In a tough economy, a story about job meltdowns is bound to get some attention, and in the past few days a couple have made some juicy headlines (and attracted plenty of online attention on Yahoo!).
On one end is a Jet Blue attendant, who probably averages about $24/hour. On the other end of the spectrum - way way way on the other side - is an HP CEO pulling in a little over a mil after a 20% base salary cut, and forced to live off previous year's earnings of $24 million...but I jump ahead.
Desperate for Folk Heroes
For a moment there, tales of their dramatic workplace exits were pushing them towards recessionary folk hero status. The first, Steven Slater, sounded like a Capraesque uprising of a working-class man pushed too far. Wounded by falling baggage, badgered by surly passengers, Slater takes his departure with a dramatic curse-out over the intercom and slid down the emergency chute (after a stop at the beverage cart for some last brewskis). Huzzah! Facebook pages pop up to herald this airline hero, the first one since Whatshisname, the pilot who landed a plane on an icy Hudson River and everyone survives. Search traffic on Yahoo! clamored for more on the "jet blue attendant irate," "jet blue flight attendant video," and "fed up attendant jet blue."
The second is Mark Hurd, the straight-arrow savior of HP after some embarrassing predecessors. He faces down a reality-TV actress but, after that's settled, gets the boot for expense-report mistakes and doesn't even have a chance to defend himself. And the defenders step up, from fellow CEO Larry Ellison to the accusing and now "saddened" actress herself. Summary execution! After all these years of faithful service, to be done in by dinner receipts? The online buzz picked up for "mark hurd bio," "s mark hurd hp scandal," and "s mark hurd resignation." (Although, truth be told, accuser Jodie Fisher got oodles more look-ups.)
But then, the truth has a way of ruining some good folk stories.
Beverage service with schmucks? Steven Slater as the Nightmare Steward
Slater's outburst was supposed to be triggered by a mean girl who dropped a carry-on upon his head. Now reports are coming out that the mysterious femme fatale may be entirely made up...which may explain why the attendant's not loving all the media attention. In fact, passengers say that Slater had his ouchy (a bleeding head cut) before he boarded the plane - and that he might've been the prima donna flight attendant that ruins everyone else's workday (or vacation).
No sympathy for the bedeviled? Mark Hurd as the Overcompensated CEO
Sympathy for an CEO has to jump some pretty high barriers, and Hurd had us going there. His story was more complicated and started with a sexual harassment claim from a contractor who served HP hostessing duties. Not that reality TV actresses can't be harassed, but Fisher's past body of work did ding her credibility: Searches on Yahoo! jumped for titles like "Dead by Dawn," "Sheer Passion," and "Blood Dolls"... plus her reality TV stint in the "Age of Love" cougar-courtship show, in which she competed to get it on with tennis jock Mark Philippoussis.)
Whatever her career choices, Fisher thought she had a beef, and she and Hurd settled it like adults who have high-powered lawyers. Then, after HP cleared him of sexual harassment charges, Hurd still got the boot and with no face time to defend himself against a trigger-happy board. Fisher herself stepped up to emphasize, "Mark and I never had an affair or intimate sexual relationship" - although that's sort of the point of filing a sexual harassment claim.
But, then pretty quickly the difference between the standards of working stiffs and exalted CEOs came crashing down again. First off, these accidental expenses totaled up to $20,000-maybe a couple appetizers for one of the highest paid uber bosses in America, but just one more chunk that could've been reinvested back into employee retention. Second, Hurd didn't mention his date on some of those dinners were with Fisher. Third, his employees don't love him so much.
Workplace stiffs, stiffed
The first lawsuit is in against the HP board for the Hurd pay-off, among other things. The reward for firing someone who violates company standards? About $28 million. You can just about buy about half a JetBlue Airbus with that walk-away money.
As for Slater, admiration for tempest is getting him ballads and into meme territory (pasting his face in the most interesting man in the world ads, for instance). But the truth about what happened may matter less than his desire to give up his outlaw status and get his job back, puh-leeze, pretty please, pretty please, with an inflatable flotation device on top.
But what does that say about some of us, timid and suffering the daily indignities in our workplaces, and ready to cheer on on-the-job hysteria or pity a CEO-as-underdog? The recession has put us a wee bit off-kilter.
Maybe a better hero break would be a Whatshisname check-in - that would be Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger," by the way, still trying to make airlines safer - and that Warren Buffett-Bill Gates project in getting billionaires to pledge half their fortunes to charity (up to 40 now).
No glamorous outbursts or firings, but just getting the job done.