NEW YORK (Reuters) - JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater, who stormed off his job this week with some profanities and a dramatic exit down an inflated emergency chute, has struck a chord with nearly everyone who has dreamed of quitting a job in anger.
“Free Steven Slater” t-shirts are on sale, an animated reenactment of Monday’s exchange between Slater and a passenger at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport has become an online hit, and musicians are writing ballads in homage to the fed-up flight attendant.
Websites are soliciting “I quit” stories, and bloggers are rhapsodizing about the new folk hero, the focus of more than a dozen fan pages on the Facebook social media site.
Friday, August 13, has been declared Steve Slater Day according to one Facebook page that encourages celebrants to pull a fire alarm or “tell a schmuck at work to piss off.”
But once the amusement wears off, experts caution, ‘pulling a Slater,’ as the new saying goes, is not a very good idea.
“Obviously he’s tapped into a pretty pervasive emotion,” said Jonathan Berent, author of the upcoming book “Work Makes Me Nervous.”
“There’s so much frustration and anger about the economic climate, the unfairness of things and dealing with stress in the workplace,” Berent said.
But he added: “Unless this guy had some master game plan of how to cultivate his 15 minutes of fame, he’s in big trouble.”
Indeed, Slater faces charges of criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing after the incident, in which he argued with a passenger about some overhead luggage, used the plane’s intercom to spew some curses, grabbed a couple of beers, activated the exit chute and slid down to the tarmac.
Some passengers are also coming forward to tell the media Slater was agitated and petulant throughout the flight, and one suggested the flight attendant started the dispute.
If convicted of the charges, he could face up to seven years in prison.
And Slater is most likely unemployed, although JetBlue says it cannot discuss the details of an ongoing investigation.
People see in Slater a daring response they might wish they had, said Barbara Pachter, an etiquette expert and author of “The Power of Positive Confrontation.”
“Here’s someone who’s doing something, even though it’s not appropriate,” she said. “Someone else’s bad behavior is no excuse for your own.
It’s risky business, she added. “When you meet aggression with aggression, you’re just building aggression,” she said. “It’s rare that it leads to a positive outcome.”
Almost everyone has experienced uncivil treatment on the job, said Christine Porath, co-author with Christine Pearson of “The Cost of Bad Behavior.”
Their research found all but 4 percent of the people they studied experienced incivility at work. Nearly half of those in another study said they were treated uncivilly at work at least once a week, and 12 percent left jobs because they were treated uncivilly, she said.
So she said she was not surprised people empathized with Slater.
“But I am surprised that people think his response was completely appropriate,” Porath said. “You hope they don’t get to this breaking point. It’s not exactly ideal.”
Editing by Jerry Norton