Mortification Week: the declined offer, the obscene amigurumi, and more (2022)

It’s Mortification Week at Ask a Manager and all week long we’ll be revisiting ways we’ve mortified ourselves at work. Here are 17 more mortifying stories people have shared here over the years.

1. The declined offer

I interviewed for an internship in college. I really didn’t want the internship, but I needed it to satisfy some university requirements. The interview went okay, it didn’t feel particularly short or long – about a half hour by my estimation. The interviewer then asked me if I wanted to look around the place for a bit, and I said, “No, actually I have to go.” Looked at my watch and only five minutes had gone by. Her face was filled with disgust. I did not get a call back.

2. The perfume

My father’s story from a good 25 years ago. One time he’s telling us about what gifts they bought for all the staff. It was perfume (don’t get me started on the gendered nature of it, that’s a whole other thing) but one he didn’t recognize, and the salesperson from somewhere like Macy’s had “recommended” to him. He’s telling us this, and says it’s called something like “plah-sen-tay” like it’s French, he thinks (shades of A Christmas Story here). My mother and i start snickering. Really dad? She recommended it? And you said sure, sounds good? And he’s saying what, what? as we started laughing so hard we were crying and falling out of our seats at Boston Market … because he apparently had no idea he’d bought every woman on his staff PLACENTA perfume. Like something that had that in it, and it was maybe supposed to be a beauty aid? It was unclear, but we surmised that the salesperson had a truckload of this stuff to unload and could tell he had no idea what he was doing. He sits there horrified, and reflects, “Huh… i was wondering why people seemed a little weird about it. There was a lot of talking in hushed groups afterward.”

3. The TV fan

Way back in the day, I was unemployed for awhile, and was asked how I spent my days. For some reason, I launched into a detailed analysis of the formula of the Maury Povich Show. Inappropriate things were said. I just couldn’t shut up even though my brain was telling me to stop.

Somehow, I was offered the job. I still don’t know how or why. I didn’t end up taking it, I received another offer and was too embarrassed to work there.

4. The therapy session

A friend of my husband’s committed what I think may be the worst Zoom horror of all time … apparently he was on an extended, mandatory Zoom call (like 4 or 5 hours) with his entire company. Small financial office, but still a good number of people, as well as a client on the call. He had a therapy session (also remote) scheduled during this time. He did his therapy session, via phone, while still on the Zoom call, and was completely unmuted during all of it (I do not know why the person running it did not mute him, although from this thread it sounds like there are still many meeting-runners who don’t know HOW to do that).

But his therapy session consisted of half a session bitching about his coworkers and how stupid they are, at length, foul language and all. And the second half about an amazing date/sex he’d had with his wife. Meanwhile coworkers were frantically messaging him to tell him he was NOT muted but he didn’t get any of those messages until after the meeting was done.

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It does make you long for the days of mistaken potatoes or cat-faces. Practically wholesome.

5. The amigurumi

I like to crochet amigurumi and other 3D items, the splashiest of which is a very large and highly detailed penis and testicles. When I say highly detailed, I mean, our friend the urologist was so impressed he showed photos of it to the other urology residents. This decorative item is usually on display on top of a cabinet. However, I moved it to the top of a bookshelf while dusting, forgetting that said bookshelf is in the background of my husband’s Zoom calls.

He spent half of a Monday morning all-staff meeting cheerfully answering questions (he’s a VP) before realizing what was sitting in the background. Most of his coworkers are fairly conservative evangelical Christians.

He video muted in horror and removed the offending objet d’art, hoping no one had noticed. Later that day, a coworker who had recently turned in two weeks notice–and thus had nothing to lose–DMed him a screenshot of his video feed with the decorative penis and testicles circled and annotated with “????” My husband tried to pass it off as a butternut squash. Luckily no one told the CEO, or if they did, he wrote it off as an inevitable consequence of employing secular Brooklynites.

I now make sure to replace all decorative objects in their proper homes while dusting.

6. The replacement

Just out of high school, I accepted a position at a real estate office doing their filing. It just wasn’t a great fit for me — I was bored to tears within a couple of hours each day — and after a few days, I could tell that I probably shouldn’t have taken the job. I had an interview at another company and ended up getting an offer, which I accepted on the spot, starting in a couple of days. This was still after I had been at the first job for less than a week and while I hated the position, I didn’t want to burn a bridge.

So I did what I thought would be the greatest kindness — the next day, I showed up at work and brought one of my good friends with me who I knew would enjoy the position more! I didn’t bring them as a potential interviewee, I presented it to my boss as, “I’ve accepted another job, but to not put you out, I’ve found my own replacement as well!” I don’t think my manager knew what to do, so let her stay and shadow me all day. It ended up kind of working out as they did officially hire her, but I still look back and am blown away by my own gumption. I can’t imagine showing up at my current job with a random person that no one has ever met and declaring them to be my replacement!

7. The baby

I was in my early twenties when a new coworker was hired. Meeting her, I realized that she was someone that my parents used to know through my church. I couldn’t remember much about her and her husband, and the only thing that came to mind is that when I had last seen her about eight years previously when I was about 15, she had a baby that was massively overweight (like, by far the fattest baby I had ever seen). So I was there both wanting to show I remembered her and her baby, and being terrified I might put my foot in my mouth and say something about its weight. Which meant I ended up blurting out, “I remember you had a baby! Do you still have it?” She proceeded to inform me very coolly that she had, indeed, kept her daughter, and that she was now in a school for highly gifted children. I was mortified, and she never really forgave me. Thankfully I changed jobs not long after!

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8. The chili peppers

I just got my first real R+D technology job after my PhD. On the evening of day #1, my partner and I went to a nice restaurant to celebrate, but couldn’t eat it all. We took the leftovers home and I brought them to reheat for lunch. The dinner was spicy with whole chilli peppers as garnish.

On day #2, the CEO of the company came to my table in the lunch room to say hi to the new employee. I tried hard to impress him, making sure to make eye contact. This meant not looking at my food, and taking a bite full of peppers.

My mouth exploded and my face went red. But I decided to pretend nothing was happening. I tried to pretend to follow the conversation. Next, I started crying. Tears flowed down my cheeks. Still I pretended nothing was wrong. The CEO had a strange look and slowly ended the conversation. I never explained what happened. The job was OK, and I lasted another two years before leaving for a better job.

9. The salted coffee

Had my first out of state, need to fly to another state, academic job interview. One of those dinner the night before, all day affairs with lunch and a presentation I had to do, straight to the airport at the end of the day.

Well my doctor ended up upping the dosage of one of my medications, that I take at night. Made. Me. ILL. The plane left at 6am-ish, so taxi ride to the airport around 4am. Almost threw up in the cab cause it was so hot and stuffy. Got the airport, went to the bathroom, threw up. Checked in, went through security, went to the bathroom, threw up. Got some gatorade, tried to drink it, threw up. Got on the plane. Was supposed to be polishing up my presentation and writing all the notecards. Spent the entire time, breathing through my nose trying to control the nausea.

…Went out to dinner with the hiring manager, felt way better, was able to eat some, but I was pretty out of it, and it was obvious I wasn’t asking questions they expected. I guess they expected more questions about the next day, but I’d done these types before so I pretty much knew what to expect and just couldn’t fake it.

Worst part: we ordered coffee at the end, which I still needed to go back to the hotel and work on my presentation, so I wanted the caffeine. Well there was this little jar and a spoon sitting on the table, waiter brought cream, so I added cream and sugar from the little jar. IT WASN’T SUGAR, it was totally salt. Then to make matters worse, I actually said to the manager, “Oh I just salted my coffee.” He, clearly surprised, offered to get the waiter to get a new cup. Nope, my poor shredded brain for some reason declined, then I proceeded to drink the salted coffee, declaring that it wasn’t that bad.

Shockingly I did not get the job, and I have to be the hilarious job interviewee who salted their coffee, stated so, and then drank it.

10. The paper

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I once submitted an optional paper with the working subtitle “When Will I Learn Not To Volunteer For Things” still in the document. I realized straight away and emailed a fixed version claiming that I had forgotten to include the word count. I don’t know if my tutor ever opened the original, but if she did, she didn’t say anything and still gave me 100% – very gracious!

11. The whispers

It was a three-person meeting with my boss and the CEO. This was in early 2020 before virtual meeting became the norm for obvious reasons. At the beginning of the meeting, my computer started to misbehave. My boss had already joined, and since nobody was around in the office at that moment, I started getting frustrated, whispering thing under gritted teeth, including curse words, while I was trying to get my computer to stop acting weird. This went on for about a minute before my boss politely asked me to mute because there “were too many sounds.” I was mortified, I forgot to mute myself and I said curse words in the process. Luckily, the CEO wasn’t on or else it would have been worse.

12. The snoring

My coworker Dan came racing into an office I shared with three other people with a thrilled look on his face: “Come QUICK,” he whispered. This man was not one to be terribly excitable, so we were intrigued. We trooped out behind him and up to his own office, where a conference call was in progress. Dan had put it on speaker, but it was “Business business business” type chat. Nothing unusual. We looked askance… “Um, Dan… what?”


Then we heard it. On a conference call with at LEAST 115 people, and all of C-Suite for this particular client, some poor soul was sawing logs into his mic. Loudly. The rest of the team, CEO, CFO etc. was valiantly carrying on while someone was searching for the Global Mute and not finding it, so every few moments between statistical projections there was a loud “HOrKkkkKK snort” like a congested bear. Dan and the rest of us silently died laughing on the carpet. The admin couldn’t even put out the polite “please mute your phones” because of course, the culprit was in dreamland.

Best conference call ever.

13. The blouse

In the early 2000s, when I was in my early 30s, I worked as the chief of staff / senior advisor to a very senior government official. At the time, the department we worked for was involved in big, high-profile international trade dispute. One day, my boss was hosting a VERY. IMPORTANT. CONFERENCE. CALL that involved lawyers, diplomats, a whole lot of very important people. The speaker phone was set up in my boss’s boardroom with about 10 other people in attendance. My boss always sat in the same spot, at the head of the conference table, near the door.

Before going into the late afternoon call, he tells me that he and his wife are going to a show that evening, that his wife will be coming to the office to meet him and could I let him know when she arrives. Mrs. Very Senior Government Official arrives as planned and I get ready to enter the boardroom, during the conference call, to let him know that she’s here.

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All goes to plan as I open the boardroom door. No one is looking at me as they are all concentrating on the speaker phone or on their notes. I lean forward to whisper in my boss’s ear: “She’s here.” Unbeknownst to me, the door knob has slipped between the buttons of my silk blouse. Message delivered, I stand up straight to leave the room … except that the growing tension between the door knob and the fabric of my blouse results in a tearing sound with buttons bursting forth and me flashing the only person who happened to be looking up at the time: a very flustered senior legal counsel. Time stopped briefly as I grabbed the jagged edges of my blouse, turned on my heels and went back to my office. I used the office stapler to fix my blouse before going to back to tell his wife that he would be out shortly. I think I wore sweaters for 6 months after that incident.

14. The tea party

I am an attorney. During the pandemic, I was doing a hearing via Zoom against a particularly annoying opposing counsel. A friend called me after I had finished arguing and thinking I was on mute, I answered and proceeded to say, “Hey, I’m in a hearing, and [opposing counsel]’s argument is very boring.” The judge interrupted to say, “Sorry to interrupt your tea party, [my name], but you’re not on mute.” I was mortified but the judge and I had a good laugh about it later.

15. The distress

I think I have to quit my job and change my name. My work calls forward to my cellphone and I just opened a call on a meeting platform on my phone with video and audio enabled without realizing it … and I was in the bathroom experiencing the worst gastrointestinal distress. I’m pretty sure my boss just heard everything while getting a view of my bathroom ceiling. The call lasted 47 seconds before he hung up.

16. The zipper

I strolled in to work at my first professional job one morning, took off my coat, enthusiastically greeted my boss and had a longish chat with him about the day ahead. Then I walked down the corridor to the bathrooms and realised that I had completely failed to zip up my dress, which was open down the side from armpit to thigh. He was too polite to say anything but I still cringe ten years later

17. A hug, a rejection, and a goodbye

One day at work I got an email with the subject line “a hug, a rejection, and a goodbye.” Basically an independent contractor sent a company-wide email to explain that he had just been fired. Per the email, he had been focusing on honoring his emotions and if he needed a hug, he wasn’t going to deny himself. And apparently he decided he needed a hug and gave a guy in the bathroom a hug. Completely unsolicited. Said hugee was very, very, very introverted and possibly on the spectrum. He was very good at his job and very helpful, but it was absolutely understood that you emailed him your request – you didn’t go talk to him. And under no circumstances did you make him shake hands, much less hug. So the Hugee went straight to HR and complained and they fired the contractor immediately. When he went to get his personal stuff from his desk, he wasn’t escorted and had time to send this email justifying his actions. The email was quite detailed and completely oblivious to any wrong doing on his part.

The OMGs were audible around the office (of about 300 people, I think). And many of us started forwarding the email to our personal accounts because sure enough, once senior management got wind of it, IT deleted the email from the server and everyone’s work accounts. 15 years later, if I see someone from that job and say “a hug, a rejection, and a goodbye,” they burst out laughing.

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