3 Epic Business Faux Pas you’ll be happy didn’t happen to you!

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Epic Business Faux Pas

I was never a business major. I have a BS in Biology and my first job out of school was in a lab. As it turns out, labs are terrible places to work. Especially ones where you perform the same tests over and over. It’s called quality control, I personally call it cruel and unusual punishment.

Needless to say, I went back to get my MBA and transition into something a little bit more challenging.

To say I was underprepared for the transition into the business world is a huge an understatement. Now I have had the normal faux pas we all do. Schedule meetings on holidays I didn’t know we had off. Date a co-worker. Write some “too direct” emails. But there were a few that were epic.  So enjoy the fact that they didn’t happen to you!

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Budget Meeting Faux Pas


My first job was in finance.  I did budget planning and reporting – basic accounting.  I was a middle man between a budget owner and the finance system.

Simple enough right? So how could I make a mistake? Unfortunately, it was too easy.

At Eli Lilly budgets were tight.  So when they made big cuts at the end of the year, and the only place to find the money was by reducing headcount.

Not backfilling if someone left the company or retired or well, by other means. It’s not like you can find $1M dollars by cutting spending on pens for a department of 25.

So when asked about budget cuts during a staff meeting I said “You know they are basically asking the department to cut headcount, right?!” their faces said it all. I got that horrible sinking feeling in my stomach.

Not everyone at the table knew, and this was the first time they were hearing about it. Ouch.

I do remember running out of that meeting and driving straight home. And I’m pretty sure I was sick for the rest of that week too.

Departmental Meeting Faux Pas

When I moved to Amgen, I figured I had left my past mistakes behind and learned not to be as direct. This may have been true with business partners, but it certainly wasn’t true in team meetings.

I don’t remember my exact words. But it was bad.  Bad enough two of my colleagues approached me afterward to give me coaching advice. At the same time. Yikes.

In short, I told the Executive Director, during a large staff meeting the way we were doing things was wrong. He was wrong. You know, because I had a whole year and a half or so of experience with it, at the ripe old age of 26. I mean, if we did it at Lilly it had to be the right and only way, am I right?

The worst part, I was still young enough to not know how bad the implications would be in terms of advancement. Thankfully enough, I switched departments later that year.  I didn’t get promoted until a few years after that when I applied for a job in a different department. I still cringe when I think about it.

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The Time I Shut down a Lab and had Hazmat Called due to a Bandaid.

Now I was brand new, had just turned 22 and was at my first job in the lab.  I was still in training so I didn’t realize the implications of taking off a bandaid and leaving it the garbage can (given there was blood on it). I had taken off my shoe and sock because it was bothering me, threw it in the trash without another thought.

This was done prior to me leaving at 6 am.

Now, I won’t bore you with it, but if you know anything about OSHA standards, you know any type of bodily fluid or reported within a lab is a big deal. Huge. Like shut down the place and bring in the professionals / Hazmat team to sterilize the entire area deal.

It’s like something you see in the movies. When there is a disease outbreak and they dress in the Hazmat / white astronaut looking – suits type team. And that’s exactly what happened after I left.

Apparently, someone else who worked the morning shift spotted it in the trash, reported it and the chaos ensued.  Luckily, it was cleaned before my next shift started at 6 pm. But I was mortified when I found out.

I don’t remember ever being asked about it, oddly enough. But I also don’t remember someone getting the blame for it. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been fired, but I’m damn sure I would have been talked to. At least I escaped the embarrassment!

In retrospect, maybe my faux pas wasn’t really as bad as they seem.  It’s hard to say.  When you are in the middle of things they always seem worse. Or at least they feel like an epic failure at the time.

At least I have a few things to look back on a laugh.  And I know what an epic fail looks like and how it feels.

One thing is clear… you sure can’t become a better employee, if you don’t learn from your mistakes. And these were some mistakes, that I will never forget! (Or live down!)

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