Friday, January 25, 2013

First class or coach?

In 2010, there was extensive publicity surrounding a Jet Blue flight attendant, Steven Slater. His dramatic exit from his job raised questions about workplace anger. It's reported that Slater used profanities with an unruly passenger, decided to get off the plane, grabbed some beer, deployed the emergency slide, and slid to freedom from his employer. Shortly after this incident, a Facebook page was created in his honor, money was raised for his defense fund after being sued by his employer, and he was hailed a modern day hero. While many people have a bad day at work and think about saying, "take this job and shove it," few act on it. Slater took action in a dramatic and attention-getting fashion.  Does that make Slater a hero? I'm not so sure.

In the confinement of the workplace, emotions can spill over at perceived or real inequities. Other life events and pressures only serve to magnify those feelings and thoughts. However, it is rarely appropriate to break into a verbal rage or abruptly leave a job. Bosses can be demanding. Customers can be rude. Co-workers may irritate you. Things may appear to be in disarray. It's enough to make anyone angry. Upon deeper examination, one finds that the rage often stems from the inability to effectively deal with emotions, a lack of courageous communication, and a lack of healthy personal outlets for release. Most people do not know how to engage in healthy disagreement, negotiate deadlines, create timely solutions, or unconditionally accept one another. If you don't share similar ethics, values, or accept the pace of your workplace, it indeed may be time to leave. That's easier said than done when you have financial and family obligations. Yet even in a tough job market, you must move on if things are highly stressful in your workplace. 

Rather than exploding at the boss or abruptly leaving your organization, take time to ask yourself what you're looking for in a workplace. Are you flexible or offended when asked to do your job more efficiently or in a different way? Are you secretly harboring prejudices against your boss due to age, ethnicity, or your own pride? Is your anger more reflective of your own insecurities rather than real problems? Do you have healthy stress relievers outside of work (exercise, community service, church, etc.)? If you have a personal support system, does your support system always agree with you or challenge you to see both sides of a situation? If you honestly answered yes to most of these questions, it may be time to leave.

Once you decide to leave your job, nothing is gained by telling people off or avoiding healthy, courageous conversations that might make it better for the next person. When you leave by "sticking it to the man," it speaks volumes about your professionalism and compassion. Or lack of it. Despite his momentary satisfaction and fifteen minutes of fame, the former Jet Blue flight attendant faced criminal charges and it is reported that he could have injured the ground crew and others during his dramatic departure. The slide deployment is believed to have cost the airline $25,000. His fellow flight crew was left picking up the pieces of the damage he caused. Was this behavior irresponsible? Selfish? Courageous?

In my many years of working in various industries and with a wide variety of people, I have observed an abundance of unhealthy resentment in the workplace. We have all complained about a boss or those in leadership positions. Some of it may be justified. But the truth is that there is no perfect boss or work environment. Where ever there are humans, there will be problems. You should never accept insults, public humiliation, or physical harassment by a boss, colleague, or customer. If you are not in a genuinely abusive situation, you may have more time to assess your workplace expectations, then create a thoughtful exit strategy if your expectations do not match the realities of your ideal workplace. If you choose to stay, it means learning to respect personality quirks, adjusting to communication styles, and showing flexibility within the workplace culture. It means trying to anticipate more of what's required and whining less when you disagree. It means asking questions or negotiating deadlines. It means knowing the difference between a valid complaint and when you are simply being a diva. It means rising above conversations that encourage pettiness, insults, or gossip to further feed your dissatisfaction. Ultimately, it is healthier to move on if you don't see a way to thrive in your work environment. Just do it first class.

The Steven Slater story saddens me as I think about the people who blindly supported and encouraged him simply because they too have similar workplace issues. When all is said and done, do you prefer to travel coach or first-class? As a person of deep faith, I try to choose first-class whenever possible. First class is more caring and civilized. If you decide it is time for you to leave, try to do it with grace, dignity, compassion, and thoughtful communication. What do you think? Is that flight attendant a hero or zero? Share your thoughts below...