We all try and be our best selves at work (for the most part) but there’s occasions where we goof up and the office never lets us live that moment down. Here are a handful of stories from the Quora community of times they got totally embarrassed at work.
Comments have been edited for clarity. The source can be found the end of the article.
Eight years ago, I was a receptionist at a flooring company and there was a particular tile installer I worked with who I swooned over. He was so freakin hot.
One fine day, he came up to me at the reception desk and asked me how my day was (I stuttered something back, Im sure). He then said he was in a band and that they would be playing at his house for a party and that he would be stoked if I could come over to hang out and watch them play.
Oh my god!
I squealed in reply, Ok cool, in the most high-pitched, squeaky voice ever, then turned to go walk up the stairs, carrying a comically large stack of folders.
I made it about 2 steps up and—in my excitement—I lost my footing and DOWN I WENT. Papers everywhere. Thank my lucky stars he had gone out the back door already and missed it, but several coworkers saw the whole thing—and they saw my obvious crush on the installer guy.
*Face, meet palm.*
For the next month, whenever he came in, my coworkers would stand behind him while he talked to me and they would make winky faces and shit. SO embarrassing!
It was a nightmare. I was presenting at my companys sales conference. There was a disconnect between my brain and my mouth. My brain was telling me the words I needed to say, but my mouth couldnt say them.
What? Where did that come from? Ive never had this problem before.
OK, let me try again. No! Still the disconnect between my brain and my mouth.
The harder I tried to speak coherently, the worse it got.
I was stuttering for the first time in my life.
My nightmare wasnt over with that presentation. I had seven more presentations to give that fateful Saturday 20 years ago. I started out each presentation alright, but I started deteriorating about five minutes into the presentation.
That’s when the stuttering began, and it kept getting worse.
Audience members were laughing. Inside, I was dying.
My own body was betraying me.
It was easily the most embarrassing moment of my professional career.
Worse yet, I had eight more presentations to give Sunday.
Needless to say, I was not looking forward to it.
I gutted my way through Sunday. I was still stuttering, but thankfully, not as bad as Saturday. No one laughed in the audience, so that was progress.
My first job out of college.
Im Special Assistant to US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
I start doing in-office work, but eventually get promoted to being the Senators personal driver and body man (the aide who sticks next to him throughout public appearances).
My first day in this role, Im sent to pick the great man up at his hotel, the Carlyle, known for being the favorite of the super-elite, such as President Kennedy.
I am serious about making a great first impression, so I get there half an hour early. I carefully position the car right in front of the hotel entrance. Warn the doorman that the Senator is coming down. Make sure everything is absolutely perfect.
I go inside and wait in the lobby by the elevator. The appointed time comes and goes. Logistics are getting tight if Im going to get him to his speech on time. Finally, with only a minute or two to spare if everything goes perfectly, the door opens, and he appears, in all his 65 imposing glory, striding rapidly across the lobby.
I smartly fall into step beside the Senator, hand him his briefing package and describe exactly what were going to be doing. I walk him out the front door of the hotel, nod importantly at the doorman, usher the Senator to the car, neatly slip in front of him to open the back door…
…and realize that I have locked the keys in the car with the engine running.
I locked Jimmy Carter in a parking garage. Heres what happened…
The summer after I graduated from college in 2003, I moved to Washington DC to take an entry level job at a public policy center where various dignitaries would routinely give talks. About a month into working there, my boss asked me if I would like to be the one to greet former President Jimmy Carter when he arrived to give his speech the next day. I told her that Id be glad to, and she set me up to meet with the lead agent from President Carters Secret Service detail.
When I met with the agent for the advance briefing, he detailed the timeline of events, which was precise to the minute. At 10:40, the car will enter the south parking garage. We will pull up by the elevator bank at 10:42 and should be into the elevator by 10:44.
We did a quick walk through to ensure we were on the same page, and I felt confident that I knew everything I needed to for a smooth greeting. My job was simple: get to the elevator bank at 10:30, take it to the parking garage, use the master key to lock it down so no one else in the building could summon it, and then stand there and wait for the black SUVs to roll up at 10:42.
The next day, at 10:42 a.m.
I greeted President Carter with a smile and handshake. Welcome to the Wilson Center, Mr. President. Its an honor to have you here.
The former president thanked me and I opened my arm out towards the elevator to indicate where we were headed. But as my eyes followed my outstretched arm to our destination, I was mortified by what I saw. Or rather what I didnt see.
There was no elevator waiting for us. The bay doors were closed. Id forgotten to lock the darn thing down.
F**k! F**k F**k-a-doodle-do! I cursed myself in my head. I am such a f***ing idiot!
Desperate to remedy the situation as quickly as possible, I scurried ahead of the entourage to the call button, hoping to summon the elevator in time for President Carter to enter without delay. While trying to look as calm and unworried as possible, I pushed the button and then pushed it forty more times in the next two seconds. The button lit up, but the doors did not open.
I smiled sheepishly as the entourage reached the elevator doors. It should be juuuuust a second, I said hopefully to President Carter, who looked a little confused.
My mistake, I added, as though anyone were confused about whose fault it was that we were standing there waiting for this elevator.
I avoided making eye contact with the lead Secret Service agent, certain that he was fully capable of ending my life with a single glare, so I didnt see him lift his sleeve to his mouth to speak into that little microphone they all have hidden in there. Instead I heard his voice say the two most terrifying words imaginable.
Code Red, he hissed urgently across the Secret Service comm channel. Repeat: We have a Code Red!
Code Red?! I panicked silently. Oh my God, what have I done?
I didnt know what exactly a Code Red was, but I knew it wasnt good, and that I was the cause of it. I pushed the elevator call button another sixty times in rapid succession, while the Secret Service team began to execute the response protocol for… I could barely say it… a Code F****ing Red.
Deacon is locked in the parking garage, the agent announced into his mic. We are aborting. Repeat: this is a Code Red. We are removing Deacon from the premises.
You have got to be kidding me, I thought to myself upon hearing him say that they were evacuating from the site. In reality, this simply wasnt a dangerous situation, but the Secret Service doesnt have the luxury of making those kinds of assumptions. When events deviate from the advance plan, they go on high alert, and where normal people would see the wait for a returning elevator as an inconvenience, they see it as a vulnerability. They work tirelessly to maintain total control of the environments their assets will be operating in, so any unexpected change from the plan is a cause for concern.
Mr. President, please come with me, the lead agent said firmly and began herding President Carter away from the elevator. I heard the tires of one of the black SUVs screech as it peeled into place to pick up the entourage. I tried to think of the appropriate thing to say, but nothing came to mind so I just stood there and hoped to die so I didnt have to tell my boss that the President would not be giving his speech today because I couldnt handle the most basic task imaginable.
And then, at long last, just as the entourage had begun its retreat, it happened.
Ding! It was the sweetest sound I have heard in my entire life. After four minutes that had felt like forty, the elevator had arrived.
I worked at a branch office for a large IT staffing company. We had a couple different divisions on our floor and shared a main lobby with 2 receptionists.
One of the receptionistist was probably in her late 60s / early 70s. She was very nice and we never had any issues with her (other than mispronouncing names of people who had called). We’ll call her Debbie.
On this particular day, the other receptionist was out, so Debbie was flying solo.
My office was down the hall between the lobby and our break room where our vending machines were located.
That day, the vending machines were being restocked. To get there, the rep had to go through the lobby and past my office to get to the machines.
When he first passed my office, I noticed he had a curious expression on his face and looked over his shoulder a few times. About 5 minutes passed while he restocked the machines before he had to pass by my office again.
As he passed by again, I noticed he was looking ahead at the lobby. His expression changed to a look of concern.
He back-tracks to my office and asks me to come out for a second. At this point, I have no idea why he wants me to come out there, as we have never spoken before.
I follow him out to the lobby where I find Debbie lying in her chair, arms dangling by her side and her head tilted back with her mouth gaping open!
The rep tells me that she was like this when he came in, but didn’t say anything, and now he was concerned since she hadn’t moved since he got there.
I called out, Debbie? a couple of times with no response. At this point, I actually thought she was dead. My heart started racing and I was getting ready to dial 911.
I shouted out Debbie! one last time, and she bolted out of her chair scanning the room with a look of utter confusion on her face.
I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that I didn’t need to call the paramedics.
Apparently Debbie had taken some new medicine which cause drowsiness and she had fallen asleep on the job.
I think she was so embarrassed that she took the next 2 days off before coming back to work.
One time, I was in this team meeting and was feeling very sleepy. I had watched back-to-back movies the previous night. It was a late afternoon meeting, around 3pm.
I was sitting next to my manager on the longer side of the table. Most of my teammates were my friends and I think they were waiting for something fun to happen and did not try to alert me when I was falling asleep. My manager had a habit to talk a lot and when he did, he was so carried away that he sometimes did not see what people around him were actually doing (or thats what I thought).
At one point, he said Trust me so loudly…which I heard as Rashmi(my name) and woke up with a jolt, so much so that my manager then turned to his left and saw me with amazement.
He didnt say a thing. But I was so embarrassed. I wanted to hide below the table. To add to it, everyone bursted into a laughter. I kept my head down and sheepishly smiled ear to ear.
On one fine morning, my companys CTO who happened to be my supervisor brewed some Sumatran coffee using the coffee machine in the office, which smelled and tasted better than the coffee I had on my next two internships (both of them used Nescafe). As there was nobody around the machine and I felt a bit sleepy, I went and put the remainder of the coffee into the medium-sized tumbler they gave me on my first day.
Upon noticing the empty machine my supervisor quickly went to me and asked, Eric, were you the one who took the coffee in the machine?
However, instead of answering with a yes, I answered, My tumbler is not even full with the coffee (from the machine)!
The entire office (which was less than 10 people at that time) laughed upon hearing my response and even among the software engineers they bestowed to me the CCO (either Chief Coffee Officer or Chiefs Coffee Officer) designation, so I decided to only drink coffee which I made from that time onwards.
The pregnant burp
I walked through the office at 7 months pregnant (suffering from heartburn). A senior colleague of mine called me over to ask me a work related question, which it seemed about 10 other people in the office also wanted to know the answer to.
My response to my senior colleague (and the rest of the audience)? A very audible burp.
I scuttled off muttering my apologies, never fully answering the question.
I was around 17 or 18 and working at my first job which was as a hostess for a family owned steakhouse restaurant in Michigan. I had been working at this place since I was 16 and there were many regular customers that I was familiar with and chatted with when they came in. One busy night I was helping the servers by taking drink orders for them. There was a family of southern origin that were regulars, very nice folks, and from what the servers said they were good tippers too. So I approached them to get their drink order and started with the older gentleman, probably grandpa, and asked if I could start him out with anything to drink. He replied, Ill have cow feet.
I burst out laughing and repeated Cow Feet?!? with a big smile on my face. Now being a mid-westerner and young I was not very familiar with southern dialect and knowing the family as regular customers I thought he was just yanking my chain since taking drink orders was not a typical duty of mine. He looked sternly at me, not nearly as amused as I was, and repeated COWW-FEE! at which point it clicked with me that he wanted coffee. I felt incredibly small and apologized profusely for the misunderstanding. Needless to say, I fixed the drinks for the server but let her deliver them as I was too embarrassed to go back.
I was working on Ash Wednesday which I knew nothing about since I was not raised Catholic. A lady came in with ash on her forehead and I felt it my moral duty to inform her that she had a dirty spot on her forehead to save her the embarrassment of walking around all day with a dirty head. She replied something to the effect that she had been to church that day although I had no idea what this meant and just thought she was weird until one of the servers explained to me what it meant.
A few years ago I was wearing black tights and a grey dress at work. I went to the bathroom and accidentally tucked my dress into my the back of my tights exposing my backside without knowing.
I was working in a serviced offices environment so the bathrooms were communal between companies so Id have to walk through the halls passing multiple people between the bathrooms and our office.
In our office, my desk was closest to the door and my computer faced the door so when I had walked in, no one noticed my exposed backside.
Thankfully we were all close friends because on my way out at the end of the day, my manager had noticed my tucked in dress and I was mortified. I couldnt tell how many people saw or when it had happened.
When I wear dresses now, I always check my backside before leaving a bathroom just in case.
Long long ago I once did something which became somewhat famous within the Internet Service Provider where I was working, many years ago when using the internet commercially was first catching on – this was about 1998.
We had a customer who discovered he could put an auto-responder on his email system so when you emailed him, it would automatically reply with something like Thanks for your email, Ill get back to you soon. Unfortunately he emailed our support system, which replied automatically, he then replied to it, and it recorded the update and responded. For some reason every interaction added another email, I think because it created a new ticket. This carried on until his mail system was unable to process any more, or his internet connection was overloaded with emails in transit.
Our ticketing system ran on the same server as the mail system, and there was a huge backlog of emails as the server collapsed. The problem was escalated from the support team to mine, systems administration. I quickly diagnosed the problem, and started clearing the mail queue of all emails to and from the customer, but the server was running at a crawl.
My embarrassing mistake was made when I replied to customer services, and I accidentally left the default option set which sent my reply to the customer too. In my reply, Id written the guys been a complete donkey and put an auto-responder on his email and its fighting with the support system.
As I hit submit, I realised my mistake, but it was too late to stop the message going to the customer, so I rushed over to the customer support manager to explain. She expressed hope that the customer would simply bulk delete all his emails and not see my response, but warned her team in case the customer complained.
Unfortunately the customer did see that message, and half-jokingly complained, admitting that maybe he had been a donkey, but wasnt grateful for it being pointed out!
That lunchtime, someone hacked my computer, set the screen wallpaper to pictures of donkeys, and printed off pictures of donkeys and stuck them all round my desk. For a long time at that company, anyone who made a mistake got called a donkey. Some people remembered that even decades later!
I had been getting up at 5 in the morning to work on my website. Around that time, I was in training for a new job, and was sitting through 8 hour long classes every day. Every day I would doze off. But, on this day, it finally caught up to me.
We were supposed to be doing a hand book reading. But I could barely keep my eyes open.
I did all kinds of goofy stuff to stay awake. I smacked myself in the face. Drank water. Span around in my chair. But the second I stopped moving, my eyes started to get heavy.
Next thing I know, Im looking up at all my classmates looking down on me.
Why were they looking down on me?
Because I was on the floor.
I had fallen asleep, fell out of my chair, and hit the floor.
My teacher said …. need to take a walk?
I hung my head in shame and whimpered, yeah.
Office situation, I was the only woman working with a bunch of guys. We were all in our late 20s, and as you can imagine I was fair game for their endless comments and pranks. But I generally gave as good as I got, and then some.
One day I walked through to use the photocopier, and found my colleague Luca leaning over the copier, like he was trying to fix something inside it. So, I slapped him hard on the rear end with a little rubbing for extra effect. Luca leapt upright and turned around. And he wasnt Luca. He was the photocopier mender ….
Something inside my stomach still goes into slight spasms just thinking about that.
We had a very high value client whose first name I did not recognize as either male or female, specifically. I had never met them in person before. I started my email, Dear Mr. Le. I get an email back from her that says, wow, is my mustache that noticeable? I thought she handled it well. I was embarrassed and my coworkers all had fake mustaches on when I came into the office the next day.
I was attending a meeting as translator with bunch of executives from my company and the company we’re working with. Working in the gaming industry, everyone in that meeting room were male, except me. We’re talking about some kind of esports event I couldn’t remember which. One of the slides talked about Grand Prix of some kind. And I read it out loud, as Grand Prix (with x” pronounced out). At the moment when it came out, I knew something isn’t right… It couldn’t be grand pricks”… right? It can’t be… and I looked around, realizing the meeting room went kind of quiet, people have this awkward looks on their faces.
And one of the marketing VP kindly said Grand-Pree, it pronounced Grand Pree… And everyone including myself burst into laughter. The marketing VP looked around said:what? someone had to tell her…
Definitely the highlight of my career.
It was my first week on the job as the new Executive Assistant to the VP of Operations. One of my basic duties was to answer the phone for him and his three direct reports.
The phone rings. Caller: Hi, is Dick there? Me: Oh hi, no, Dicks been in and out all day…
I didn’t mean to say that of course! Yes, I did hear about it later from the caller. They thought it was very funny.
This happened 10 years ago. Almost to the day. I used to work for ANZ (one of the big 4 banks in Australia). I didn’t work at a branch, but at an office building, in the mortgage compliance department. There were 12 of us in the department and we all worked in cubicles in the same room, including both my supervisor and my boss. One of my colleagues thought it would be hilarious to send me a joke email where it tells you find something (which isn’t there) in a picture and then while you’re looking a scary face pops up. So there I was, my face 2 cm from the screen, trying to find a shoe in a picture of an old house, and a super creepy little girl pops up (I should add here that one of my biggest fears is little girls in old Victorian nightgowns with dead eyes who want you to come play with them). I shot up, my chair went flying back and I screamed very loudly. The whole room just stopped working and everyone turned to look at me. I turned bright red, apologised and went back to work, wishing the earth would swallow me up.