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Steven Slater and workplace stress

To his admirers, Steven "take this job and shove it" Slater is a modern-day hero, an everyman who channeled the collective frustration of working people everywhere and did something decisive about it.

But not all of us are in a position to abruptly exit our jobs via emergency chute, beer in hand.

Are there other, perhaps better, ways to handle workplace stress?

I asked Robert Hogan, Ph.D., the Tulsa-based expert in personality testing and president of Hogan Assessment Systems, to whom I was referred by the American Psychological Association. I got some unexpected answers.

Not a man to mince words, Hogan told me that Slater's blazing act of defiance was less a matter of dealing with workplace stress than a publicity stunt. According to Hogan, Slater is what's known as a "high colorful," a personality who "loved being the center of attention."

So how should the less colorful among us deal with workplace stress? Short of punching your boss in the nose, are there positive ways to deal?

For those who need our jobs, it seems, options are limited.

"Here's a really big-picture tip," Hogan says. "Shut up and bear it. People who try to stick up for themselves always lose."

"The trick is to say, 'I can learn something from this,'" Hogan says. Tell yourself that if you ever become the person in charge, you won't treat others the way you've been treated."

Aside from that, Hogan advises, try to avoid such stress in the first place by finding a job -- and a work culture -- that fit your personality. Also, he says, "It's good to have somebody to talk to" about your workplace woes.

Most of all, Hogan says, "You have to control what's in your head. If you focus on how angry you are, you're done. Tell yourself, 'I've got to be an adult and do my job.' Don't let irritation or anger control your thought process. Just distract yourself. That's what counting to ten is all about."

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  August 12, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Stress , Workplace health  
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Even if this individual is a "high colorful" (a personality who "loved being the center of attention"), it does not eliminate the probability that he also has a serious mental issue that needs to be addressed.

Hopefully prosecutors will seek a psychological examination of him - and that medication and/or institutionalization will keep his bizarre behavior far from the rest of us.

But given the world we live in and the reaction on the web to his colorful stunt, he's more likely to be given his own reality TV show.

Posted by: bbahler | August 12, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

After retiring from an SES position in Gov't, I decided I didn't want to be a 'pointer' any longer and just wanted to be a pointee. So, I went to work for an airline at Dulles airport as a ticket agent. I never had much problem with angry passengers because I had white hair and didn't need the job to put bread on the table - I just had fun.

However, there were a couple of times in 7 years when even I had had enough. Once I was working lost baggage in the middle of the night (as the lowest in seniority I got the crappiest shifts) and was trying to help one man find his wife's lost bag. He got angrier and louder as I went through the trace process until his diatribe was almost a non-stop profane condemnation of me. When he finally took a breath, I said to him, "Look. There are only 2 people in this airport trying to find your bag and you're pissing one of them off!" He did calm down - never said he was sorry - and I was able to eventually find out where the bag was and tell him when it was likely to arrive.

The point is, everyone has a frustration point at which they will strike back. Airline personnel take abuse in quantities far exceeding those in most jobs (not all, of course). This man may have talked about 'taking this job and shove it' for years as a way to let off steam. In any event he obviously reached his frustration point and struck back. Publicity stunt, indeed. I think this "Expert" doesn't have a clue about the real world.

Posted by: jdrd58 | August 12, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Yes, we all have been bad customers and frustrated workers. The problem isn't the customer or the employee. It's the bad management practices and processes. You would think that customer complaints would cause management to find ways to fix the problem but they don't ever fix it unless a lawsuit or Federal investigation is coming down the road.

My past gripe with workplace stress is when managers think it is okay to create a workplace filled with disrespect based upon an ill-perceived pecking order in the organization. The secretary, mail clerk, or janitor is NOT the servant of the staff or management. Yet, I've seen managers and some office staff talk to and treat administrative or low level workers without regard to each person's right of dignity as a human being. It is that type of treatment that angers the employees and causes them to take out their frustration on customers by doing shoddy work or being mean and nasty to customers. This expert is not living in reality. If workers have to "shut up" and take it, then they are likely to sabotage the workplace in the end and then tell the management "take this and shove it".

Posted by: kitten2 | August 12, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

kitten2, not solely limited to secrataries, janitors and mail clerks. Trust me, but good points

Posted by: morrisday1 | August 12, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

This expert is most definitely not living in reality!

I have self-esteem, and it tells me that when ANYONE is rude to me, I can (and will!) stand up for myself!!

I don't have to yell, or flip the bird, but I can, and have had to, tell them in a very very cold voice that "you do not speak to ME in such a manner!" and stalked away.

I am not anyone's whipping post for their bad manners; I don't have to take it.

On top of all of that, managers and owners need to get off of their little high horse. They sit on the toilet like everyone else, and they stink as well!

Posted by: taroya | August 12, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Slater said and did something every flight attendant has wanted to say at least once since aviation began! Good for him. Now the rest of us who need a steady income don't have that privilege. Morale in my workplace is the lowest I've ever seen it and the only thing keeping most of us here is the bad job market. When things look better management is going to see our dust out the rear-view mirror.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | August 12, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

"Here's a really big-picture tip," Hogan says. "Shut up and bear it. People who try to stick up for themselves always lose."

Remarkably good advice. If under stress, your worldview becomes distorted and you may behave badly or you may be perceived as a high maintenance employee, regardless of right or wrong, you lose.

It would be interesting to expand Hogan's perspective.

Posted by: Beacon2 | August 12, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

I must agree with kitten2 as well. Many people in management really don't stay in touch with reality. The higher up, the worse it gets. Someone I know works in a place where the management thinks that by setting unrealistic workloads and constant monitoring of every move the worker makes will make them work harder. It doesn't, it just ticks people off. The stress just adds to poor physical and mental health.
The unspoken threat of "you are replaceable" has never been more utilized than in this economy.

Posted by: kodonivan | August 12, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Hogan says. "Shut up and bear it. People who try to stick up for themselves always lose."

What kind of crap is this???

Posted by: frenchvixen | August 13, 2010 5:39 AM | Report abuse

Ask yourself whether if a passenger, rather than a flight attendant, had deployed the slide and exited the plane with a free beer from the drink cart in hand, you'd be as amused. Maybe if the passengers had been stuck on the tarmac without food, drink, or working toilets for several hours, but what if the passenger simply decided to put himself/herself first and make a quick exit? What would your reaction to that be?

Posted by: WashingtonDame | August 13, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

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