Career Lessons from the JetBlue Flight Attendant

Last Updated Aug 10, 2010 12:26 PM EDT

JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater became an immediate folk hero and possible felon when he quit his job with a flourish last night. He reportedly ended what promises to be his last professional flight by cursing out a passenger over the loudspeaker, deploying the plane's emergency chute, grabbing two beers, and sliding to freedom.

A few hours later, he was charged with second degree criminal mischief (which, admit it, sounds a little bit fun) and first degree reckless endangerment -- both felonies. Lowering the chute so abruptly could have hurt someone, authorities say.

But as I write this, Slater is picking up about 150 fans a minute on Facebook. He drew an immediate following, probably from people who have fantasized about performing their own version of "take this job and shove it." U.S. worker job satisfaction is at its lowest point in two decades, according to the Conference Board, with only 45 percent of workers liking their job. The New York Times was soliciting "last straw" stories from readers and getting dozens of comments. At 38, Slater seems well on his way to becoming this generation's Howard Beale (the character from the 1976 film "Network" who got "mad as hell" and wasn't going to take it anymore.)
Still, most of us can't afford the high-profile flame-out, as satisfying as it might feel. With the unemployment rate hovering at a high 9.5 percent, we need our jobs, or at least the goodwill of our former employers so we can qualify for severance, good recommendations, or the occasional freelance gig.

If you don't think you can handle Slater's notoriety, there are other ways to manage a bad day or a miserable situation.

  • Compartmentalize. Slater had troubles; he reportedly was stressing from caring for his ailing mother, and the pressures may have made him snap when he was hit in the head by an attitudinous passenger's suitcase. Use all those stress-reduction techniques like counting to ten and doing yoga after work to keep your work worries at work and your home worries at home. You can also use what I call the "A-hole" technique. That's when you say in your head (not on the loudspeaker) "You may be ruining my day, but YOU are the A______. And tomorrow I'll have another day, but you'll still be the A______." It works, try it.
  • Prepare. The more money you've saved and contacts you've made when you walk out the door, the easier your transition. Remember that if you get fired for cause, or quit, it's usually close to impossible to qualify for unemployment benefits.
  • Try to make it better. Maybe there are ways to fix a bad job situation. If the boss is claiming recession pressures make raises an impossibility, you may be able to negotiate for compensatory time off. And if everyone in your office is disgruntled for the same fixable reason -- bad air conditioning, a disorganized office manager -- talk to your boss about a change.
  • Quit friendly. If you are determined to quit your job without a new one lined up, come up with a good reason that doesn't involve cursing. "Need more time with the family" is usually a winner in politics and top corporate levels. You may find your employer willing to meet you halfway with an offer of a sabbatical, part-time work, or a consulting gig. Maybe if Slater had simply endured his last annoyance and then asked for a break to care for his mother, he'd be able to return some day to the job he had reportedly liked for a couple of decades. Though it's looking like he can make a new living blogging about his daring escape.
Photo by Dplanet on Flickr.
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