Bouncing Back After Embarrassment at Work

Posted April 3, 2012 by Marcy Twete in Building Your Brand

The media has been filled recently with the tales of powerful high-profile men in public meltdowns. First, the co-founder of Invisible Children (the charity responsible for the viral video Kony 2012 last month) Jason Russell, strips naked and screams profanities in broad daylight on a San Diego street corner. Then, JetBlue Captain Clayton Osbon becomes the most dangerous man in the friendly skies on March 27th when he suffered what we can only assume was some kind of nervous breakdown causing passengers to restrain him and his co-pilot to make an emergency landing in Texas.

While these two examples of workplace meltdowns are extreme, they are just two of many examples of otherwise normal individuals who succumbed to the pressure of their work. Kony 2012 co-founder Jason Russell had only just been through the most hectic, spotlight filled time in his career. It’s natural anyone in that situation would need to relax and blow off steam. It seems Russell pushed himself too far and finally broke. The same goes for Osbon, working a job that is regularly listed as one of the most stressful jobs in the world, as a pilot. Perhaps the stress manifested negatively for this individual.

So what happens if you have a meltdown at work? Hopefully any meltdown you might have at work won’t be near the scale of the two men mentioned above, but we’ve all been in a situation where we said something or did something embarrassing at work. Perhaps you raised your voice and lost a bit of control in an important meeting. Or you cried in front of an important, and unfeeling, higher-up. Maybe you had a few too many drinks at a company party and went home without your shoes. Whatever it may be, there are clear ways to deal a meltdown inside or outside the office and to begin to heal the embarrassment and/or damage your actions may have done.

  • First and foremost, fess up and do it soon. If you’ve made a mistake or done something embarrassing, own it immediately. Apologize, if necessary, to the individuals involved. And ensure that the important powers that be know what’s happening. If you yelled at the CEO during a meeting, make sure your boss is aware of the situation and hears it from you before anyone else. It might be your first instinct to cover it up and avoid the consequences, but it will show greater maturity if you stand up and face the music right away instead of later.
  • Be honest both during and after any consequences you might face. The worst thing you can do in a situation where you’ve been embarrassed or had a meltdown is lie. But for many, that seems like the easiest thing to do. “No, it wasn’t me.” “Coworker #2 is clearly mistaken.” Whether your embarrassing situation is miniscule or the size of a Kony 2012 naked rant, you have to accept responsibility with honesty and integrity – even if that means you’re being let go. You might not like it, but you made your bed….
  • Get good PR whenever you can. Following a meltdown, it would be easy to go into professional hiding, lay low, and wait for everyone to forget what happened. This isn’t good. You need to immediately begin to work on getting good PR in your work. Small wins are what will help to get you past the experience you’ve just had. Come in early, stay a little late, say yes to jobs you don’t want to do, raise your hand for unpopular assignments. Show everyone that despite what might have happened, you are on the job 100%.
  • Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused. Don’t take life too seriously. Sure, freaking out on a plane full of passengers is a big deal. But chances are, no matter how big your issues seem now, they won’t be more than a small blip in the full scope of your career. Work to move forward, but also, let go and be willing to laugh at your misfortune.

I hope you’ll never encounter a “This is your captain freaking” meltdown in your career. But if you do, follow the instructions here and you might just find you’ve diffused the situation quickly enough to keep you out of the dog house with your boss and into the light in your career.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."