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What to Do When Really Bad Stuff Happens

Everything gone wrong at work? Whether you’ve lost your job, told a few fibs and got busted or pulled a fake sickie and bumped into your boss, we’ve got you covered.

Bad stuff happens. This is a universal truth. But when the proverbial sh*t hits the fan, remember two things: first, failure is fundamental to success, and second, there’s always something you can do. We spoke to those who had been there and fixed the problem. Here’s what they learnt...

You lied on your CV and got found out

You’ve never actually climbed Everest, you don’t speak French and, as for that volunteering you do... Clawing back a lie in an interview is tough—they don’t know you yet, and there are other candidates who (probably) haven’t fibbed. Your only option is to apologise and explain why you did it—i.e., that you really want the job. Your success rate also depends on the lie. Hobbies and the like on your resume are kind of okay (one survey found 72 percent of hirers weren’t bothered by fibs in the personal interests section), while claiming a few skills you don’t actually have is recoverable, says John Lees, author of How To Get A Job You Love—you can always say you’re planning to learn them imminently.

But if you’ve lied about working somewhere you didn’t, or your qualifications, expect little sympathy. Even if you got the job and are past the probation period when you’re found out, there could still be consequences. “Your contract can be terminated based on the fact you were hired under false pretences,” says Aliya Vigor-Robertson, cofounder of HR consultancy JourneyHR in London. Worst case, you can even be prosecuted. So stick to the truth.

Did You Know? In 2010, Rhiannon Mackay became the first woman in the UK to be jailed (she got six months!) for lying on her resume.

You failed your probation

Three months into the job and they’re still not quite sure if you’re a ‘good fit’, so they’re extending your probation. “This can really knock your confidence,” says Aliya. “Without becoming defensive, you need to get clear feedback on your performance and where you’ve fallen short.” So dust yourself off and ask your line manager for a meeting. “Get them to set you some clear objectives that can be measured— that’s the important bit. You don’t want ambiguity in what’s expected of you. Then catch up regularly to check if you’re on track.” If you fail your probation outright, you can try to argue it—but unless they’ve discriminated against you in some way, there’s not much you can do. If you sense things aren’t going well a few weeks into a new job, don’t wait until that three-month review. Ask for feedback while you’ve still got a chance to change things.

Did You Know? You’re not alone. Nearly one in five people either fail their probation period, or end up having it extended.

You're made redundant

File this one in ‘terrible things about being a millennial’, along with unicorn crap everywhere and a shortened attention span (cheers, Twitter). In the first three months of 2017, 16-to-34-year-olds accounted for a third of redundancies.* But you do have some control. “The company needs to provide justification of how they’ve reached their decision”, says Aliya. Also, your performance can’t be the reason you’re made redundant—if it is, you may be able to bring a claim against them. Be sure to check your rights and the legal minimum you’re owed (check your contract for your company’s specific policy). The kicker? You have to have been in the role for more than a year to be entitled to a payout. But while losing your job can feel shameful, no future employer will judge you for it. “It’s only an issue if you make it one,” says John. “Remind yourself of your skills, and take some time to work out what you have to offer.” And by all means, bitch to your mates, but put a cap on it. “Get the bad news out of your system so that when you’re in front of prospective employers, you’re all focused on moving on.”

Did You Know? Redundancy insurance exists, with payouts potentially helping cover some of your salary, should the worst happen. But be warned: if you know that redundancies are due in your company, the insurers often won’t pay out, making your monthly payments totally worthless.

You Need To Bring Up Mental Health at Work

Whether it’s a tough breakup, a family member taken ill, or a bad bout of anxiety, we all have times when our body is at work, but our brain isn’t. Ongoing mental health issues require a serious conversation with your boss. If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health issue, it’s unlawful to discriminate against, harass or victimise people with disabilities—including mental health conditions— during all aspects of employment. “It means they have to treat you fairly, and can’t discriminate based on your health,” says Aliya. For times when life is just kicking you in the balls, honesty is best, too. If your boss has noticed your work is slipping, it’s better they know there’s a reason for it and that it’s temporary— rather than them just assuming you can’t be bothered anymore. “It’s so important to communicate clearly how it’s making you feel,” adds Aliya. “Explain that you want to do your best, and you’re upset you can’t. You don’t have to divulge all the details— they’re your boss, not your therapist. Just acknowledge the issue and let them know you’re dealing with it.”

Did You Know? An ad agency in the Philippines recently introduced ‘breakup leave’ for its employees. (Google ‘work permits in the Philippines’.)

You pulled a sickie and got caught

The unmissable festival, the Sunday session with your BFFs, the scorcher of a day that would be criminal not to spend at the beach...it’s all good until your friend tags you on Insta and your boss sees it. The first rule? Never try to justify it, says John. Whimpering about how you work hard and deserve more time off is only going to wind up your manager even more. Admit it, apologise, suck up whatever dressing down you get and promise to never do it again—and mean it. “You probably won’t get fired, but it starts to demonstrate disloyalty and [create a] lack of trust,” says John. So the next time you are actually sick, get a doctor’s note (and stay off Instagram, yeah?). 

Did You Know? The most believable time to call in sick is 6:38am on a Tuesday morning. Just saying.