Steven Slater became a folk hero overnight last week when he jumped ship on his airline attendant job and career by popping open the emergency exit slide on his JetBlue plane, grabbing two beers and sliding into the spotlight as an employee who was “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”

After 28 years in the air, he had dealt with his last rude passenger. That his career is most likely done didn’t seem to faze him as he savored the ultimate satisfaction of getting in the last word in the argument he was having with a passenger – and most likely, the conditions of his job. Videos all over the web use the word “escape” as the describe his actions.

Quietly, whether we admit it or not, most of the world cheered – some louder than others. He gave voice to what some can only hope to aspire to – the ability to escape from a situation in which they face abuse, harassment, neglect, and/or starvation of their spirit every day.

Bad bosses and rude customers combine to put more pressure on people today than ever before. Employees have done what they’ve been asked to do. They ARE doing more with less, but the pressure doesn’t let up. Bosses, under pressure from their bosses, and from the shareholders who want fast profits are often living in fear and revert to fear mongering tactics to squeeze more. It’s not going to work. “Be thankful you have a job,” is not the best way to thank an employee for their extra effort.

According to the Miami Herald, the numbers show workplace crankiness should be growing. In my home state, Florida, “Income dropped 4 percent last year in South Florida, part of a national decline in earnings as the economy tanked. And productivity, which measures the amount of output a worker generates each hour, climbed as high as 7 percent in the second half of 2009 and a further 4 percent at the start of 2010. “Those are astounding numbers,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist for IHS Global Insight. “There’s no question the existing workforce is producing more with less.”

Many workers frustrated with management missteps won’t leave quite as dramatically as Mr. Slater but they will leave. Emotionally, they will leave themselves at home, impacting your ability to reach your goals of “wowing” the customer. Physically they will do damage to your brand by saying things to the customer that shouldn’t be shared.

During a recent horrific 12 day odyssey of service nightmares with AT&T, I heard from no fewer than four very competent sounding people how screwed up the internal communication is inside the company and that while some AT&T U Verse installations go off without a hitch, there are quite a few customers like me who drop into (my words) the black hole “between” (their word) the “2” companies.

Workers in all kinds of businesses, who themselves have reasonable common sense solutions to common problems (after all they do the work) are frustrated by managers who don’t ask for or value their opinions and saddled with complex – and sometimes downright stupid – ways of doing things that pit them against the customer.

Hence the customer gets angry, and in frustration, takes out that frustration at the rep. No customer service rep thinks it’s a good idea for you to bury your customer service phone number ten clicks deep on your website so customers can’t find it. If they want to call you, they will find it and call. And who is going to get the brunt of their frustration after you’ve just wasted their time by making it hard on them?

You got it – your already overworked rep!

Get the picture?

Before you find your employees wearing one of the many clever Slater inspired tee-shirts (Doing the “Slater Slide” has big meaning these days) or singing Jimmy Fallon’s musical tribute “Get Two Beers and Jump,” I advise you take a good look at the climate and culture in your company.

This working class hero – and whether it was right or wrong is not the issue here – this working class hero has given us a gift. For one thing, according to Alexander Fink, an economist at George Mason University, we can “..derive utility from having witnessed this act.” The very symbolism of it has given us all a psychological lift. For another, it’s a good place to start a discussion in the workplace about what’s needed to reduce the stress and what’s needed rid the place of fear and start building trust.

Don’t know how to do that? It’s easy.

Get the team together and have a discussion. Start by saying something like, “When I read the articles about this guy that escaped using the emergency slide on a JetBlue flight, I have to admit (and maybe I’m a little embarrassed to admit it) that I wanted to give the guy a thumbs up.

What were you thinking and feeling when you heard about it?”

I’m not implying that your workplace is abusive or oppressive – in fact if you are reading my stuff, it’s probably one of the better places to work – but I know enough about my readers to know they are feeling stressed and pressured. So I’m thinking let’s provide some opportunities to let some of the pressure out before someone grabs two beers and jumps.

Find out more about how to become a Positive Leader HERE


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