When a public relations professional I know in North Carolina was just starting out, she made a whopper of a mistake: She messed up a client's phone number on a press release.
But it wasn't just any mess-up or any wrong number. The client, a meat processing company, had hired the rookie publicist's firm to promote a toll-free number that customers could call for recipes and coupons. Unfortunately, our budding young publicist got the prefix wrong.
"The phone number listed on the press release was 1-800-GET-PORK, and yes it was a porn number," she told me.
Fortunately, the president of her company got a good chuckle out of the goof.
"Since the release went through multiple people for approval, we all felt responsible," the junior publicist said.
Still, the publicist learned a valuable lesson from her barnyard blunder:
"To this day, I insist on personally calling every phone number that's listed on any material," she said.
Workplace gaffes happen. With companies downsizing and everyone doing the job of three people, how could they not? Either we misplace that extremely urgent quarterly report that's due on the boss' desk in five minutes or we miss a critical deadline that costs us our biggest client or we ask our manager who the Marilyn Manson look-alike in the break room is without realizing it's his wife.
So rather than remind you to pay attention to where you put those urgent reports, heed your deadlines and think before you open your mouth, let's focus on your recovery skills. Because how you attempt to bounce back from a workplace screw-up can make all the difference between having a desk to come back to in the morning and having to stand on the corner wearing a sandwich board with your resume on it.
When Theresia Whitfield was a TV news producer in Washington, D.C., she was once out in the field with a reporter and photographer from her bureau who made some unflattering headlines of their own.
"The two men started complaining about the bureau chief," said Whitfield, who's now an independent business writer in Indianapolis. "We later found out that the reporter's cell phone, which was in his coat pocket, had somehow gotten bumped and dialed the bureau chief's direct line."
Unbeknownst to the two gripers, the chief heard every word.
"Both were written up and put on probation," Whitfield said.
So what should you do if you, too, get caught bashing the boss?
"If you have the courage to complain about your boss in public, then you have to have the courage to go to them and talk about it once you've been caught," said Cynthia Shapiro, career consultant and author of "Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn't Want You to Know -- and What to Do About Them."
In other words, if you want to keep your job, you need to transition from traitor to team player -- and fast. To do so, Shapiro said, apologize in person, as soon as humanly possible (hiding behind e-mail won't cut it).
Tell the big cheese, "My frustrations have been boiling over and I didn't know how to talk to you about it," Shapiro advised. Diplomatically lay out your gripes. Then offer, "I'd love to work this out with you and I'd like to start fresh if we can."