Career 101: What Do You Do If You Make A Mistake At Work?

What Do You Do If You Make A Mistake At Work?

When was the last time you made a mistake? It can be big or small. Yesterday? Last week? Last month? It wouldn’t surprise me, because mistakes are part of life.

They happen. It’s only natural. And you can learn a great deal from them. But when you’re at work, especially when you’re a newbie, you thinking making a mistake could mean the end of your job.

Picture the situation: it’s a normal day at work. You’ve got a to-do list a mile long that you’re juggling with phone calls, meetings and emails when it hits you. You stop. Your eyes widen. Your stomach starts turning. You’ve made a mistake.

Whether you’re told you’ve made a mistake or you figure it out for yourself, neither situation is pretty. Instead of worrying about how big of a mistake you’ve made, it’s actually more important to focus on how you’re going to react. You might act too quickly by covering yourself up or making an excuse. Or you might deny it completely. But that isn’t really the way to go about it.

So how should you play it? Well probably like you, I’ve made mistakes during my career and I’ve learnt the best way to deal with them. Read on to find out the best way for you to deal with making a mistake at work.


#1 Don’t React Right Away – But Don’t Wait To Admit It

Something to remember whenever you’re in this situation is that people will be watching you to see how you deal with it. Like with any uncomfortable situation, take a deep breath and assess your options. Ask yourself some questions: how bad is the mistake? Can you fix it now? If yes, get to it! It could be that you’ve sent a press release out when you were only supposed to send it tomorrow – if so, you can email or ring and see if you can stop them putting it live.

If not, I like to come up with a couple of solutions as to how I can fix it, and consider how I’m going to explain it. If you wait it out, the situation will only get worse and more uncomfortable. Owning up to your mistakes doesn’t make you any weaker – it actually shows that you hold yourself accountable, and builds your credibility. Plus, if you wait it out, it could only make the situation worse.

When you’re sorted in your head, that’s when you can approach the relevant person, explain it to them and offer your solutions. Something I’ve found in every company I’ve worked for is that employers really admire honesty from their employees – but it’s not something a lot of people actually do.

You don’t want to be challenged to build trust again. Once the trust is gone, it can be difficult to build it back up again. You could turn this situation into a good one for you, professionally.

#2 Don’t Blame Others

Now, I know none of you would do this anyway, but you’d be surprised how many people still blame others for their own mistakes. Sometimes, it’s easy to share the blame with others to make it less difficult for you to handle. If you made the mistake, then you made it and that’s it. Involving other people only complicates the process and passing on the blame is definitely a sign of weakness. If it’s a group effort, then that’s when you all need to admit the mistake together. But if it’s just you, it’s yours to handle.

It doesn’t matter who has or hasn’t done something. At the end of the day, if someone is at fault, they’ll always be held accountable for their actions

#3 Apologise – But Forgive Yourself

Please don’t beat yourself up about it. This mistake you’ve made won’t be your last. Not only that, but they happen throughout life, and not just in your career. Saying the words “I’m sorry” is admirable. Have you noticed how few people say that these days? This is something I swear by. I won’t apologise for having an opinion or for thinking a certain way. But if I’ve made a mistake, I’ll say sorry.

Perfectionism is something a lot of people strive to achieve – we see it only social media daily with the “perfect” Instagram feed. But even the people you see as perfect will make mistakes. Even the big boys, the people at the very top will make mistakes. Forgive yourself. You’re only human and you’re not perfect – would you want to be perfect anyway?

Taking responsibility is the right thing to do – beating yourself up about it isn’t. If you let your colleagues and boss know how much it’s affecting you, that’s all they’ll associate you with. You want them to focus on what you did after you made the mistake, not the fact it happened in the first place.

#4 Fix it (if you can)

If the solution to your mistake can be fixed by you, then do it yourself. People won’t respect you if you add extra work to your plate. Also, if you don’t know how to fix it or aren’t sure if you’ve made a mistake – can happen a lot as a newbie – then ask someone to show you how to fix it. There’s nothing worse than making a mistake, being told you’ve made it and your colleague saying “Don’t worry I’ve fixed it now.” You want to learn, so you can ask them to show you how to fix it. Decent colleagues will always help you out.


A Final Note…

I know it’s cliché, but everyone does make mistakes. As awful as it feels at the time, you will recover from it and everyone will move on. Then someone else will make a mistake and the cycle will continue. The way you deal with a mistake can help to shape your career. To finish, I’ll leave you with this quote from career expert and author, Darcy Eikenberg:

“The most productive, creative environments expect and plan on mistakes, and it’s a natural part of growing and learning. If you have genuinely done the best that you could at the time, with the knowledge you had at the time, mark it as a reminder that you’re human, and move on, no matter how anyone makes you feel. You’re in control of everything you think and believe–only you know what your truth is.”

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