Happy at Work?

The Internet has been abuzz this past week with the Steven Slater incident on the Jet Blue Flight. He certainly found a dramatic way to give feedback to his employer and the rest of the world about how untenable his job had become. To me this is a really sad example of how difficult the workplace is.

No wonder to so many people Steven Slater has become the symbol of telling the boss what you really think. Too bad he waited so long and became so frustrated but maybe there was no other way. Companies do have a way of ignoring situations until they blow up.

There were many times that I became fed up with AT&T when I worked there and it got increasingly frustrating so I am sympathetic to Slater’s rage. At AT&T there was a yearly employee satisfaction survey which gave the employee plenty of opportunity to say what was wrong. I got blunter as years went by because no change ever came of my yearly feedback even though there was always some comment in an employee publication on how low job satisfaction had sunk and how concerned management was.

Management does need to watch, look, listen and act. One year the manager of our sales group brought in a young woman in January. There were four guys on the team at that point and me. The woman was new to both our sales team and sales in general. The boss liked her and he gave her at least a half a dozen hot sales leads during the year that resulted in sales for her.

At the time I had had several large sales at the end of the previous year and was busy implementing them. We got paid on revenue and revenue didn’t show up until the systems were installed so I was totally focused on my work. Late in the year I noticed what was happening and was annoyed by it. I kept wondering what the guys felt but no one said anything.

In October there was a package offered to managers who volunteered to leave and a layoff pending if they didn’t get enough people taking the package. The boss took the package and left in mid December. At the end of December each of the guys in the group handed in his resignation to the Branch Manager and then shared the frustration of the year with me for the first time.

The company lost 4 good guys who were so frustrated that even without the old boss they could not stay. After all they said the branch manager should have noticed and questioned how a novice sales person could get so many sales while the veterans had very lean years.

Sure Steven Slater was wrong to do what he did but did Jet Blue give him an avenue for his frustration so they could address and resolve it? Maybe these fellows told the Branch Manager at their exit interviews what had happened but it was too late and they left the company. In January the woman and I were absorbed into other sales groups.

Burning bridges may feel good in the moment but there is a price to pay later on. Slater has become a folk hero of sorts so maybe he has a chance to build on his fame but others who burn bridges by bad mouthing their previous company or manager are not likely to profit.

What lessons can we learn here? First if you are looking for work, look for a company that values its employees by encouraging feedback and acting on it. Find current employees to talk to off the record and ask questions.

If you are a manager or practice owner, you have a responsibility to listen to your team, to notice when things are not right and to find a workable solution. Don’t get so involved in your own daily work that you fail to notice what your team is doing and whether something is amiss. Having happy employees will help you to maintain good customer/client relationships.

Many years ago I read a book by a travel business owner, Hal Rosenbluth, entitled The Customer Comes Second: Put People First and Watch Them Kick Butt. The title says it all. More and more businesses today are beginning to worry about keeping good employees when the economy starts to pick up. Maybe putting employees first is the answer.

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