Murphy’s Law Of The Workplace


Murphy’s Law – If anything can go wrong, it will.

How many times at work have you had a Murphy’s Law experience?  Just when it’s important that things go right something goes wrong.  Here are some of my workplace Murphy’s Law observations:

  • When you don’t check your email – That will be the time when the VP needs a report from you ASAP!
  • The day you don’t dress your best is the day you have a surprise meeting first thing in the morning.
  • And those meetings that start the day?  You’re going to be late for one through no fault of your own.  When you walk in everyone will stop for a second and look at you like you’ve missed the birth of your child.
  • That one time you “trust” a subordinate with a project and don’t go over it with a fine-tooth comb it ends up being wrong.  And your bosses see it.
  • You  make sure to do any web surfing during your lunch hour because your boss is a stickler for that.  The one time you don’t?  Your boss sneaks up behind you asking what you’re working on (or your boss’ boss sees you and tells your boss and you don’t even realize you got caught until you’re sitting in your boss’ office getting reamed).
  • That project that’s making you tear your hair out that you just can’t get your head around comes right before your performance review.
  • And that project that you absolutely aced; getting it done before the deadline and making your boss look great?  Right after your performance review.
  • Your child’s recital?  Same day as your huge presentation at work that you cannot miss.
  • The one time you click on that link that your buddy sent in an email?  Crash and burn!  You whole computer starts whacking out and less-than-appropriate sites start popping up on your screen (bonus is when your speakers are turned on).
  • The great vacation deal you found that’s only good for one week (or the family function you need to travel to) ends up being the same week your boss already planned to take off but didn’t mention to the staff.
  • Those personal copies you made or that fax you sent?  You left a few pages behind incriminating you.  Of course it was sensitive material like tax info or medical documents (or worse that resume you’ve been sending out).

So what do you do about it?

First – Accept that there will be a Murphy’s Law moment.  It’s inevitable.  Something will go wrong when you need it to go right.  When it does happen, regardless of the situation, look at it in a positive light.  Don’t throw around blame.  See if you can take the situation in a positive direction.  I once had a situation at work where a big screwup blew up and involved VP’s yelling at each other.  Rather than taking sides, my stance was to say “It’s great that this happened.  It exposed a big hole that we didn’t know was there.  We can now put a process into place so this doesn’t happen again.”  That attitude helped ease things over.

Second – The ‘ole Boy Scout Motto: Be Prepared.  If something important is coming up, run through your head all of the things that can go wrong.  Trying to understand what can go wrong can help you build contingencies should Murphy’s Law strike.

How do you handle Murphy’s Law at work?  What’s happened to you?

photo by Yo Spiff

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Published or updated March 29, 2013.


  1. Nice list! I bet my boss is watching me leave this comment right now…

  2. Quick! Minimize!!

  3. Oh! So true! The performance review timeline has definitely affected me before. Now I treat every project as if my performance review is just around the corner.

  4. @ Sara – That’s a great way to look at it! You really never know what project your boss will remember (sometimes it helps to remind them).

  5. I’ve gotta say that I’ve got it pretty good at my job. Being in IT, most of our interactions are virtual and can be done mostly over VPN from home! But we still run into the Murphy’s Law bit too; just in more of a virtual setting (servers dying, email not working, blackberry craps out, etc) 🙂

  6. Mlvin Goldstein says:

    Entropy is one of Physics Foibles. Murphys Law is the layman’s Entropy.

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