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You’ve Made A Huge Mistake At Work; Now What?

today16 November 2020

Working is not easy. A new job brings unfamiliar territory, a new industry means having to learn things you’ve never been exposed to before and a new environment means having to adapt to your new office dynamic. It’s no surprise then – while trying to manage your own stress on top of it all – that you realise that you’ve made a mistake. You freeze and your heart drops, you feel heavy inside and before your adrenaline can kick in, you’re already in fight or flight mode. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s normal to be frazzled and on edge these days, what with everything that is going on in the world and when you feel like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders, it’s okay if you stumble a step or two. It’s what you do to bounce back that matters. Here’s what you need to do –


Own up to it!

Never, ever, ever try to pass the blame onto someone else if the mistake was yours in the first place. Own up to it or risk making things worse. If you feel as if the mistake was shared in part with someone else, talk to that person and figure out how you both will explain the situation to your boss. You’re not the first one to make a mistake at work (and you’re definitely not the last!


But there are three ways you can go about this and it’s easy to make an even bigger mess of things. Avoid –


• Going overboard: Even if your mistake could spell the end of business as you know it, don’t act like it is. Avoid going to each and every one of your colleagues for help and reiterating how sorry you are over and over again. While you might think that you are being sincere, you are actually wasting everyone’s time and the company’s money. You will only seem inept and incapable of handling stress.

• Seeming uncaring: Waiting out the panic so you can collect yourself is not a bad thing but waiting for too long, until inaction causes things to go further south, is not going to help either. Sitting on your mistake and hoping no one will catch it will not resolve anything and worsen the impact over time. You will simply seem as if you don’t care.

• Instead, respond professionally! This is what the other two reactions are missing – the ability to admit one’s mistake, provide a solution for it and work towards mitigating the damage done.


That’s all it takes – the right reaction and appropriate response. When you can accurately relay what went wrong, you are showing your higher-ups that you understand the mistake you’ve made and they will also be able to see that it really was just simple, human error. By responding in this way, you are also avoiding the mistake of being defensive about it. This rudeness would then just add to the list of reasons why they should fire you

Assess the bigger picture.

There are two things to do here, a) find out how you can provide solutions to the problem at hand and b) find out why you made the mistake in the first place.

When you take responsibility for the solution, you are showing that you are capable and good at taking initiative. Higher-ups are used to being presented a problem but are very rarely given a solution at the same time. They will not only be impressed with you owing up to your mistake but will also appreciate you not making a mess for someone else to clean up.

On the other hand, mistakes are a sign that there is something going on in the background. Did the mistake happen because you lost focus? Are you overworked? Is the stress of having to perform causing you to lose sleep and confidence in your work? Are you tired of your job? Or, is your mind clouded by non-work related matters? Figuring this out will allow you to find a long term plan for your own career and mental/emotional wellbeing.

Be patient.

With that being said, remind yourself that you are human. It is easy react rather than respond to a situation. What this means is that instead of responding by learning from your mistakes, you are reacting by being harsh on yourself or shutting down. It is important to find the right balance between pushing yourself enough that you learn and pushing yourself so far that you create your own mental block.

If anything, you can ask your colleagues or your boss what you need to improve upon. They can help you see things you didn’t know were issues or positive aspects of yourself that you had. Alternatively, you can also imagine what kind of advice you would give someone who was in your position. Either way, it is important for you to maintain a professional and unbiased view of the situation.

It’s called “human error” for a reason – everyone makes mistakes. But, what you choose to do in the aftermath of your mistake is what will make or break your career and your future.



At the end of the day, it’s happened. You’ve made a mistake, breathe and focus on moving forward. Learn from it but don’t let it define you.


Written by: Marissa Anne

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