Great Moments in Unprofessionalism

Apr 7, 2015
13 Min Read

Ever look back at your career and realize that you weren’t always the consummate professional that you (of course) are today? That you didn’t always have a strong grasp of office etiquette and what is and isn’t professional?

I recently asked readers to confess their unprofessional deeds from the past. Here are 10 of the best they shared. (Share your own in the comments!)

1. Inappropriate calendar choice

We were allowed to have our own wall calendars in our space. It was the 1980’s. I was young. It was Chippendale’s.

Worst part: my supervisor told me the last week of December I should pick a different type of calendar for the new year. I guess I should be thankful the entire department was women and it couldn’t be seen unless you actually stepped into my cube. But we were all in each other’s cubes all the time . . .

2. Benefit blunders

When I as an intern, the HR people responsible for orienting us and organizing events and all that jazz constantly bragged about how much the company values its perks like yoga classes, Spanish classes, all of the onsite “work-life balance” stuff that they use to make sure you never have a reason to go home. At the time, I didn’t know that those HR people were basically responsible for marketing the company as a workplace – I wasn’t technical but it was a tech company and they love to coddle their engineering interns.

So I would freely sign up for those classes or skip off to a lecture or presentation without asking my bosses if it was okay. I would just tell them I was going to be at an event today from 2-3 or from now on I’m going to have 2 hour lunches on Mondays and Wednesdays for Spanish class or hey, I’m going to yoga this afternoon. I thought this was GOOD because look, I was showing interest in all of these things that the company really values! I’m such a great fit for the culture! (I did get rehired there for 4 internships but I didn’t get a FT job – they weren’t exactly handing out functional entry-level jobs in 2010.)

3. Hiding from the client

I would like to blame this on being young – but I wasn’t that young and should have known better. Many years ago, I had three children under the age of 5 and my husband’s firm gave him an amazing offer in another state — and we so we relocated. I thought this was the perfect time to work from home. I had skills that could be freelanced, and wanted to spend more time with the kids. Plus, I wasn’t looking forward to a job search.

I quickly got a large project from a local company and eagerly set about completing it. But — turns out having three kids under 5 isn’t conducive to “working” from home. I certainly spent more time with them, but I didn’t get much work done. Deadline day comes, and the project is nowhere near done. I’m afraid to call the contact, so I don’t. And he doesn’t call me, which is a relief. It gives me some breathing room and I vow to myself that I’ll work day and night to get the work finished. But I don’t. And each day that I don’t get the work done, or call my contact, and he doesn’t call me, makes it easier to think that the deadline wasn’t really that important. But we all know it was. Eventually he calls. We have a very uncomfortable conversation.

I hire the high school girl next door to come and watch the kids while I finish the project. The quality of work was still very good — but there was no way that firm was ever going to use me again. Especially not after I made my husband drop off the flash drive with the files on it because I was too embarrassed to face the client – yes, I really did that.

4. Board meeting faux pas

In my first job post-college, I got asked to take minutes for a board meeting. (The person who usually handled this task was out.) For some reason, I didn’t realize that this was a serious thing. Because the meeting was really early in the morning, I assumed it would be laid-back? Or something? Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking, but I showed up in jeans and a hoodie. Needless to say, everyone else was in a suit.

5. Borrowing the limo

I asked my boss at a temp job if it would be cool if I used his limo. Just for a night. You know, if he wasn’t using it or anything. That guy had the patience of a saint.

6. Office or salon?

I used to use my cubicle as an extension of my vanity at home. I’d usually put foundation and eye shadow on at home and then finish with mascara, blush, and lipstick at the office. (WHY?! Why could I not just apply those at home when I was obviously already in the throes of applying make-up?!) Sometimes I would just wait and put on all my make-up at the office. It was ridiculous. I had a full make-up kit in my drawer at work. I had an eye shadow palette. I had blending brushes. I had a hair straightener. What must people have thought as they passed my desk and saw a hair straightener plugged in?

7. Not quite Remington Steele

When I was in high school, I worked in a small florist shop, and often I was the only employee there. There weren’t many walk in customers, and I often got very, very bored (this was long before computers or phones to keep one occupied). One day it was raining outside and there hadn’t been a single customer all afternoon. I was wandering around the store, down to the basement and back trying to find something to do, and noticed the lock on the basement door. For some reason, I decided I would teach myself to pick the lock (I had been watching a lot of Remington Steele around that time.) I grabbed some paper clips, went into the stairwell and closed the door. I soon realized that (1) I had locked myself in and (2) it’s a lot harder to pick a lock than it seems on TV. I was there about an hour before I heard the jangling of the bell over the door. I knocked repeatedly on the door until the confused customer finally opened the door to let me out.

8. Jilted love

In my early 20s, I worked as a peer minister at a college church. It was a unique situation, and we got paid in room and board. One of the responsibilities during the year was to give a talk during a weeknight service on our own faith journey.

I was totally completely enamored with a guy who attended the church, but the week before my turn at the church talk I found out that he had started dating a mutual friend. My talk never included specifics, but it was all about jilted love, people not recognizing the people in front of them, etc. The room was dark, so I have no idea how he reacted in the moment, but he, along with every one of our mutual friends who could figure it out, was gracious enough to never ever talk about it.

9. Hippogriff mishap

In my first job at a nonprofit, I thought I was hot stuff and had some serious swagger (I have since humbled myself quite a bit). I was often a bit inappropriate with the staff, including the CEO, COO, and CFO. Thankfully, they thought my snark showed spunk and gumption and didn’t fire me, but it certainly rubbed other members of the staff to see me be so sassy and sarcastic (and just plain obnoxious, to be honest).

When I left for a new job, I decided to do a “last act of evil” (and yes, I called it that)–I was moving on to SUCH bigger and better things, who cares about burning bridges?! The CEO was a huge Harry Potter fan, so I photoshopped her face onto a photo of a Hippogriff and emailed it to the entire staff. WHY this seemed like a great idea is beyond me.

I squirm, cringe, and turn red even thinking about it now! While the CEO was displeased, she has kindly been very gracious since my departure and has been a good mentor (gently guiding me on professionalism) and a solid reference.

10. Not that kind of suit

One time I wore a legitimate bathing suit cover-up (it was really cute and if made with the right material, would have been an adorable dress) with a white slip underneath thinking that made it okay. It wasn’t until I went out after work and my friend kept asking if I was wearing a bathing suit cover-up that I realized I most definitely should not do that again.

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