding the "NATO Appliers" Approach

With recent instances of employers breaching trust, such as mass layoffs and back-to-the-office mandates, some job seekers are adopting a "NATO applier" mindset, akin to a protective shield against the uncertainties imposed by corporate America. This approach allows them to remain open to all possibilities and avoid becoming overly invested in opportunities that they might eventually miss out on. This shift in mentality is analogous to the TikTok trend of "NATO dating," where individuals date for the experience of meeting new partners rather than with the sole purpose of finding a long-term partner.

### Commonality and Trends

According to Jennifer Dulski, a Stanford lecturer and CEO of Rising Team, "NATO applying" is becoming increasingly prevalent, particularly among Gen Z and Millennials, who have also driven the emergence of the NATO dating trend. These generations have been profoundly impacted by broken trust in companies, a sentiment further exacerbated by the pandemic, which ushered in a period of hybrid work, rapid hiring, and subsequent widespread layoffs. Such unpredictability has given rise to a risk-averse workforce, where long-term job security is no longer a given, as companies may not always reciprocate the loyalty of their employees. Consequently, "NATO applying" is now extending its influence across multiple generations, as workers strive to ensure they always have alternative connections or opportunities at hand.

### The Career Cushion

Dulski emphasizes that the primary objective for employees embracing the "NATO applying" mindset is to effectively "career cushion." By maintaining multiple options, individuals can more swiftly transition to new roles in the event of a layoff and also evaluate their marketability. Positive feedback from hiring teams can boost their confidence, enabling them to pursue new opportunities or negotiate for better packages in their current positions, should they feel undervalued.

### Impact on Employers

Employers are not immune to the effects of "NATO appliers." As Dulski elucidates, both their current workforce and incoming job applicants may be less committed and engaged, resulting in decreased productivity. This is corroborated by Gallup's 2023 Global State of the Workplace Report, which estimates a staggering $8.8 trillion in lost productivity due to disengaged employees.

### Mitigating the Impact

To mitigate the potential ramifications of "NATO applying," organizations should focus on two key areas as recommended by Dulski. First, they should strive to inspire employees by emphasizing the value of their company's mission through customer impact stories and showcasing the positive influence of their work. Secondly, fostering understanding and value among employees can lead to heightened engagement. Empowering managers to comprehend the needs of their teams and equipping them with the necessary tools to fulfill these needs can enhance the sense of value and connection within the organization, ultimately reducing the prevalence of "NATO applying."

In conclusion, as job seekers continue to adapt to the evolving landscape and incorporate new strategies like "NATO applying," it becomes imperative for employers to cultivate environments that foster mutual trust, purpose-driven work, and authentic connections to ensure sustained employee engagement and productivity.  

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