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How Do You Get Past a Very Public Work Screw-up?

And other questions you’d rather not ask your own HR Department

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.

Like most everyone, I laughed when the whole Best Picture Oscar mix-up happened — especially when the La La Land producer, host Jimmy Kimmel and Warren Beatty fought over the microphone to explain what went wrong. That said, I’ve been a little aghast at how much shit the PwC accountants are getting. Not that it’s on such a public stage, but people fuck up during presentations or at meetings at the office all the time. I remember a coworker saying one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard in my life at a company town hall. He never recovered, but I gotta think there is a way to overcome such a public humiliation? —Steve F., New Orleans

To me, it all starts with thinking before you speak. Actually, scratch that. It starts even earlier by learning how to speak in front of others before you do any thinking or talking — or thinking before talking. Simply put, public speaking is an important enough skill that it should be studied, practiced and refined; check out Dale Carnegie, Toastmasters and Stanford Business School’s YouTube channel for some great starter tips. My own advice is that the most important skill to master in this regard is storytelling.

Storytelling connects with the hearts and minds of your audience in a meaningful, personal way. All the while, it manages audience awareness by linking the purpose of your story in the most appropriate context — timing (why now?); culture (what resonates?); relationships (heroes? villains?); style (humor? exhortation? symbolism?); and appeal (reminisce? judge?). Finally, compelling storytelling sweeps the audience into an ocean of authenticity and trust. A Prairie Home Companion understands this; so did Eddie Murphy: Raw:

As for your co-worker, did he wing it or practice beforehand? Many corporate speakers improvise when public speaking, failing to appreciate how much the old adage “practice makes perfect” applies when it comes to opening your mouth in front of a lot of other people. While there are some aspects of public speaking that may be beyond anyone’s control (bad sound system, too hot/cold room, wrong envelope), enhance your reputation by remembering why you were invited to speak in the first place. This allows you to focus on the right story, tone and cadence for the audience and the outcomes you’re driving to achieve. Then smile, wave and exit to the sound of loud applause.

What do you make of this list from Forbes on “10 Ridiculous HR Ideas that Need to Die?” In particular, I was surprised that annual reviews and 360 reviews (which are all the rage at my company) are considered either useless or damaging. — Karen K., Portland, Maine
The relevance of annual reviews has been debated for years. Most companies have moved away from once-a-year sitdowns to a more holistic approach of continual feedback, goal-setting and personal/professional development. New performance management software such as Reflektive and BetterWorks help facilitate this exchange. But that doesn’t mean the annual performance review is useless. A well-documented performance review can be used as the basis for an annual merit increase, and for states with Fair Pay Act legislation (CA, NY and MD), it may be a requirement.

Most of all, though, it’s superficial to say 360 reviews are damaging because it depends on how they’re administered and used. When both the employee and manager get to select participants and it’s a large enough sample size that results are anonymous, the feedback can be useful in establishing development plans. Co-workers are good about work product feedback (“Good job!” “Amazing product launch!” “Way to beat that revenue target!”), but reluctant to give each other feedback about behaviors. 360 reviews can close this gap if done well.

Now, if it results in witch-hunts where people are confronting survey participants about results (“Are you the person who said I’m an arrogant asshole in meetings?”), you’ve probably got bigger organizational issues of trust and collaboration to address than the system you’re using to rate job performance.

I might be summer dreaming here, but for whatever reason, I can’t stop thinking about Summer Fridays. I haven’t heard about them in a while, but there was a time when they seemed like more of a thing. Am I crazy — i.e., were they ever a thing? And if so, why can’t they come back? — Nick P., Tucson, Arizona
You probably haven’t heard about them because you’re not on the East Coast; there, Summer Fridays (where the office shuts down for either all day or a good amount of it) continue to be a big hit. Perhaps that’s because in areas of the country where summer weather only happens during the summer, people relish getting a jump on weekends. After all, there’s a lot of weekend traffic to beat when you’re racing the crowds to Cape Cod, the Jersey Shore or the Hamptons.

Summer hours, however, aren’t necessarily all they’re cracked up to be. For starters, it isn’t clear that they increase productivity; in fact, some employees may feel stress to get work done before the office closes. In other organizations, certain departments may not be able to institute Summer Fridays — e.g., call or fulfillment centers — which might cause resentment. And it becomes an administrative nightmare when dealing with nonexempt employees. The company has to decide if it’s going to pay these employees when they aren’t working or allow them to compress their work schedule into four days and incur overtime (in some states) if they work more than 8 hours in a day to achieve 40 hours in that week.

Not coincidentally then, some companies have decided the tradition of Summer Fridays is outdated. They may not be able to afford that perk anymore, or more likely, they allow employees year-round flexibility (i.e., working from home, working remotely, etc.). If that’s for you, make the pitch to start your own traditions in Arizona: Maybe Football Fridays for the fall and Cactus League Spring Training Weeks in the winter.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.