I’ve disgraced myself. Do I quit?

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Dec 24, 2014 in Rat News | Subscribe

Few great career moves are made at the office Christmas party.

I have a friend who knows workplace embarrassment. Yep, she could write the book on it.

Feeling dusty post-Christmas party she stoically fronted up the next morning for an interview with a woman and her pet rats, who freely crawled up my friend’s arms and through her hair.

Look away now if you feel squeamish.

My hung-over mate, who does not like rodents, could take it no more, vomiting on the rat woman, the rats, herself and her notebook.

The good news is she has gone on to a stellar media career, despite her notorious workplace legacy. And no rats were injured.

But can anyone recover from A-grade workplace embarrassment?

Will that undies-tucked-into-skirt-while-photocopying-a-phonebook clanger fade over time (or haunt your career’s every move)?

Chris Strode firmly believes it is possible to turn a big black mark against your name into a big black bank balance.

The founder of Invoice2go was fired for being too drunk at his previous employer, Macquarie Bank’s Christmas party in 2004.

“I was very drunk, which in itself was no reason for losing my job, but in my inebriated state I went back to the office after hours and that action breached a rule deemed worthy of dismissal,” Strode recalls.

A decade later Strode knows it is possible to live-down humiliation at work, even use it to give you a “shot in the arm” to make positive change.

“Obviously in my case, I had burnt my bridges in that industry because everyone knows everyone but, in hindsight, getting drunk and being fired for it was a turning point that ultimately advanced my career.

“I could finally dedicate myself full-time to developing my invoicing app, something I had been tinkering with for a while as a hobby on a share website; today it has more than 120,000 paying customers and is the market-leading invoicing app worldwide.”

Strode has evidently never looked back from embarrassing himself in the workplace. But not everyone will be as fortunate, warns workplace specialist Will Snow of commercial law firm Finlaysons.

Smartphones and social media didn’t exist a decade ago and the silly season’s alcohol-fuelled corporate soirees can be ripe territory for shameful antics.

“Christmas parties are rife with potentially embarrassing situations, with the most common social missteps including over-drinking and abusing the boss, harassing a colleague or taking embarrassing photos “all of which are now magnified with the prevalence of digital technologies”.

“This can have significant impacts for business,” Snow says. “It’s a potent combination when a few drinks collide with the year’s bottled-up work tensions and then a permanent record of unfortunate images is created or derogatory comments posted about the company or colleagues, resulting in significant damage to reputation.

“When employees get on social media during the night or the day after, issues can get heated and spread quickly, often before managers have a chance to address them.”

One of the biggest mistakes employers make is not setting the right example themselves and then not taking complaints seriously.

“Most workplaces have behaviour policies in place but it’s no good if these policies are not understood by everyone, or followed by those in charge,” Snow says.

But the good news is embarrassing yourself at work does not necessarily make you a workforce leper.

According to Sabina Read of Sabina Read Psychology, embarrassment is commonly linked to breaching a social norm, as opposed to breaking a moral code of conduct.

Focus on “putting your offence in perspective”, Read recommends. “First up, be kind to yourself – you may have pushed the limits of social convention but chances are you are still a law-abiding citizen.”

In the first 48 hours, owning up to your cringe-worthy behaviour will help damage control, she says.

“In order to minimise your own embarrassment, proactively apologise in a genuine and professional manner to those who were directly affected by your actions … [then] let it go.

“Avoid posting a company-wide email asking everyone for their opinion or plastering apology memos in each toilet cubicle, which may make a bigger deal of the event than is warranted.”

There is no doubt public embarrassments leave us feeling self-conscious and vulnerable.

But Read says “its anthropological purpose is to highlight what we could do differently next time”.

Your career prospects can be saved by using social discomfort as “a welcome ally” to remind us not to repeat questionable habits.

“It’s human to slip up and lose control sometimes but it’s how you handle the aftermath of such an event that speaks volumes about you as a person and an employee/employer. While not everyone tries photocopying their bare behind at the Christmas party … rest assured embarrassment visits all of us at the workplace sometimes.”


 – SMH Contributor

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