30 People Who Have Messed Up At Work Reveal What Happened
Have you ever made a mistake at work that makes you cringe to this day? It’s happened to the best of us. Even if we’re all very good at our jobs, human beings are prone to making mistakes. All we need to do is step up and take responsibility for our actions.
So when user sspecZ asked fellow members of the r/AksReddit community to share how they massively messed up at work, thousands of people admitted their worst workplace errors. From accidentally deleting all of the needed files to spilling tens of liters of melted chocolate over the restaurant floor, the answers in this thread are both painful and hilarious.
While many of the mistakes are unpleasant, the overall morale of these stories is that they do happen. And even though they make us seem unprofessional, we can still let out a few laughs. So keep scrolling and upvote your favorite ones!
I was washing a dairy cow named Laverne before showing her at a county fair. She didn’t like having her tail washed. She kicked the bucket of soapy water over onto my rubber boots and took off running. I grabbed both sides of her halter but my boots were slick and she basically ran around the washing area in circles with me hanging on to her head while my tractionless boots acted like water skiis. Of course this happened in front of crowds of people who started laughing. Finally I lost my grip and sat down in a puddle while Laverne ran toward a little boy holding a scone. He dropped the scone and ran, and Laverne ate his scone.
Lol I used to work for a company that designed online banking software in early 2000's and sold it to banks.
We had one customer - a bank president - complaining that our product didn't work on AOL. Like, the s**tty browser associated with the s**tty dial up internet. "You've Got Mail!"
Dude starts ranting that there are still millions of customers who use the product.
I thought I muted him, and said "well millions of people eat McDonald's every day, that don't make it a good f**kin idea"
Only, I forgot to mute!
Everyone stared at me in terror. After the longest pause in the world, he shouts "EXCUSE ME???!!"
Then he started asking which browsers we supported. Then he said he was going to call our VP. Then he did. And proceeded to tell the VP I was the only honest one at the entire firm. So I got stuck managing his account.
A very important and very big customer placed an order for some chemical bulk to be delivered early Jan. Our contract with them stated that every day we were late we would be fined millions.
The bulk plant finished on time and just needed the drums to pour the bulk into.
Warehouse come up to my office (I was the purchaser responsible for buying the drums) where are the 250 litre drums!? Bulk plant need them. It's fine I thought, I placed the order before Christmas, I remember doing it. Looks at SAP why is the supplier late.....they're never late... checks my order mouth goes instantly dry and I start to sweat. I had placed the order, but I forgot that for this particular supplier I needed to email them the PO. We had just changed the system to allow SAP to auto email the supplier after we placed an order, but not for this 1 supplier. I knew this, but must have forgotten.
These drums had a 2 week lead time from the supplier so I knew I was dead. Not only would we have had millions of pounds of fines, but the production plant would have been put on hold having to store tons of bulk with no where to put it.
I went and told my boss and just told him I had funked up. Being an awesome guy and boss he thanked me for being honest and told me it's going to be ok. He called the supplier, sweet talked them, and because we were a good customer they allowed us to take another customers order. The drums were delivered next day. That was about 9 years ago and I still think about it
They say that to err is human—it’s only natural for us to slip up, and our workplace is no exception. As of this day, sspecZ’s thread has amassed more than 38.6K upvotes and almost 8.7K comments. And reading through so many nightmarish work stories certainly helps many to feel a bit better about their own. After all, mistakes are learning opportunities, even the most cringy ones.
Still, depending on the error and the impact it may have on the company, you might feel that your career is at risk. Maybe you’re terrified of your manager. Perhaps you’re afraid to admit to doing something wrong and looking unprofessional. Or maybe you’re the breadwinner of your household and simply cannot afford to lose this position.
Whatever the reason, we can still recover from such unfortunate situations and take certain steps to regain trust and minimize damage. Dina Smith, an executive coach and consultant, wrote that mistakes do not have to be career-limiting and shared a few strategies on how to react after making one.
During the first week of my first job in animation after i graduated i had to move a bunch of scene files from one server to another. The files were heavy so i was told to just cut and paste them to make it faster. I accidentally put them in a wrong area and without thinking just deleted them, went back to move the files again...they werent there, i had forgotten i hadn't copied them.
I lost 5 minutes of full animation, my long time friend who recommended me for the job got in s**t because his back ups didn't catch the files and my direct supervisor worked for 21 days straight to help redo all the animation.
The studio and everyone involved were way nicer to me about it than i expected, i kept my job and i brought in donuts for the whole crew for a week after. But it was an awful start!
This was my first real job out of uni, so I was early twenties. I had been working at a pharma company for a few months and a guy, Andy, set me up on a system that the whole company (100k+) used to catalogue documents and updates on drugs we sold. My only job was to go though and find old drugs that we didn’t sell anymore and change their settings to that they were invisible to everyone, just to make everything a bit tidier.
I had been doing this for two days when, somehow, I managed to set it so that the entire database was locked out, to everyone in the company, and I was the only person with access.
Within minutes I was getting calls from people all over the world. All very polite - ‘hi there, I’m trying to add a record to Drug A and I cant make changes. I can see you’re the admin, can you give me access rights?’
I was frantically trying to add people on, one by one, whilst screening my calls and watching as emails started flooding my inbox. I was panicking so hard, and just as I realised this was not going to work I was added to a meeting about the system. It was literally me, Andy, and three senior managers.
I was FREAKING OUT.
I decided to just ignore the call. Stupid I know, but I was like 21 and terrified. About three minutes in, Andy arrives at my desk. ‘Grey, we’re in a call! Did you see my invite?’ I act dumb and tell him I’m just dialling in, but he was very chipper, which made me suspicious.
Anyway, I dial in, and the head of tech is monologuing about how he has been saying for months that this software is overloaded, and how any minute it’s going to implode on itself etc, and Andy is agreeing with them; that this is the very reason he asked me to remove the listings in the first place. I listen quietly, and it turns out that they are all convinced the software did this to itself, and the only people who still have access rights are the people who were logged in at the time it ‘freaked out.’ (As opposed to it being just me and the people I had manually added in.)
As time goes on, it becomes apparent that they all think I’m some kind of specialist on the system. Andy keeps mentioning that I was working on a project for him, and they keep saying ‘grey can take care of this bit’ ‘we’ll flag this for grey’. Fortunately for me, I knew what they meant each time; it was like I was listening to a foreign language, and then just when they spoke English they assigned that ‘bit’ to me.
Three days later, they had fixed the system, and in that time I had removed old users and finished removing the unused drugs, which they were still convinced was the reason it shut down to begin with. As a result, I got a BONUS, I got a mention on the CEO email for assisting on the crisis, and at my end of year meeting they added the fact that I was an ‘expert’ in this system to my job description.
Not bad for a 21 year old who was too dumb to process that clicking ‘yes’ on a box marked ‘do you want to remove all access rights for 100+ users?’ was a terrible idea.
Not me but my dad. He used to be a microbiologist, and was working in a hospital with a tray of test tubes containing some kind of pseudorabies.
He went arse over tit and spilt rabies everywhere.
He's an accountant now.
First, take charge of the circumstances. The moment you understand you made an error—try to get in front of the situation before it spirals out of control. "Being proactive about addressing whatever took place demonstrates your awareness of the problem and relieves others from the potential discomfort of bringing it to your attention," the coach explained.
Next, acknowledge your mistake and offer an honest and humble apology to your colleague, manager, or the whole team. Smith advised not to be defensive: "For instance, suppose a colleague tells you that they were offended by a comment you made. Don’t respond by saying, 'Well, I would never offend anyone on purpose!' or 'I am sorry if you feel that way.'"
She continued: "Using the word 'if' in your apology implies the other person is being irrational or overly sensitive. It does not show any ownership of your wrongdoing." So it’s best to fully own your mistake.
I was a bartender. I knocked down the entire top shelf. Thousands of dollars in liquor.
I didn't get in trouble- the boss just built a stronger shelf. He found it HILARIOUS that the only thing I saved was a $6 bottle of Sloe Gin that happened to be on the wrong shelf.
Mistakingly believed HR when they said an anonymous employee satisfaction survey was anonymous. Especially since my feedback was about HR.
I was a nanny. A little 2 year old I was watching fell down and hit the back of her head on the concrete. I rushed over to her but she didn't move or blink, just laid on her back motionless. I tried to check for breathing and pulse and pretty much blanked on everything I'd ever learned in CPR/first aid training in my panic.
She seriously looked dead. I screamed for help, the neighbors came running, I told them to call an ambulance. The police, fire department, ambulance showed up within minutes. She was rushed to the hospital and a million tests were run.
Turns out she barely even had a bruise, no concussion, no seizure, no injury, nothing. The doctor said she probably just got scared and froze, for just long enough for me to lose my s**t. Her parents were charged 5,000 dollars to tell them their child got surprised.
"Instead say, 'I appreciate you telling me that. I am sorry that what I said was offensive and hurtful to you. I’ll be more mindful.'" Then, work hard to rebuild your trust because your apology will seem worthless if your behavior won’t change.
Sadly, people tend to remember the negative things better than the positive, so "it’s essential to take action and not shrink back after making a mistake" and remind people of your strengths. "Find ways to position yourself in front of people and demonstrate progress on the issue to rebuild trust and shift perceptions," Smith suggested.
Years ago I worked in an office and had a very cool boss who was the general manager. He and I were quite close and used to joke around all the time.
I had been corresponding with a fairly important customer overseas about an issue they were having and I needed information from her to move forward. I asked for info a few times but she kept coming back with different details than what we needed.
I sent an email to my boss saying something like, “I can’t believe I ask the same simple question three times and this is what I get in reply.”
Except I didn’t send that email to my boss. I sent it to the customer!
I was in a panic when I realized what I had done. Went to my boss to let him know what happened and he thought it was hilarious but that I should write a brief apology to her for an “outburst”.
Was dreading the reply the next morning but to my astonishment our customer actually apologized to me for not paying attention. Felt like I got away easy.
I dropped a screw inside the engine (edit:motor) of a TGV train. Oh god. We spent half an hour trying to catch it by moving a magnetic stick inside the crankshaft, with oil spilling everywhere.
The engine was new and about to be mounted on a train that was supposed to run later in the day, I was so terrified I would possibly cause quite a lot of trouble since no other train or engine was available. Shoutout to my manager who finally got that screw and definitely deserved his half a dozen of croissants the next morning.
I worked in a pizza place and they caught me eating olives on camera. It wasn't 2-3 olives, I could eat like a thousands in a shift, I really don't know why and it's a time in my life I want to forget
Needless to say, don’t be too self-critical. Always remembering and blaming yourself for your past mistakes isn’t helpful and can damage your confidence. "When you unintentionally err, treat yourself as you would a friend in a similar situation," the coach wrote. "Among its many proven benefits, practicing self-compassion will support you in regaining clarity and confidence, and moving forward productively from a setback."
Worked for a politician who was terrible with names so I had them saved in his phone as the nicknames he gave them. One of them was “That crazy, hot b**ch” so I had her saved as “Melissa - crazy hot b**ch.”
One day the other staffer asked for her number so I sent it to him but accidentally sent the contact card to her instead. She kept ringing and messaging demanding to know what was going on and I spent all night dreading the scandal (we were mid election). The next day my boss dropped dead in the office and to this day I feel terrible that one off my first thoughts was “well I guess I got away with that”
put a 600$ crystal bowl through the dishwasher with the pots and pans
I almost died of hypothermia. I was a bartender and we kept a lot of drinks the guests wanted ice cold in a walk-in freezer. So I went inside the first freezer, drinks aren’t there. Then from that first freezer you walk in the second one. I forgot to put a stopper so the door won’t close. I was freaking out, getting colder by the minute. I screamed but no one could hear me. A co-worker came in to check on me, he thankfully knew where I was.
Stabbed myself in the nose with a screwdriver.
I was 19 and it was my first day at work as a dishwasher. They gave me the grill, which was entirely encrusted in nasty burned on carbon, and told me to take it out back and clean it.
For about an hour I chiseled the carbon off it with a screwdriver and a butterknife. I was almost done, but there was one bit stuck in the corner, and because I'm an idiot I tried to get it out by chipping upwards with the screwdriver.
Screwdriver slipped, and continued upwards right into the tip of my nose.
So I run back into the kitchen, completely filthy and bleeding profusely from the face, and yell "I'M SORRY PLEASE DON'T FIRE ME!"
They were very understanding and did not fire me. And once I got cleaned up and stopped the bleeding it turned out I didn't even need stitches. I ended up working there for several summers and eventually made it up to line cook.
One of the managers where I work had the junior IT guy add a vacation auto-responder to his email and the confirmation window had a checkbox "Apply to inbox". The manager never cleans his inbox and the IT guy decided to check that box.
Something like 10,000 emails were sent that day. Important clients (who he would have been conversing more often with) were getting multiple hundreds of vacation notifications. Nothing bad came from it and most of the clients were good-hearted about it. He was getting replies like "Frank, please stop. We KNOW you're on vacation!"
Accepted 20 fake $100 bills because I hadn't been taught how to spot fakes.
Years ago in undergrad, I worked in a lab & had an incident. I was there at 2AM on a Saturday morning, fixing & staining cells (prepping them for viewing under a microscope). Part of the process involves utilizing sodium azide. I put the NaN3 into a buffer solution in too small of a conical & screwed-on the cap, without thinking. hydrogen gas evolved, the conical exploded, my clothes caught fire, & EHS wasn’t very happy. The PI of the lab couldn’t stop laughing. The only serious damage was to my ego.
Mixed bleach and ammonia. Had to evacuate the restaurant
We had a soaking agent for the silverware that didn't know was ammonia based, and I mixed it with bleach and water because I figured if I was bleaching the kitchen drains I might as well use something that'll foam up and take the mildew with it.
Accidentally left out the “MoveNext” method on a loop that sent out an email broadcast, which meant it mailbombed the first recipient in the loop until we realised what was happening and killed the process.
The CEO’s email was the first email address in the loop.
He was an arsehole anyway, and was absolutely incoherent with rage when his outlook crashed when downloading 15,000 emails inviting him to take a satisfaction survey.
Good thing it was only a test!
The chef was angry that day. I was advised by my coworkers to do whatever it takes to get on his good side. I thought, "eh, I'll just try to avoid him."
He was standing in the cooler taking inventory. Beside him were the 5 gallon containers of prepped food. I sneaked in and tried to quickly grab the ranch container, but in my haste, I nudged another.
It was the french onion soup. All 5 gallons of it. On his pants and shoes.
Yes, he was upset. The prep girl was upset. I had 10 minutes til lunch service started. I have no idea how I'm still alive.
My first day working at a coffee shop I left my sharpie in the oven. Finally found it while trying to warm a sandwich and had to shut the whole thing down to be cleaned. It smelled like a chemical weapon.
I overpaid my restaurant team around £33k in service charge over a period of 8 weeks because of some corrupt Excel formulas that weren't double checked before submission.
When the company discovered what happened they wanted the money back, and I had to break that news to the team in a 1 on 40 meeting early one morning before service.
I then had to have a 1 on 1 meeting with each employee to set up a repayment scheme with them based on how much they owed.
As an aside, I had only just moved in to the role and the overpayments had started a few weeks before my appointment, but I was still responsible at the time. Some of the guys owed around £1800. It was the worst 4 months in my career to date.
Worked at an egg farm and was carrying 12 flats of eggs. Didn’t see the pallet someone left in the walkway. Tripped on the pallet and hundreds of eggs go flying and splattered all over the floor. Meanwhile, I fell and dislocated my wrist and shoulder.
I at least partially blame my employer for this but they fully blamed me so -
I briefly worked for the city zoo. We used "carts" that were basically an ATV with a dumpable bed on them for cleaning enclosures. Zoos are large so we also used them just as transport.
We had one with a known wonky parking brake. Maintenance had refused to replace it for months.
One day I had to park it on an incline. I kicked it after parking, didn't budge. I turned around at least 3 times as I walked away to make sure it was still not going anywhere.
5 mins later, I come back to hysteria. Naturally as soon as I was gone, it had rolled down the hill and taken out half the fence to the camel ride area. Knocked some lady over (she was fine, I think she had just been knocked off balance versus full on hit by it).
My manager wasn't mad at all, maintenance finally gave us a new cart, but I still got written up because protocol.
Controls Engineer. Made a copy paste error while programming and a 2 was a 3. So one machine tagged at 3 was waiting for conditions of 2. So naturally the lift moved when it thought it should and crashed into another machine. Course I'm Having to stand there figuring out the issue while maintenance is up there replacing busted parts. But because I've made a thousand changes it didnt click fast enough and well... it happened again.
I was new to SQL and accidentally mailed a list of people with deceased_date IS NOT NULL instead of IS NULL. So an entire marketing campaign was sent to dead people. That eventually led to our marketing tools being hard-coded not to mail dead people (which makes sense) but I was terrified when I found out.
Very first tech job as a youngin' and I forgot to verify of someone had backed up files before a clean OS install. Lost the guys Outlook Archive files with 10 years worth of conveniently stored and important email. Apologized and sheepishly turned the issue over to admins.
Note: this post originally had 61 images. It’s been shortened to the top 30 images based on user votes.