How to Bounce Back after Making a Mistake at Work

Making a Mistake at Work – It is Not the End of the World

It may come as a surprise to some, but we all make mistakes at work. Every single one of us. Regardless of position, length of service or industry expertise, we are all capable of a small or sometimes howling mistake at work.

When it happens, a number of emotions immediately kick in. Panic, embarrassment, anger, guilt, and the desire to just cut and run – any or all of these feeling will course through you. And it is all normal.  But unless you have made a mistake that will cost your company a vast amount of money, or even worse, endangered other people’s lives, there is no reason you cannot bounce back, and be a better employee for the experience.

Worried employee at work

It is Not How You Fall Down, its How You Get Up

OK, we know, it is a tired old cliché, but even the most worn-out of old sayings have a grain of truth, and this one is possibly a truism to take with you in all walks of life, not least one to apply to make a mistake at work.  How you react to the immediate aftermath of your blunder could be a defining moment in your career.  It is up to you how you handle it, but there some things to consider before you make any rash judgements.

Own Up

The first step to resolving a mistake at work is to admit to it. This may at first seem to you be the last thing you really want to do. But you will not be in a rational state of mind in the immediate aftermath of discovering your mistake.  Owning the error is a major step toward both sorting it out and to reconciling your own feelings about what has occurred.

If the mistake was sending an email, then immediately follow it up with an apology email. If it was to a client, then go and tell your manager exactly what happened and why.

Similarly, if you have made a mistake that could jeopardise the outcome of a major project, come clean straight away. It sounds easy, and you may wish to spend time desperately trying to think of ways to cover it up somehow. But this would be a drastic mistake and will compound the error and give you less chance of coming out of the situation unscathed. Remember, the manager you are coming clean to will probably have made a slip-up in his or her career, possibly more than once so will be sympathetic to your plight if your work record has been otherwise unblemished. Also, they have the good of the company, and its objectives at the forefront of their remit so will always be looking for positive resolutions, not punitive measures.

Just one thing – do not overdo the apology. Throwing yourself on the floor of your managers’ office and begging forgiveness is not the way to go. Just a professional and honest “Sorry about this, but…” will usually be all that is required.

Mistakes at Work

Have a Resolution Planned and Ready to Execute

Even before the apology, work out how to resolve the issue. This may require the help of other people to completely put right, but having the solution mapped out before you bring it to light will go a long way to rehabilitate your reputation.

Summary – Reflect, Understand and Learn from the Mistake

The mistake you made has caused you professional pain and embarrassment. But you also have an opportunity to learn. Why did you make that mistake – was it the result of having too much responsibility? Was it because your brief was ambiguous? Were you rushing to make a deadline?

Whatever the reasons you can learn how to mitigate risk and ensure such errors do not occur again – or are at least the chances of them happening are reduced. All the anguish you have gone through will count for nothing if you do not take something away from the experience and learn not to repeat it. Even if your mistake was so severe it results in your being fired (a rarity), you must learn from the experience and ensure you take the necessary steps to make sure the mistake cannot be repeated.

Your best teacher is your last mistake


Fear of delegating work is a common problem. The reality is you, and by extension, your team are not working at their best if you are trying to do everything yourself. Your team will become demotivated, lose confidence and wonder what they are really needed for, while at the same time you will be headed for nervous exhaustion from carrying everything on your back.

Delegating is something that many business owners fear, but there are solutions such as giving up small tasks to gain confidence in both your ability to do so, and in the person being delegated to, having open communication with your team, and being clear with team members on expectations, the hierarchy, and not to blame a single individual for mistakes. In short – have trust in them and in your own abilities to manage correctly.

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