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Boris Johnson’s leaked WhatsApp messages are making us recall and cringe over our own work email fails

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Hollie Richardson
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Ever sit and cringe about the accidental reply-all email you sent around the office over 10 years ago? You are not alone. 

Earlier this week, it was revealed that our country has basically been run via hastily written WhatsApp messages during the pandemic. Boris Johnson’s former senior advisor, Dominic Cummings, leaked messages exchanged between the pair in March 2020. One screenshot suggested that the prime minister called Health Secretary Matt Hancock “totally fucking hopeless”. He also said that he was considering “taking Hancock off” and replacing him with Michael Gove. Basically, it was pretty apparent that they agreed the whole operation was a shambles

While this raises so many more vital questions about how the government has handled coronavirus, it’s also made a lot of us cringe while recalling our own work fails. After all, sending a work email or instant message that is seen by the very person or people you don’t want to see it is something that happens to most people at one point in their careers, right? What about accidentally hitting reply all? And we’ve all sent a drunken or totally misjudged contribution to the team WhatsApp group… haven’t we?

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Of course, backstabbing or talking badly about colleagues is unkind and should always be avoided (there are ways to take action against bullying in the workplace). But we’re talking about those smaller yet still mortifying times when we just mess up a little. 

Here are nine real-life stories to prove you are not alone:

“I sent a bitchy email to the wrong colleague”

“It happened to me in my first office job,” one website manager confesses to Stylist. “I was bickering about something with my colleague (who was also my friend) sat next to me – but I knew I was right! He went to the loo and I emailed my other colleague saying something like, ‘Argh, he’s doing my head in. And he was so wrong!’ 

“As soon as I clicked send, I knew I’d sent it to the colleague I was talking about. So I did something terrible – his computer was still logged in, so I clicked into his email and deleted the one I’d just sent. This was all done in front of my manager, who was sitting at the end of the desk but was, thankfully, oblivious to what was going on. To this day, over five years later, I still recall that feeling of dread and panic.”

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“I called a client a very bad word”

“I called a client an absolute *insert very bad word* for picking an awful design. I said I knew he would pick that one. Anyway, it turned out that he was copied in on the email,” a graphic designer recalls. “The account manager had to go full damage control and sent a grovelling email apologising for my comments (as justified as they were, ha!).”

“I didn’t realise the person I was moaning about was in the chat”

“I was once on the move and I forwarded a client email to someone else on the team saying, ‘Their feedback is so obscure!’ Turns out that I had just hit reply and sent that to the client,” a copywriter shares. 

“And, just last week, a chat on Slack that I thought was just with another colleague was actually a chat with her and three other colleagues. I said that I didn’t like any of the ideas that I’d been given, and the person who’d sent over most of them was in that chat. I had to really bring it back and pretend that I knew we were on the chat together. It was so awkward and boy did I cringe.”

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“I was cc’d into an email conversation all about me”

“Mine was actually awful, but now that some years have passed, I can kind of laugh at it,” a journalist reveals. “I was working in an office where a lot of other friends and people I knew worked, including my male best pal at the time and his girlfriend. 

“Anyway, one day I ended up being cc’d into a rather intense bitching session she was having with a colleague about me – talking about my Facebook posts and my looks. She’d dragged the picture of me in Outlook into the chat to show her friend what I looked like and that’s how she ended up cc’ing me in. It was savage.”

“I called a very senior member of staff ‘babez’”

“I once sent an overly familiar email to a colleague at work (one of my best friends) and accidentally sent it to someone really high up in the biz with the same name,” an office worker says. “Thankfully she looked past the ‘hey babes’ and ‘I am a gem, see you tomozza’ and replied in equally cringe language.”

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“I sent an old Facebook post to someone I was interviewing for work”

“I was looking for case studies for quite a serious project and found a woman through a Facebook group, so I contacted her on Messenger asking for her email address,” a writer recalls. “A few days later, I was reminiscing about my uni years on Facebook and took a screenshot of a Hawaiian party event I’d created. It was a ridiculous invitation, telling people to get ready for my solo rendition of The Pina Colada Song and to limber up for a limbo competition.

“I sent the screenshot to my old housemate, telling her I missed the good old days. Not understanding why she hadn’t replied by the next day, I looked and realised I’d accidentally sent it to the woman I’d been in touch with about the work project. I was so mortified and tried to play it so cool by just saying, ‘Whoops, sorry – wrong person’ with a laughing-face emoji. Luckily, she took it well, but probably thought I was a massive weirdo.”

“I sent an annoyed email about my boss to my boss”

“I once accidentally sent an annoyed email about my boss to my boss,” an account manager recalls. “Oh, and she was sat right next to me. It happened first thing in the morning and she left me stewing all day. I thought maybe I’d got away with it. But when she finally pulled me to one side for a ‘quick chat’ in the afternoon, it turned out to be a very, very awkward chat.”

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“I was mistaken for HR and sent personal details about my team members”

“Somebody at work has mistaken me for a woman with the same name in HR twice in the last month,” a charity worker shares. “The first time, they went straight in with discussing one of their team members on probation. I had to awkwardly point out that they’d confused me with someone else. She was mortified and told me to ‘please delete it out of your mind!’. But then she accidentally emailed about the same person again a couple of weeks later. At least I’m not the one who sent the email, I suppose.”

“I kept sending embarrassing things to the team WhatsApp group”

“I’m really sociable at work but I now avoid all group WhatsApp messages with colleagues because of the amount of times I’ve accidentally put something in there without thinking,” says an occupational therapist. “Anytime I’ve done it, I’ve just had to own it and apologise or shake off the embarrassment – you have to, instead of making up some elaborate lie about it. So I only talk to people in one-on-one messages now. I don’t trust myself otherwise and can’t deal with the anxiety afterwards.”

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…