9 Awkward Work Scenarios (and How to Deal With Them)

You love your company, your role, and your day-to-day work responsibilities – for the most part.

And if you don’t, here are some tips on what to do about it.

But even if you’re lucky enough to have found job satisfaction, that doesn’t excuse you from the occasional office scenario that makes you cringe from head to toe.

You know what words to avoid if you want to positively affect the way your colleagues see you, but what if the situation is out of your control?

Perhaps it’s a particularly awkward co-worker who engages you in painfully long dialogue at the coffee machine each morning. Or your boss is a character of David Brent or Michael Scott proportions.

Either way, you’re a consummate professional and there’s no way you’re going to let it affect you professionally. Or are you?

Here are some top tips for side-stepping some seriously awkward work scenarios with minimum red-face involved.


Sending a Personal Email to the Entire Office
You have a duty to your work wife or husband to dissect the events of the week with one another – but if you’re frantically replying to her email about your manager’s breath smelling of onions in that board meeting, you could easily come a cropper.
Solution: Consider taking a break to catch up on office gossip – if you’re emailing about non-work-related topics you probably need a distraction anyway. In the meantime, apologize to your boss and assure them it’ll never happen again.

You Stopped Listening in a Meeting
It’s Friday afternoon and all you have standing between you and two glorious days off is this boring-ass meeting that just won’t end. Just as you’re drifting off and thinking about that chilled glass of Sauv Blanc, you notice that everyone is looking at you – and you have no idea why.
Solution: No one can maintain 100 per cent concentration, so simply ask your colleagues to repeat the question. NEVER make something up based on what you think they may have asked. Still have no idea? Tell them you’d like to think it over and get back to them.

Someone asks you to sponsor their 10k for the Fifth Time This Month
If you work in a big office you’re probably inundated with demands for charitable donations and links to JustGiving pages for colleagues’ IronMan and Triathlon attempts. While their athleticism is admirable, you’re not made of money – so how do you avoid looking like Scrooge?
Solution: If it’s sent via email you can comfortably ignore these requests. But if they’ve asked you in person or it’s a close colleague, honesty is the best policy. Congratulate them, wish them the best of luck, and tell them you just can’t afford it right now. Remember to ask them about it after so they know you care.

Someone is Stealing Your Milk or Food
There’s a lunch thief on the loose in your office, and while you don’t want to bombard your workmates with petty notes and emails, or go full Ross Gellar on the guy who ate “MY SANDWICH!,” something has got to give.
Fight fire with fire and consider putting a tricky label on your milk, like ‘SCIENCE PROJECT – DO NOT DRINK.” Alternatively, consider investing in a small desk fridge for the office or bringing in a lunch you can keep in your drawer – i.e. does not need to be temperature controlled.

Your Boss Catches You on Facebook
We all do it – whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or a celebrity gossip website, sometimes you just need to hit the pause button at work. But as (bad) luck would have it, the moment you logged in to check your notifications, your boss suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
Solution: If your boss definitely saw you cruising the internet, acknowledge the situation, apologize and move on. You can work in a little disclaimer in there too to the effect of “Sorry, boss, I was just taking a quick break from those Excel spreadsheets.”

If you hate the idea of the whole office congregating around your desk to sing happy birthday, you’re not alone. While your colleagues probably did it because they thought you’d appreciate it, that doesn’t make it any less mortifying for you at the time.
Solution: Flag your boss ahead of the big day and let them know that you find the whole production a little embarrassing. If they still want to mark the occasion, request a more intimate team setting.

Someone (Senior) Gets Your Name Wrong
The CEO does the unthinkable in a big, company-wide meeting and actually refers to you and your team’s sterling contribution on a recent project. Just as you’re about to burst with pride, he points at you and asks everyone present to give it up for Barbara. Your name is not Barbara.
Solution: You don’t want to embarrass your CEO publicly, but everyone in the room is aware of the faux pas and people are tittering nervously. Make a light-hearted comment, stating that you don’t know about Barbara, but *insert your actual name* is grateful for the praise. If a speech is not required, try to privately contact the big guy and inform him of his mistake before you become Babs forever.

Being at a Work Social You Desperately Want to Leave
You’ve attended a mandatory work event as requested but now you’re itching to leave and can’t bear to make small talk any longer on a Tuesday evening and the call of Netflix has reached a deafening crescendo…
Try your best not to be the first person to leave. But if you really can’t stomach socializing any longer, don’t slink out. Say goodbye to everyone, give a vague reason for leaving, and make your exit.

Being Engaged in “Hilarious” (read: annoying) Office Pranks
If you have an office prankster in your midst, every day can feel like April Fools. And if you don’t find the unplugging of keyboards and mystery phone calls from Mrs. Terrible British Accent hilarious, you could be in trouble. So how do you avoid looking like a grump?
Solution: Try to explain light-heartedly that pranks really aren’t your thing. If that only encourages the tricksters even more, try not to react to them when they occur – not jumping at the plastic spider in your drawer is one sure-fire way to kill a prank dead.