What You Should Do After Making a Mistake at Work

6 min read
Mistake Work

There are plenty of examples of people screwing up at work. For instance, someone once stamped the expiration date on a hamburger bun instead of on the package the buns came in. Another person once hung an exit sign upside down. Perhaps you’ve made a similar gaffe, like sending a confidential email to the wrong person. Or, perhaps you blew it with a major client. Regardless of the mistake you made, we’re here to tell you that all is not lost, that you can recover from it. Just follow these useful tips below and that mistake will be water under the bridge before you know it.

10. Take Minute to Pause and Collect Your Thoughts

Source: Pixabay

When we mess up we usually need a moment or two to just take a deep breath and collect our thoughts. So, yes, it’s perfectly fine for you to do that. The Seattle Times recommends stepping away from the workplace for a short time, if possible. “Take a walk, eat lunch off-site or even go home for the day if that’s an option for you,” the newspaper said on its website. Just don’t take too long. You need to get back to work and address the problem and the quicker, the better.

9. Don’t Panic

Keep Calm And Carry On
Source: Wikimedia Commons By Ryan Somma from Occoquan, USA [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

Any time you make a mistake, the last thing you want to do is panic. You could end up making things worse that way, not just for yourself, but for others too, who may start freaking out after they see you freaking out. That being said, make sure you remain calm and handle the situation in a professional manner.

If you’re higher up at the company, you just might be in a better position when you mess up than, say, someone who’s an intern.

8. Fess Up to It

Fess Up
Source: Pixabay

Sometimes it’s hard for us to own up to our mistakes, but you’ll fare better if you do. You don’t want to ignore the problem and hope it’ll go away. And you certainly don’t want your boss to learn about your mistake from a co-worker. “It’s a better position to be the person in control of delivering the information of the mistake you made,” behavioral psychologist Denise Dudley told CNN. “It’s easier to do damage control.” Plus, it shows your boss that you’re paying attention and taking responsibility for your actions.

TIP: Even if you weren’t the only one involved in the mistake, you should still fess up anyway. The last thing you want to do is play the blame game. It makes you look small, defensive, irresponsible, and immature.

7. Apologize

Source: Pixabay

Okay, so now that you have gathered your thoughts, remained calm, and owned up to your mistake, the next step is to apologize. And, if your mistake caused your co-workers to make mistakes as well, apologize for that too. Just don’t overdo it. According to The Seattle Times, when admitting your mistake to your boss, you should, “make sure your atonement fits the crime. Too much apologizing, too much self-recrimination, is just as bad as trying to shirk responsibility or shove the blame onto someone else. Explain what happened, express your regrets, and then move forward to put things right.”

6. Zero in on a Solution

Zero In On Solution
Source: Pixabay

Just as you shouldn’t take too long to gather your thoughts and get back to the matter at hand, you shouldn’t wait too long to start looking for solutions to make it better. In fact, Fast Company suggests zeroing in on a solution the same day. After admitting to and apologizing for your error, you should ask your boss how you can help with damage control. That could mean calling a client to apologize or staying late at work to redo a report or project. And, just remember, the quicker you get around to repairing the mistake, the quicker your organization can recover from it.

5. Rebrand Yourself

Source: Pixabay

Now that you’ve gathered your thoughts, remained calm, owned up to your mistake, apologized, and zeroed in on a solution, the next step is to rebrand yourself. One way to do this is to come up with, “an achievable victory for yourself like a project, an initiative or an assignment that has good optics that you can nail,” bestselling management author and CNBC contributor Suzy Welch said on CNBC.com. “Use that win to prove that you’re still a valuable employee who knows how to bounce back.”

4. Forgive Yourself

Forgive Yourself
Source: Pixabay

Now that your boss and colleagues have forgiven you, it’s time that you forgive yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. And, one of the best ways for you to move on from your mistake is to let it go — once you’ve taken all the necessary steps to remedy the situation, that is. Take some time to clear your head so that you don’t become overly fixated on your mistake. Putting all your focus on your gaffe will make you more likely to commit another one.

TIP: To clear your head, go for a walk or talk to a friend about anything other than your mistake.

3. Learn From It… and Don’t Do It Again

Source: Pixabay

An important part of making mistakes is that we learn from them and make sure we don’t repeat them. This is where you need to sit down and figure out how you got there — e.g. Did you forget an important date? Were you distracted? Did you have too much on your plate? — and how to avoid ever going back. This can include slowing down and taking your time or even recruiting the help of a close friend to check your work. Either way, it’s a process that’s going to take some time.

REMINDER: You’re human. That means you’re going to make other mistakes going forward. Don’t sweat it. Just learn from them and keep it moving forward.

2. Don’t Hand in Your Resignation

Dont Quit
Source: Pixabay

Unless your mistake was really that bad, you don’t have to hand in your resignation. “The people that resign are people who do something unethical or something against the company policy, and they do it deliberately, and then they get caught,” Abby Kohut, president of the career site AbsolutelyAbby.com, told Forbes. Instead, just follow the steps above and you should be just fine. If, however, you do end up resigning or getting fired, you’ll want to keep these steps in mind for the next job you land. Which brings us to our last point…

1. Tell Your Future Employer About It

Job Interview
Source: Wikimedia Commons By bpsusf [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

If you messed up on your old job, you need to be honest and upfront with your future employer. There’s no sense in hiding it. After all, they’re probably going to ask you why you left your previous position. Not only that but they can and will put in a call to your former employer to inquire about your resignation or firing. The last thing you want to do is get caught in a lie. You can certainly kiss that job goodbye.

TIP: Even though it may be difficult to take responsibility for what you’ve done, there’s a little trick you can do to smooth things out. “Sometimes you have to create what I call a ‘spin story,’ where you spin what happened into something positive. You take the truth and explain why it’s okay, why you’re still somebody that they should hire,” Kohut told Forbes.


Your turn! What mistakes have you made at work and how did you handle them? Let us know in the comment section below.