JetBlue flight attendant Steve Slater flips out: Discuss rage in the workplace

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Lily Garcia,Lily Garcia
Tuesday, August 10, 2010; 1:00 PM

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On Steven Slater: Are there times when it is okay to "lose it" at work?Let's hear what you think.Lily

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Workplace rage: I'm not surprised that this guy flipped out. I think the airline industry has been tightening its grip on both its employees and its customers for so long that something was bound to happen. Tensions are running high in this industry, and I hope the industry takes this as a cautionary tale about how people on both sides can only take so much.

Lily Garcia: I am challenged to think of other industries in which the pressure on employees and customers could produce such a volatile mixture.

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Adults?: It just seems like there is a general acceptance by society that it is ok for adults to act like bratty children. We saw this behavior last summer during health care legislation town halls where adults were acting like kids in elementary school - talking over people and never yielding to another person who was trying to make a point. As a civilized society we need to not accept this kind of behavior because it can escalate into situations where rage turns to violence.

Lily Garcia:

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Washington, DC: While loudly closing bins, a flight attendant elbowed me on the top of the head and then instead of apologizing said,"Oh, I do that once a flight." When I tried to complain to United, they said sorry but that's United Express.

Lily Garcia: If you threatened to press assault charges -- not that I am suggesting you do that -- I'm willing to bet you would get a more satisfactory response.

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Rage in the workplace expert: If you do a longer article about rage in the workplace, please consult Prof. Robert Bies, at Georgetown's Business School. He's an expert in this topic. I heard him lecture recently and he has some interesting things to say on the issue.

Lily Garcia: Could you share some of the points you recall Prof. Bies making?

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Washington, D.C.: I was recently on a tour where the tour guide kept making remarks that I was fat, saying we're doing a walking tour to lose calories, for instance. How do I not flip out at that? He had a microphone, I didn't, but I did lose it.

Lily Garcia: I hope you complained to the management!

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Yes but...: I'm sympathetic towards the flight attendant. They put up with a LOT. It's clear he became angry and should not have left the plane. However, the passenger was behaving horribly. The passenger got out of his seat before the plane had come to a stop and before having been cleared to do so by the flight attendants. When told to sit back down, he continued to remove his bag from the overhead compartment, and when the flight attendant told him to stop, the passenger did NOT stop...and his luggage hit the flight attendant in the head. Really, at what point does the passenger face charges? I thought after 9/11 they were cracking down on passengers who violated these rules. Apparently the flight attendants are just supposed to sit there and do nothing when passengers blatantly flout regulations. Aside from causing real problems for flight attendants, this puts all other passengers at risk. As a passenger, had I been hit in the head with a suitcase being inappropriately removed, I'd press charges.

Lily Garcia: If someone insists on retrieving their overhead luggage prematurely in this day and age, we cannot assume that he is a mere jerk.

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Facebook page?: I just heard some folks put up a Facebook page and he has 1000 + followers in support of his actions. I would imagine these people are around his age and mine, probably with the attitude of "we aren't going to take it anymore"

Lily Garcia: We have all had escape fantasies about crappy jobs in which we tell off the boss and walk out with a flourish.

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I support SS: There are two responsible parties here: 1. Jet Blue and their baggage fees and 2. The passenger who failed to follow the flight crews instructions. Has the passenger been arrested for 1. Assault, 2. Battery and 3. Ignoring the orders of a flight crew? Has he been publicly paraded on television? What's his name?I travel far too frequently for me to find any fault with what the flight attendant did.. I can't say I haven't thought of doing the same on an extended tarmac delay because the flight computer went out and couldn't be fixed and United kept us onboard in July for two hours. Or when I've dealt with seatmates who wouldn't turn their cell phones off on cross country flights so they could check football scores.Hurray for Steve Slater.

Lily Garcia: I have not seen the passenger's name in print, but I am left to wonder whether the authorities are addressing his actions as well.

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Perspective: Contrast this story, which I can't help but laugh at, to Omar Thornton shooting people dead at his job. Now THAT'S workplace rage.

Lily Garcia: It is easy to applaud and identify with Slater, but we should also be reminded of the potential for violence.

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CT rage: Far more concerning to me is the shooting incident in CT that took place last week. This guy on the plane, should not have done it, people *could* have been hurt, but weren't. Obviously he'll be easily terminated. What is far more disturbing to me is the CT employee who stole, and when confronted, decided to kill 9 people. That is workplace rage.

Lily Garcia: I am sure a thoughtful supervisor could have made a difference in both the Slater and Thornton cases.

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Justified Anger: OK, maybe he was justified in his rage against the passenger but to then grab a beer or two and slide down an emergency chute ?? There's something pretty bizarre about that.

Lily Garcia: What it says to me is that he had been dreaming of this day for a long time.

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What an exit!: Sounds to me like this passenger was being a real jerk, and the flight attendent finally had enough. What a way to go out! George Costanza would be impressed - that's right up there with trying to get fired by dragging the Yankees World Series trophy around the parking lot with your car.

Lily Garcia: If only we all aspired to making George Costanza proud!

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Baggage Fees: It should be noted that Jetblue is one of the few airlines that does NOT charge for the first bag. It usually has a high rate of customer satisfaction and a high rate of employee satisfaction, or so I thought.

Lily Garcia: I hope that thought has crossed the minds of airline executives elsewhere.

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Wishing I was not at work: What I want to know is the brand of beer that Slater took with him. I think there's killer commercial potential in this for a certain brewery.

Lily Garcia: Why don't you ask him on Facebook?

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CT shooter: Bullying is not cool on any level. It s pretty clear the people Omar worked with might have had something to do with his actions. I love a good joke, but we all have limits. When people are pushed to far, theres no telling what ones retalation might be....

Lily Garcia: Things like this do not just happen out of the blue.

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Company Code of Conduct: At my last job, I submitted a complaint about my supervisor to the ethics department, alleging violation of the code of conduct. Specifically, the code of conduct stated no retaliation policy (which is a violation of law) and the code specified that the employees must be treated professionally, i.e. no yelling, and that the managers are held to a higher standards. My manager actually drove me to tears during a one on one meeting where she stated in my face that she hated me, and that I did not deserve my salary.The ethics department said that the manager can say whatever she wants unless she used profanities. When I pointed out that stating to someone in a screaming voice that she hates the person, to me violates the code of conduct, the ethics person told me that one needs to be a 'lawyer to understand the code', and that as long as there was no violation of law, the manager can do whatever she pleases. I thought Code of Conduct is the LAW of a company. Any comments on the above?

Lily Garcia: I am not at liberty to offer legal advice in this forum, but I can confirm that a company's code of conduct is not the same as a law.

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While loudly closing bins, a flight attendant elbowed me on the top of the head : That's part of the problem, that rather than shrug it off, this passenger is being counseled to sue. Over a bump in a crowded plane. I get bumped in my commute every day. That's life, not grounds for a lawsuit.

Lily Garcia: There are elbows on the head, and then there are elbows on the head.

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JetBlue hiring NYPD: Last week the WSJ ran a story about how JetBlue was hiring former NYPD officers and New York City firemen to be flight attendents because of their cool under fire experience. I guess this guy wasn't one of them.

Lily Garcia:

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the tour guide kept making remarks that I was fat, saying we're doing a walking tour to lose calories, for instance: Presumabley everyone on the walking tour was losing calories, regardless of their weight. Why do we take everything so personally now, see every bad joke as an insult requiring action?

Lily Garcia: If the tour guide was literally calling this person "fat," that is pretty outrageous.

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Maryland: I agree, I want to know what actions are being taken against the passenger? Just how important was he to have to exit first? Is our prez flying JetBlue these days? At the least he/she was in the wrong for getting out of the seat too early. Another chat suggested if Slater could have held his temper, charges could have been filed against the passenger.

Lily Garcia: Charges could potentially be filed against the passenger regardless of Slater's actions.

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Why Beer?: Why just grab a can of beer? He should have taken some of the Chivas Regal bottles...

Lily Garcia: It sound to me like you will be grabbing the Chivas Regal on the day of your grand exit . . .

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Andrea Caumont: Chat with Phil Catelinet, a passenger on the Jet Blue flight and witness to Steven Slater's "resignation," at 2 pm.

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Wait, what?: Who has blood on their hands in the CT shooting, other than Thornton? I am sort of taken aback by that statement.

Lily Garcia: Anyone who missed the signs that this might happened.

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"A lot of people have blood on their hands in the Thornton case, I am sure of it": How can you be sure of that? The woman he lived with was surprised he killed people. He was in the union and had union representation. In the late 1980s an employee of Chevy Chase Bank came into work in Bethesda and shot people. I believe he killed three. The reason was because his supervisor told him that he made too many personal phone calls. When postal workers have famously killed postal workers, do the postal employees have "blood on their hands". Perhaps you have "blood on your hands" for talking about the management of a company in Hartford you know nothing about.

Lily Garcia: I do stand my my statement that those who miss the signs of workplace violence are partly to blame for the outcome.

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We've All Wanted to Quit with a Bang...: I think we've all had fantasies of quitting our jobs with a flourish. Heck, I once wrote a resignation letter that said, "So long, suckers!" in crayon. And then I folded it into a paper airplane to throw it into the boss' office. But then I remembered, hey, I'm an adult! So I wrote a regular, professional resignation letter and got on with my life.I deal with the public all the time, and I totally see why Steve Slater was ready to go out with a bang. My question is: why didn't he stop himself? Poor impulse control? Being pushed past a breaking point? Because being bumped on the head makes most people really crabby (more so than a bump to the knee)?

Lily Garcia: Slater captures our imagination, however, because deep down we all wish we could act on our less sensible impulses now and then.

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CT shooting: You said that "Anyone who missed the signs that this might happened" has blood on their hands. I think you mean "ignored." Every one of us misses signs in our life that we wish we would have seen. Ignoring a sign that you have noticed is something else entirely.

Lily Garcia: I meant "ignored" or "disregarded."

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Missed Signs: What signs? Exactly? I would seriously like to know what "signs" are 100% accurate indicators of a person's plans to shoot coworkers (or a single coworker). Let's bring back the Dies Committee to watch for behaviors that indicate subversive plans... oh, wait. How about we just lay blame where blame belongs. That man did not utilize proper channels. That man did not take care of business like a rational adult human being. That man is the only one with blood on his hands. Oh, except perhaps one could blame his loved ones who all are flowing out of the woodwork to say that they knew of Omar's mindset and concerns. Please.

Lily Garcia: Here is a link to information on the signs of workplace violence from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

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"the signs of workplace violence": What, exactly, would those be? Someone complaining in the lunchroom? Most people don't threaten to get a gun and come back. Being a little "different" is pretty much protected as long as you are doing your job and disrupting the workplace.

Lily Garcia: Please see the other answer just published.

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I don't blame Mr. Slater one bit...: I have witnessed some outrageous behavior by passengers lately - they totally flaunt the rules, which endanger everyone on board.

Lily Garcia: I think that passengers and flight personnel alike can be needlessly abusive.

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CT Shooting: I would have to disagree with you. Only one man has blood on his hands. Omar did not utilize his words, adult mentality or common sense. It's possible that certain coworkers were just as responsible for those same faults. However, only one person fired the weapons at work that day.

Lily Garcia:

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Recognizing the warning signs: Not to get all Carolyn Hax on ya, but I highly recommend "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker on how to spot issues with an employee early on, and how to deal with them.

Lily Garcia: Thanks.

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disregarded signs : I think the leadership dismissed his charges of racism and the staff has suffered the consecquences for that. The dismissal of his rightous (in his mind) claims was the insult that broke the camel's back.

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Signs?: What signs? I'd like the list so that I can watch coworkers. Not being pithy here but if there is a list of signs that indicate a person's willingness or ability to engage in such violent behavior, I'd like it. And if such a list exists, why isn't it posted everywhere like those "wash your hands before returning to work" signs?

Lily Garcia: Below is a more colorful link to the Department of Health and Human Services of North Carolina.

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Blood on their hands: Well I have been closely following the CT story, and I have not read any one statement that reflects anyone missed or ignored any signs of workplace violence. Perhaps you've read something different than me, but I think it's a harsh thing to say, that people have blood on their hands, just on a general belief that signs *should* have been observed. By all accounts, this was completely unexpected and out of "character" for this employee. They also offered him a chance to resign, I assume to lesson the sting of losing a job, rather than holding firm on their rightful termination. Anyway, clearly others were alarmed by your statement too.

Lily Garcia: However, I find it hard to believe that nobody along the way disregarded the signs of potential violence.

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Whiteboard Resignation: I think it's a fake, but even so...this woman quits her job, seems to be accusing her boss of sexual harassment (HPOA/HOPA? HUH?), and then drags all of her coworkers down with her by claiming they all hate the boss, too. Funny if it's fake, shockingly immature if it's real.

Lily Garcia: No, I had not seen that one.

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Well I have been closely following the CT story, and I have not read any one statement that reflects anyone missed or ignored any signs of workplace violence. Perhaps you've read something different than me: We must have read different stories. I heard on NPR that he'd filed racism charges and they were swept under the rug by the company. That was a cry for help that the company chose to ignore.

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Sometimes there are no signs: I just went to the North Carolina site you recommended, and it says in bold, "Sometimes there are no signs." I think you said something a little too strong about the Thornton situation, especially when that tragedy is so recent, and should just acknowledge that and regroup, unless you have more specific knowledge. The sites you recommended are great, however.

Lily Garcia: Thanks.

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what signs?: Specifically in the CT case: he complaints about racism were ignored. He was telling everyone he had issues with coworkers and his supervisors made light of his complains. He asked to be heard and was told no. He felt ridiculed and told his company and union and everyone said he was crazy, making it up.

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Slater's actions: I have several friends who are flight attendants, and none of them were surprised that this happened on a flight to NY. Apparently, passenger behavior on flights to NYC/Newark is notorious across carriers.

Lily Garcia: I wonder why?

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Back to the flight attendant...: People are downplaying the fact that this flight attendant had nursed his dad through Lou Gehrig's disease and is now caretaker for his mother, who is very ill, all while working full-time. Coupled with the fact that his lawyer says he observed the normal procedure for lowering the chute, which includes a visual ground-check to make sure it won't hit anybody, I wish this was getting less publicity so it could be settled quietly and humanely. The airline puts maximum pressure on people and someone with outside stresses like that blows -- and so much for his career and future prospects. What a shame.

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Lily Garcia: Can we agree to be vigilant about the signs that our coworkers are reaching a breaking point?We have a lot to think about.Thank you for your comments.Lily


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