Jet Blue Flight Attendant Rage Resonates With Workers

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , August 16, 2010

This is the environment in which many working and middle class Americans find themselves. And many of these same people are either employees at your healthcare workplace, or they're walking through your doors as patients.

There are obvious comparisons between the job demands on a flight attendant, and those made on a frontline healthcare professional. Both occupations bring a heavy burden of responsibility—often incommensurate with the pay—and require dealing with an increasingly resentful and irritated public, often at their worst in stressful environments. The flight attendant and the healthcare professional are often scapegoats for problems far beyond their control. The public doesn't want to hear why the plane is delayed, or why they've been waiting in pain and in fear for two hours in your ER without seeing a physician. They have a problem, and it's your fault! 

We're already seeing more instances of rowdy patient behavior and outright violence in the hospital setting. Can we expect to see a sequel, perhaps "Revenge of the Nurse?" Will some fed up, angry healthcare professional "Pull a Slater" on his or her way out the door?

For the most part, the healthcare sector has been spared much recession-related misery because skilled healthcare professionals remain in demand in most parts of the country. That doesn?t mean that healthcare workers are happy, or that they're not stressed out, or that they don't carry deep frustrations about their jobs. Add a potentially volatile patient mix—and the ingredients are prepped for a major meltdown.

I cringe at phrases like "teachable moment," but that may apply with the Steven Slater affair. His stunt is something that everybody who has ever held a job can relate to, regardless of whether or not they support his actions. Can the flight attendant's farewell gesture be used to engage your employees about their own concerns, fears, and frustrations at work? What ventilation systems—if any—does your healthcare workplace provide for stressed-out employees who want to blow off steam in an appropriate way? Have you asked? Do you know?

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