I've recently been to a presentation in a client's office which is located in another city. My manager handed me his laptop, modem and pendrive for the presentation. It was on the last day of the week i.e. Thursday (in our country the weekends are Friday and Saturday), and also last day of submission of a crucial document of mine, so I was pretty much preoccupied and tensed regarding this document submission issue, hence I was very unfocused and absent-minded and as a result, I forgot to check whether all my manager's belongings are ok or not before leaving client's office. Yesterday, during office, I discovered that although I've returned his laptop promptly on Thursday, I forgot to return his modem, which had been inside my bag the entire weekend. I promptly returned it to him, and then he asked me, "Where's my pendrive?" I immediately searched my whole bag, and couldn't find it there. I couldn't remember whether I left it in my client office on Thursday, or in my home, so I told him I'd check for it in my home. After searching my home thoroughly, I still couldn't find it. Now I'm pretty sure I left it in my client's office, and unless an employee of my client found it and was honest enough not to steal it, there is very little chance of getting it back.

Now I'm done for, given my stupidity and lack of responsibility to lose my manager's pendrive which may contain vital information of which I have no knowledge. What should I do now? Should I consider today as my last working day? Normally, my manager never gets mad with anyone nor is he very strict, but this incident is serious and I'm afraid he might not take it lightly and punish me to some extent. The worst I can expect is termination. How can I approach him and explain to him this incident? I'm ok with any punishment as long as it doesn't lead me to termination.

Update: Right after posting this question, I called the client and they told me to wait for some time so that they can search for it. After almost 5 hours, they ringed me back and said they found it. I informed this to my manager and he just expressed his relief. He didn't say anything more to me regarding this. They're currently making an arrangement to send it back to my manager.

I was worried over this whole business because had he had any company sensitive data stored in the pendrive, this incident might not have been forgiven. Also, I saw in the comments section, many people asked me why I thought I may never get the pendrive back from the client. In my country, there are plenty of dishonest and immoral people, and the client in question wasn't even a proper client, rather just a prospective client whom we visited to promote one of our products, hence the presentation to them. I personally didn't find them much impressive, compared to the class of clients we generally use to have, so I wasn't much optimistic about their honesty. I was more than happy to be proved wrong twice the same day, first about my assumption of getting fired and then about the client not returning the pendrive. I'm lucky the situation didn't get worse and I consider this event as my "Lessons Learned".

  • 6
    After searching my home thoroughly, I still couldn't find it. Now I'm pretty sure I left it in my client's office, and unless an employee of my client found it and was honest enough not to steal it, there is very little chance of getting it back. - Couldn't you just explain to the client and ask them if they found it? It seems like you're assuming the worst about the people at the client office for some reason.
    – Brandin
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 8:24
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    FWIW, everybody loses usb drives. These things are practically meant to be lost. Although I would not say anything about it to your boss, putting truly sensitive info on a usb-drive for a trip is extremely bad practice. You're not going to be fired. If he fires you for it, then HE has to explain to HIS boss why he put critical info on the drive. If there was nothing sensitive on the drive, it really is no big deal, just replace the drive.
    – teego1967
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 10:08
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    @gnasher729 I think that would invoke Sod's Law and merely cause someone to begin losing their home and car keys more often :)
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 10:55
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    there is very little chance of getting it back Why? Did you ask?
    – user8036
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 15:01
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    What is it about you, your boss, the company and the relationship between all of you that makes you think you cannot handle this like adults and just tell him what happened? Do you want to tell him a lie? Are you looking for a way to express and excuse that mitigates your blame? Tell him you dropped it in a fire and that you'll buy him a new one.
    – user8365
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 15:10

4 Answers 4


You were worried about submitting a critical document so you were distracted not unfocused. In fact, it was your focus on the document that resulted in you misplacing the pen drive. It was your single minded focus on one thing that caused you to lose track of the other.

Was losing the pen drive stupid? It was more like like inevitable given that you were paying attention to one thing but too distracted by that one thing to pay any attention to the other.

What happened to you is a teachable moment to yourself. Don't pass judgement on yourself. Go back and think how you should have handled both making sure that the critical report is in and getting the presentation done with aplomb and cool. The solution probably starts with you being a lot less high strung when someone hands you a task. Focus is good if you have only one task but you need to be more flexible and instead focus on one task at a time instead of focusing on one task all the time. Focusing on one task during the entire time simply does not work if you have to multitask. You need to work out for yourself a way to multitask that you are comfortable with and that gets things done.

You also need to review how you react to pressure. I have conditioned myself so that the more I am under pressure, the cooler and more composed I get. I succeed in multitasking because while I focus on one task at any time, I step back from my task often enough to make sure that I have the big picture - i.e. the status of the several tasks - well in hand. I cannot focus on everything. To focus on everything amounts to focusing on nothing anyway. So I have to prioritize. And this is for you: keep track :) And make progress in completing your tasks by focusing on a task at any one time. When you juggling and you have several balls in the air, you focus on the ball that you are about to catch or to throw while keeping track of where the other balls are and where they are going. It's easier said than done but there is no question that you have to learn to be good at it. We all have to be good at it.

Apologize to your manager over the pen drive. Tell your manager that you will contact the client over the pen drive. Offer to reimburse the manager over the lost pen drive. Tell him the truth: that you are distressed over the episode, that you did derive a lesson from this episode and that that the lesson is that you need to do a better job of multitasking, and that you are in deep thought about how to multitask effectively.

What's done is done - you misplaced the pen drive. The next thing is to take whatever corrective action including contacting the client and if necessary, offering to reimburse over the cost of the pen drive. And don't look back. In dealing with your manager, take ownership of your failure but in a positive way. And give your manager confidence in you by showing that you are not afraid of taking ownership of your failures and being held accountable for them, that you are learning from your failures and that you don't repeat your mistakes. You will live a long life, you will make many more mistakes and some of the mistakes will be bigger than the one you just made, you will pass on what you have learned until you reach the day when we all stop making mistakes :) Personally, I'd rather lose a pen drive than treat someone unfairly. And of course, I am speaking from the perspective of someone who has done both :)

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    A rather long, but well explained answer. Not only did you tell me what to do in this particular context, you also derived a generalized solution that is 100% applicable in all situations, and more particularly, for me. :) This thoroughly deserves +1, or even more. I seriously need to improve myself when it comes to multitasking, as I'm no longer a kid. Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 9:38
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    @Capt.JackSparrow That's how I improved: one screw up and one embarrassment at a time. I have to say that, regrettably, I haven't found better tutors over the years than screw ups and embarrassments - and many of us can tell you the same thing from their own experience :) Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 11:05

Admit that you seem to have misplaced it. If you think you have it but it got into the dirty laundry or whatever, you can say that and say you're continuing to look for it. If you realy think you lost it admit that.

Trying to hide will make matters worse.

Depending on how confidential the info on that drive was, you may be in serious trouble ... or you may just owe your boss a replacement drive. Or you may just get grumbled at.

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    No, a manager's pendrive does NOT always contain sensitive data. They should either be keeping that material encrypted, or should have wiped the drive before lending it to you. Don't assume the best, but don't assume the worst either. In any case the only thing you can do here is go in, say "oops", and then do whatever work is assigned you to correct the problem.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 2:14
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    The consequences for NOT telling him will be more severe than telling him. Just tell the truth, apologize and go from there. Losing it is human, not telling him is deceit.
    – Jane S
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 2:20
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    Oh, and most managers' pen drives have a couple of documents, a heap of pictures of their kids and some pirated movies ;)
    – Jane S
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 2:24
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    Termination seems very unlikely unless you were knowingly careless with confidential data. But the only way to find out is to confess, and the only thing you can do is confess -- so take a deep breath, go in, and confess. There is nothing else you can do that will not make matters worse, and it is extremely likely that you are massively overreacting. Unless the presentation itself was something of critical value and leaking it would have serious costs for the company or the customer, the most likely outcome is a stern talking o about respect for company data.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 2:26
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    If your manager lent you a pen drive that had confidential information on it, then he's just as much at fault as you are. It won't help to point that out to him, of course, but the drive ought to have had nothing more than whatever you were going to present to the clients. Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 8:48

I am an information security professional, my first thought at reading your story is: the data loss needs to be reported!

Depending on what was on the USB stick (passwords, login credentials, confidential / classified documents, etc) your security department may need to take steps to correct the loss and prevent further damage to the company. For this reason, it's always best to report a data loss as soon as possible, ideally within a couple hours before hackers have a change to use the passwords, in the worst case.

From a security perspective, not reporting the loss is actually the worst thing you can do, both for yourself, and for the company.

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    100% this. Any loss should be reported immediately. Also, there is nothing worse from a manager's perspective than surprise. So any news, good or bad, should be communicated as soon as possible. Everyone makes mistakes - it's how we deal with them that speaks to our professionalism. I'd be very surprised if this was perceived to be a firing offence. Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 13:50

What should I do now?

You should immediately explain what you have done to try and locate the device, and explain where you think it is. That way, the company can decide how to deal with the situation, as far as recovering the device.

Should I consider today as my last working day? Normally, my manager never gets mad with anyone nor is he very strict, but this incident is serious and I'm afraid he might not take it lightly and punish me to some extent.

Only you know the culture of your company, and the nature of your manager enough to come to a conclusion.

I wouldn't want to work for a company where such a mistake led immediately to my firing, but that's something you need to decide on your own.

The worst I can expect is termination. How can I approach him and explain to him this incident? I'm ok with any punishment as long as it doesn't lead me to termination.

You must talk with him now.

As far as punishment that you are "ok with" - that isn't likely to be under your control, although most managers hate surprises so the sooner you talk with him the better.

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