You Stuffed Up at Work...

NOW WHAT You’ve been killing it in the office, but you made a mistake and panic has hit. Jacqui King shows you how to turn even the biggest mess to your advantage.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
NOW WHAT You’ve been killing it in the office, but you made a mistake and panic has hit. Jacqui King shows you how to turn even the biggest mess to your advantage.
Corbis /Click Photos.
Corbis /Click Photos.

Think back to the all those major facepalm moments you’ve had at work. Maybe you made a smoothie without putting the lid on the blender during your first shift at a cafe, or you called someone the wrong name in a meeting last week.

We all make mistakes. Let’s rewind to week one of my first job in publishing. Part of my role was to organise in-office birthday celebrations – a big deal, as you can’t deprive a group of women the chance to gorge on sweets in the name of a special occasion. It was a colleague’s big day in my first week, and I thought I’d be extra organised and ask what she wanted to snack on ahead of schedule. I got an e-mail in the afternoon: “Maybe some gelato would be nice? Oh, and it’s actually my birthday today!” Crap.

I went into damage control mode. I sent a meeting request out to the office, then I was out of there. With credit card in hand, I had a fierce ambition to make it the best spread ever. It wasn’t. I’d somehow come back sans gelato but once I’d owned up to mixing up the dates, we laughed it off and it was fine.

Here’s how to make your employer remember your name... for all the right reasons.

Your boss asks you a question and you draw a blank

“Chances are, you know the answer but have been caught off guard,” says career coach Jane Lowder. “Take a deep breath and calmly respond with a statement such as, ‘I’d be happy to check up on that and come back to you as soon as possible,’” says Jane. “Responses of that nature indicate you’ve taken it on board and are working to respond quickly,” she adds.

You hit “reply all” to a private e-mail by accident

According to Jane, there is no way around this stomach-turning mishap. “It’s near impossible to cover up reply-all fiascos. Apologise to the private parties whose information has gone unintentionally public and hope that lasting damage isn’t done.” If you’re worried about the contents of your e-mail getting in the wrong hands, it shouldn’t be in an e-mail, period. Keep it for your after-work drinks instead.

You left early and your boss asks where you were

You faked a migraine and skipped out of the office to enjoy a later-afternoon wine session with your pals. But now your boss wants to know where you were. Busted! Whatever you do, don’t overshare. “Keep your explanation short and professional: ‘I had to attend to an urgent personal matter. I will come in earlier tomorrow to make up the time, and I’ll be sure to clear it with you should there be a next time,’” advises Jane.

You shared confidential work information with a colleague and now the secret’s out

“There is no scenario in which covering up this kind of error in judgement is going to work for you,” says Jane. “Your integrity as an employee is at stake and – quite possibly – your employment. If you lie and a lengthy e-mail trail or text conversation reveals you were the culprit, the consequences will be far more dire than if you ’fess up early.” You heard her.

You totally forgot to schedule a meeting and you’re kind of freaking out about it

Don’t worry, it can be easily fixed, depending on how pressing it was. “If some multi-million dollar contract was hanging off an urgent meeting being held, confess and let the cards fall where they may,” says Jane. “But if the matter isn’t urgent, tell your boss you’re trying to find a time that works for everyone.”