Howard Beale Street Blues

My first reaction to hearing that Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater f-bombed the passengers, hijacked a couple of beers and satisfied his apparently long-held fantasy of exiting his career on the plane’s inflatable slide was, “I’m surprised a passenger didn’t think of doing that first”.  Frustration and stress amongst America’s workers is at an all-time high and there doesn’t seem to be much hope of it easing in the short term.



Mr. Slater’s 15 minutes will be over soon enough and the next time we see him will be in one of those “Where Are They Now” pieces in People or on a John Quiñones ABC special.  But for the rest of us who are “fortunate” to even be employed in this current economy, there seems to be no letup asking for more productivity with fewer resources.  Slater acted as a modern-day Howard Beale and dramatically told his employer to take their job and shove it.  As tempting as that dramatic exit is for most of us, the short-term stress relief is obviously not enough to create a nation of Network-catharsis.

Corporate America has sucked all the fluff out of our pillows and, in some cases, it was necessary for them to survive.  As the recovery continues, it is delusional to believe that all the takeaways will be reinstated.  Benefit packages won’t return to their pre-recession status and the petty “thefts” that have chipped away at morale (no more plastic sporks in the kitchen; learn to love two-star hotels) will become an accepted way of life.  Unfortunately, once the bucket’s been dipped…

Actually, I find most airline travelers to be a remarkably patient lot.  Despite being treated as stockyard-bound cattle, most seem to accept their fate as their new reality.  Who knows how many people spend six hours a week in a 2×2 smelly carpeted section of the Charlotte airport waiting for their flight that was delayed by “mechanical issues” (aka we have to yank the goose out of the left engine) and subsequently go home and beat their dog.  But, for the most part, air travelers have been mentally beaten into submission and recognize that resistance is futile.

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I hate air travel.  I think it’s because I demand top-notch quality service from my employees and, to not receive it from others, fries me.  Maybe it’s a Golden Rule thing.  Regardless, I depend on my mindful practice more than ever when sitting 30th in line on the Atlanta/Hartsfield tarmac.  However, I have deep concern about the state of the American worker’s stress.  As we continue to push fewer people to do more, the expectation is that productivity will rise but that isn’t being borne out and we need to heed the lesson in that.  For the first time in many years, U.S. productivity has fallen despite the collective turnip squeezing by America’s employers.  If the reaction to this news is to continue the takeaway strategy, we’re going to end up seeing a lot more Steven Slaters in the future.

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