How To Recover From A Silly Workplace Mistake
By Mark Swartz
Monster Senior Contributing Writer
What’s the goofiest blunder you ever made at work?
Mine took place at, of all things, and office party. Years ago as an employee of a big Canadian bank we had a Christmas gathering where our Executive Vice President showed up. He was wearing an expensive suit and had his back turned to me while I was nibbling some veggies and gabbing away with a female co-worker, when suddenly I bit into a surprisingly juicy tomato that literally exploded, unleashing a burst of reddish goo that landed, naturally, right on the back of this senior executive’s jacket.
My colleague and I started laughing hysterically. I mean, here was this appalling puddle of gunk dripping off the man’s hand-tailored dark blue suit, and he was completely unaware. Until our laughter caught his attention. He turned to face us and asked what was so funny.
Caught In The Glare Of The Boss' Headlights
I went stark white with fear: I’d been busted. Now I had to not only admit to my blooper, but deal with the reaction of this executive (who was, at the time, my boss’s boss’s boss). I carefully explained to him how my food came to be all over his clothing. Then I apologized repeatedly for behaving like an idiot.
Thank goodness this senior executive was in the holiday spirit and let me off the hook unpunished. But I knew I’d damaged his impression of me. I’d have to work hard to restore my reputation.
Dealing With The Aftermath
First thing I did was go to my boss and report what had just happened. No way did I want him to get wind of my boorishness without having prepared him myself. He actually thought the whole episode was funny. But he shared my concern regarding my reputation. “Mark,” he said, you’d better think of a way to turn things around quickly. You don’t want someone that senior thinking of you in a negative light.”
I reflected on this as I drove home from the party. Mentally I started preparing a list of possible remedies. Here’s more or less what I came up with:
- Send the executive a brief note apologizing formally and thanking him for being so understanding
- Volunteer to work on a special project of some sort for him (I had no idea of what this might actually be, my goal was simply to show him I was serious about getting back on his good side)
- Have my boss say something positive about me to the exec
- Put in more hours or take on higher profile projects as a way of re-proving myself
I even considered making a donation to a charity on behalf of the executive. That’s how badly I wanted to clear up the situation.
Before doing anything that may have backfired on me, I decided to have an honest one-on-one with my boss. He and I got along well since normally I was a good employee. My boss agreed that I should write a short note of apology. He cautioned me against doing any more than that, saying it might only serve to repeatedly remind the executive of the unfortunate incident. “In time he’ll start to forget about it,” coached my boss wisely.
Career Lessons Learned
Even though the “mistake” I had made happened outside of normal work hours, and wasn’t a typical error like missing a deadline or showing up late, it still put my reputation at risk with a senior executive whose opinion could have an effect on my job. So I had to handle it accordingly.
Recognizing this for what it was turned out to be an important first step. Informing my boss and asking for his advice on how to handle matters turned out to be the right thing to do in this case. After all, I’d put him in a potentially awkward position with the senior executive too, if my boss had been called on to account for my behaviour.
By writing a respectful note to the executive I demonstrated maturity and a willingness to acknowledge my momentary slip. He actually wrote me a brief note back, thanking me for taking the time to acknowledge my actions and apologize in writing.
As months passed and memories of the occurrence faded, I’d sometimes think back to what a fluke it was that my tomato became a hand-grenade, the senior executive’s jacket its landing spot. It truly was deliciously absurd. And it taught me that even silliest of goof-ups are no laughing matter when it comes to your job.
Never eat anything that squirts whilst at parties. Trust me.