Working-Class Hero or Spectacular Case of Derailment?


Last week, Steven Slater, the former JetBlue flight attendant acted out the fantasy of a large contingent of employees who have had enough of on-the-job stresses. After a heated exchange with a passenger (an exchange that is now more in doubt than previously reported), he grabbed the PA and let out a few choice words, grabbed his stuff (including a few beers), and stormed off of the plane via the emergency exit slide announcing that he quit. Fortunately, the plane was on the tarmac and near the gate. Nobody was injured.

In the aftermath of this instant-classic example of how to quit one’s job, Mr. Slater has garnered the adulation of many, as evidenced by the numerous Facebook fan pages with thousands of friends and any number of blogs on the internet. Many have romanticized his actions, making him out to be a man who stood up for himself, didn’t take abuse from anyone, or had just had enough and decided it was time to move on.

However, the reality of the situation is quite a bit different. Within days, Mr. Slater had retained a lawyer, and was asking for his position with JetBlue back, saying he loved his job, the airline, and he wanted to return to work. His lawyer offered a number of explanations for his behavior, including the stress of the job, an injury sustained in the course of the flight, and a confrontation with an unruly passenger (which is, at this time, unsubstantiated by any of the passengers).

Mr. Slater’s behavior is actually a perfect example of derailing behavior. He lost his cool under stress, made an emotionally charged decision (the Excitable derailer), and executed his decision in a dramatic and attention-seeking manner (the Colorful derailer). Despite all the adoration lavished upon him in the aftermath, Mr. Slater quickly regretted his decision and is now contemplating a lawsuit to retain the position he so sensationally abandoned. A working-class hero sticking it to the man, or a case of derailment played out in dramatic fashion? The preponderance of evidence at this time points to the latter.

Jarrett Shalhoop
Senior Consultant
Hogan Assessment Systems