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What to Do When You’ve Made a Mistake at Work

Making Mistakes at Work

Mistakes. We all make them, unfortunately. Making mistakes at work happens to everyone, but there are some right ways and wrong ways to handle it in a professional environment. After all, your response to a mistake will be more memorable than the mistake itself.

Shake it off

Taylor Swift knows a thing or two about when things don’t exactly go the way you planned, and she’s also one of the best at pivoting a situation to her benefit. When you’ve messed something up, the first thing you can do is admit it to yourself. 

It feels crappy to make a mistake, and it’s often embarrassing if you keep making mistakes at work. Acknowledge the feeling, allow yourself a moment to feel bad, then let it go and move forward. This is no time for a shame spiral. Plus, feeling bad for yourself or psyching yourself out through guilt isn’t going to do anything to rectify the situation. If you throw off your own game mentally, you’re less likely to be able to come up with a solution to fix it. 

Determine what steps you need to take

making mistakes at work

How can this be fixed? And if it can’t be fixed, what can be done for damage control? Come up with immediate, moderate, and long-term action items that are needed to address the problem. 

If you issued a press release with a mistake, correcting the version on your website could be an immediate step. A moderate step would be reaching out to any media contacts you’ve spoken with, letting them know there’s an updated version. And a long-term action item could be to implement another level of proofreading to the press release approval processes to ensure it doesn’t happen again. 

Having a clear list of next steps can help minimize the damage done from making mistakes at work, and give you a sense of control over the situation.

Determine who is a need to know

It’s a human fact: Nobody likes to be the last to know something. And when it comes to the workplace, there is absolutely a hierarchy of who should not be the last to know. Whomever that person is, make them the first person you alert. 

When you do send that tough email or stop by their office to let them know the situation, be prepared with your list of action items to show that you’ve thought this through and you aren’t coming to them with only problems and no solutions. However, make sure to stay open-minded when it comes to other suggestions or options for fixes. 

Your boss, superior, client, or colleague might be upset that a mistake was made, but taking ownership of the problem will go a long way in keeping their faith in your ability to handle the tough situations. Passing the buck or trying to hide what happened puts the entire scenario at risk for more mistakes. 

Keep things in perspective

making mistakes at work

Very few of us are curing cancer or rescuing hostages for a living. So while a mistake might feel all-consuming or like it’s the end of the world, it probably isn’t. And more often than not, you don’t need to apologize to someone. We’ve all heard that women apologize more than men, but research shows this is due to men having a higher threshold for what they think deserves an apology. 

If your blunder created more work for someone else or lost someone a sale, that would be worthy of an apology. If your mistake is owned by you and fixed by you, there’s no need to martyr yourself. Keeping your head held high and showing confidence in your ability to course-correct will let others know you have things under control even when faced with making mistakes at work. 

About Haley Williams

Haley Williams is a PR pro living in Indianapolis. She enjoys her book club, too much Mexican food, and being a cat mom.