Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

The Application of RET to Improve Supervisory and Managerial Response to Subordinate Survey Feedback

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

The Application of RET to Improve Supervisory and Managerial Response to Subordinate Survey Feedback

Article excerpt

In 1981, 11,500 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic controllers throughout the United States walked off their jobs. Since government employees are prohibited by law from striking, the controllers were ordered back to work or they would be subject to dismissal. When the return-to-work deadline expired, approximately 11,000 air traffic controllers were fired. After two years of unsuccessful attempts to improve supervisory and managerial effectiveness following the strike, the FAA incorporated rational-emotive therapy (RET) concepts into a subordinate survey feedback program for supervisors and managers. This article describes the RET techniques that were used to improve supervisory and managerial response to survey feedback in the FAA.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for regulating aviation and operating the United States air traffic control system. As a government agency, employing 45,000 employees, the FAA's operating flexibility is limited by budget constraints, government regulations and plenty of red tape. In 1978 the airline industry was deregulated and the increased growth in the number of new airlines gave rise to increased competition, congestion and delays at many of the nation's airports. To cope with the increased growth the FAA relied heavily on the use of new technologies to aid in air traffic control. In 1981 Congress approved a $12 billion plan to modernize aircraft navigational aids, communications and weather systems across the United States.

As the new technology was introduced, new employees were hired and new work practices were put into operation. The FAA's management issued new directives, tightened discipline and operated as a bureaucratic command center. The pressure of integrating new equipment and technology into the already overloaded air traffic control system and the hiring, training and certifying of new employees severely stressed management-employee work relations to the breaking point. In August 1981, 11,500 air traffic controllers throughout the United States walked off their jobs. Since government employees are prohibited by law from striking, President Reagan ordered the controllers back to work or they would be subject to dismissal. When the return-to-work deadline expired, approximately 11,000 air traffic controllers were fired. This was the largest adverse action ever taken against government employees. When President Reagan issued his decision to fire all of the striking FAA employees, many thought that the collapse of the nation's air traffic control system was inevitable. Through the use of military air traffic controllers and FAA management working controller positions, the FAA kept the system operating safely. The increased cost in overtime, increased operating expenses, and the hiring and training of new employees was in the millions of dollars. In addition, the psychological and financial cost to the fired controllers and their families can never be measured.

In an effort to more fully understand what went wrong, the FAA and Congress investigated the problem. In late 1982, a national task force reported to the FAA that many of its management practices at the time of the strike were autocratic, insensitive, bureaucratic and combative. It was a management style that had many of the outward appearances of the Theory X Manager described by McGregor (1960). The report convinced FAA's top management that in addition to new technology, a more flexible and sensitive management style would have to be developed if history was not to repeat itself.

In 1983, the FAA hired 12 Organizational Development Consultants, having special skills in human relations. The consultants reported directly to the FAA Administrator, J. Lynn Helms, and were strategically assigned to FAA regional headquarters throughout the United States. This author was one of those consultants. In an effort to move the FAA management style from an autocratic Theory X to a more participative Theory Y (McGregor, 1960), extensive training was provided for supervisory and managerial personnel. …

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