Your Most Embarrassing Work Blunder – And How You Bounced Back

Small mistakes can seem more serious than they are in the moment. But with time, they can become anecdotes that we look back on and laugh about. Public officers share their most embarrassing work blunders – and how they bounced back from them. 
Singapore’s public officers share their most embarrassing work blunders – and how they have since bounced back from them.

Winning Entry:

Peter Chutatape, Ministry of Education:

Back in the day at MOE HQ, my ministry's Permanent Secretary visited my branch for a walkaround. I was engrossed in analysing some data on my screen, and failed to notice the entourage that escorted her. She peeked over my shoulder and asked what I was busy doing. I replied politely, and wondered why a rather sizeable crowd took interest in my reply. I then asked in my most polite tone “I'm Pete, and you are...?”

The room went deathly silent, and she chuckled by responding with her name. After she was ushered into the lift, the rest of my office gave me a standing ovation, with phrases like “Pete's Pizzeria sells humble pie” and “career suicide” being bandied around. It was an amazing experience in blissful ignorance, and a masterclass in humility. I promised myself to study the Organisation Chart more assiduously after that.

Thank you for sharing your entry, Peter. You win $100 worth of Cityluxe vouchers to get yourself some stationery – all the better to study your Organisation Chart with.

Other Winning Entries:

Simon Yee Zhi Xiang, Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority

During a meeting, I forgot the name of a stakeholder representative whom I had to speak to. Her nameplate was too far to read from where I was seated.

So I stood up and pretended to be taking photos of the meeting for comms work (I’m a corporate communications officer). However, I was actually using my phone camera to zoom into her nameplate and read her name!

After that, we tweaked the table nameplate template to display names in a larger and bolder font for future meetings.

Diana Yao, Ministry of Education (New Town Primary School)

I accidentally synced my personal calendar with the school's calendar, and my entire personal schedule was exposed! Good thing it wasn't too personal. I only found out when my colleague jokingly teased me: "Can I join you for yoga today?"

I helped to expedite a pregnant woman’s clearance at Woodlands Checkpoint but turned out she wasn't really pregnant, just a bit fat.

Nur Izyan Razalee, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority

Once, I helped to expedite a pregnant woman’s clearance at Woodlands Checkpoint. I saw her queuing and perspiring in the packed bus hall. It was the peak of the December holidays and I was about to take over the Singapore lane. I walked up to her and said: “Ma’am, let me help to clear you first”. She said thank you and followed me to the front of my counter, but was very fidgety.

When I was about to scan her passport, she whispered to me: “Officer, I’m actually not pregnant, just a bit fat… but can you still clear me or not?” I wanted to laugh! But I kept a professional tone and said: “I’m so sorry, I really thought you were pregnant. A lot of people also give up their seats to me because they think I’m pregnant. It’s okay, I’ll just clear you since you’re already here. So sorry again.” She looked guilty but thanked me and left. I have never assumed someone’s pregnancy since then.

Nadirah Isa, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth

I was assigned to be the Secretariat for a management meeting. It was pretty stressful for me as I was only three months into the job. During the Teams meeting, I forgot to mute myself when I mumbled: "So stressful!"

I'm sure everyone in the meeting heard it but they laughed it off (phew!). It made me realise that colleagues in the Public Service are encouraging and supportive especially when we need it the most!

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    Jun 22, 2023
    Ryan Ong
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