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Embarrassing workplace blunders – and what you can do

ar5m3sb6j48nwd2cpsgxWe all make mistakes at work, some more embarrassing than others. Whether you got drunk at the office Christmas party or were caught taking a sickie, knowing the best course of damage limitation can help save face – and your career.

1. You resigned in the heat of the moment

It’s important to think about why you resigned – and get to the real reasons rather than the specific event which caused you to quit on the spot. ‘Usually there is more to it than this one-off tipping point,’ says Colin Lloyd, Regional Director at Personal Career Management.

‘Meet with your boss and have an open and frank exchange. Set out your concerns in a professional manner and be realistic about what can and can’t be changed. If you can reach a solution that works for both of you, then you know it’s right to stay. If not, it might be time to move on – but at least you will know it’s a measured decision, not a knee-jerk reaction.’

2. You held a training session with your flies open/your skirt tucked in your knickers

Not a lot you can do about this – it happened – the good news is embarrassment is rarely fatal and people have short memories. ‘You might be the source of water cooler humour for a couple of days, but something else more interesting or scandalous will happen and it will slip from people’s minds – while remaining at the front of yours for a lot longer,’ says Colin.

‘Try to see the funny side and if anyone says anything smile, shrug your shoulders and change the subject. If you’re concerned how it might impact on your reputation with your manager, find a piece of work you can deliver well so that’s their most recent memory of you. The good news is that this is something you will only EVER do once!’

3. You took a sickie – and your boss saw you out that night

It’s best to act quickly in this case, says Dr. Sally Ann Law, Personal and Executive Coach. ‘Send an email as soon as possible – ideally before you arrive at the office – acknowledging what happened and saying you’d like to speak in person about it as soon as possible.

‘If your boss agrees, say you can appreciate how inappropriate it seemed. Whatever you do, don’t make up an obviously fake story. Better to say you had started to feel so much better as the day went on, and that of course you had been planning to come back to work today. If the boss won’t agree to meet, put the same explanation in an email and hope for the best.’

4. You’re caught stealing a co-worker’s food from the fridge

Petty fridge pilfering can turn into a major nuisance – especially when it’s your food that’s being raided. But what if you’re the one caught with your hand in the cookie jar?

‘If you’re caught, all you can do is apologise and ask how you can make it up to that person,’ says Sally Ann. ‘A sincere and honest apology is the best way to diffuse tension. Perhaps you can treat them to lunch out at some point or bring them a gift of some chocolates or something you know they like as a gesture of contrition. And be sure not to do it again!’

5. You got drunk and told the boss what you really think of the job

‘There’s a reason why some office parties don’t allow alcohol. Remember it is the officeparty – and not your own – even if your boss is paying for the next round of drinks,’ warnsRob Williams, an occupational psychologist and author of “Brilliant Verbal Reasoning Tests” and “Brilliant Numeracy Tests”.

‘While you should obviously apologise to your manager if you said anything inappropriate, honesty is the best policy,’ says Rob. ‘If you really hate your job, having a frank discussion could be an opportunity to improve your situation. If not, start looking for other work – just be sure to carry out your duties professionally until you can secure a new position.’

6. You fell asleep at your desk

It’s three in the afternoon and you’re staring at a boring spreadsheet. You don’t even realise that your eyes are closing until your head suddenly jerks up. You look around furtively, hoping that none of your colleagues have noticed you nodding off…

‘We’ve all been there, usually after a filling lunch. What isn’t so acceptable, however, is falling fast asleep,’ says Rob. ‘Is your job so boring that it literally puts you to sleep? Maybe it’s time to look for a new role that provides you with more intellectual stimulation.

‘Perhaps your lifestyle outside of work could do with a change? If you aren’t getting enough sleep at night, your work performance will inevitably suffer. If your manager is aware of your “power napping” tell them what you plan to do to ensure it doesn’t happen again.’

Book links

Brilliant Verbal Reasoning Tests – Everything You Need to Know to Pass Verbal Reasoning Tests by Rob Williams

Brilliant Numeracy Tests: Everything You Need to Know to Pass Numeracy Tests by Rob Williams

Image: © WavebreakmediaMicro –


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  1. Lord Barron | Dec 13, 2013 | Reply

    In cases 1,3 and 5 you can almost certainly be working your notice before you’ve even realised what just happened.

    2 nobody forgets, ever. I ran into a bench 14 years ago and to this day i’m reminded of the calamity.

    4 when you get caught you don’t know because the smart ones spit in your porridge, contaminate your take out and gaze at you like some worthless piece of trash.

    5 Fair enough i’ve been there, you’ve probably been there. Time to get a new poxy job where you can fall asleep in peace.

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