You can, and should, do more than have an on-the-job meltdown
The last few weeks provided yet another instance of an on-the-job meltdown as a JetBlue flight attendant finally reached the breaking point of their customer service career. The only amazing thing about this, though, is that is doesn’t happen with more frequency. Job stress, economic pressures and career stagnation all contribute to worker meltdowns and yet very little is ever done to remedy the underlying problems. While on-the-job meltdowns aren’t the most productive way of dealing with the issues, it is inevitable when management offers so few productive ways of addressing problems.
Cathartic, but doesn’t lead to change
An on-the-job meltdown can certainly be cathartic for both those who undergo it and also those who read about it. It is a rare person who hasn’t wanted to tell a boss to “take this job and shove it” at some point in their career. That said, its ability to effect true change in the work world is limited, if non-existent. We may have a good laugh for a few days, but the fact is, the underlying causes of the meltdown remain and, in some cases, get even worse. On top of that, these meltdowns usually are career-ending for the person involved. No matter how much stress they have been put under, no matter how difficult the job, no matter how annoying or threatening the customer, they are expected to soldier on through it all, stoically bearing every trial. One slip and you are gone.
I would caution anyone who is on the very edge of an on-the-job meltdown to do themselves a favor and get out of the situation now! We may experience financial and other life pressures to continue in our jobs despite harsh realities, but an on-the-job meltdown is a drastic choice to make. There are always alternatives and these alternatives are far less damaging than the consequences of an on-the-job meltdown. For your own self-preservation, seek out these alternatives before it is too late and you hurt yourself or someone else.
No other options
The reason that on-the-job meltdowns occur, though, is directly related to the fact that there are no socially acceptable ways to fight back against horrible workplace environments. Employment today, and always, has been a place of “love it or leave it.” Employees have no voice to change their environment. The only power they have is to abandon one job for another, one company for another, with no guarantee that the new company or the new position will be any better. Even worse, it also means that the bad environment never changes. Companies never improve because someone left the company. They simply mark that employee off as a bad egg, a crybaby, a loser and continue on as they always have. Then they treat their new hire in exactly the same way, placing exactly the same stress upon them. In this way, we develop companies where employees are merely surviving the environment. All the best employees have already left for greener pastures.
Until we have some method of giving employees the work environment they deserve and need to succeed, the risk of very public on-the-job meltdowns will always be with us. Companies must stand up and support their employees when they are faced with hostile customers, dangerous work environments and sexual harassment. Companies cannot ignore the reality of what is happening in the office, in the store and on the shop floor. To do so almost guarantees that they will face an embarrassing and financially damaging on-the-job meltdown.
It isn’t as if companies can’t easily see the problems. In fact, they often have to go long ways to ignore the obvious abuses. It is more a factor of caring what is happening. The first thoughts that run through most companies collective minds is how to keep profits rolling in, not whether their workforce is happy. Unfortunately, there is a direct correlation between the two. Solicit feedback from your employees, support them when there is an issue and do everything you can to help prevent them coming to an on-the-job-meltdown moment. Don’t try to hide your issues or pretend they don’t exist. Face them head-on yourself or some other person, some other event will force you to face them. Everyone wins in this scenario. Employees are happier, the company prospers and meltdowns are kept to a minimum.
I call on all companies to develop some sort of support system for their employees that let them have some effect, some control over their work environment before it is too late. If not, the best thing that will happen is some of your best potential employees with leave and you will be faced with a destructive and constant turnover. The worst that can happen, of course, is to have one of your employees suffer an on-the-job meltdown that consumes them and shows your company in a very bad, very public way. There are no winners when this happens. Everyone loses. Game over.