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Chronicle

​Made a Mistake at Work? Here’s your 5-Step Recovery Plan

Posted: 08 August 2018

Part of being human is to make mistakes; it’s how we learn and grow. Messing up at work can feel like the end of the world – you feel like you’ve let your team down, your boss down, yourself down. And you’ve convinced yourself that you’ll be getting your P45 and a ‘see ya’ pretty soon. Some mistakes are fairly harmless and easy to forget – letting a typo slip by your usual keen eyes, calling the new starter in accounts Barry instead of Gary for the first 6 months – but some scenarios are more serious. If you’ve blown a big deal, lost an important client, or done something which damages the business’s reputation, it may take a bit more than saying ‘sorry’ to recover. Here’s the best way to handle a mistake at work and avoid it happening again.

How to recover from making a mistake at work

Take ownership

The single worst thing to do when you’ve made a mistake is to try and wriggle out of it, pinning the blame on someone else, passing the buck, and making feeble excuses as to why it’s happened. Newsflash – your boss doesn’t want to hear it! People will have far more respect for you if you hold your hands up, admit that you messed up, and take responsibility. Failure to do this makes you look weak and untrustworthy.

Apologise

A simple apology is always appreciated. It shows you’ve acknowledged your mistake and are being accountable for it. Saying sorry takes guts and shows strength of character in doing so. You don’t need to go over-the-top with it – hamming it up and lamenting the catastrophe like some Shakespearean tragedy can come across as insincere – just be genuine and humble.

Acknowledge your feelings, then move on

If you’ve made a mistake, you’ll undoubtedly beat yourself up about it, but dwelling on your problem won’t turn back time or make it go away. It’s natural for you to feel down or frustrated, and be worried about the fallout from your mistake. And it’s OK to feel these things, but indulging in them for any length of time is unhelpful and unproductive. A better use of your energy is to find a constructive solution to prevent it from happening again. 

Learn from your mistakes

This is the most important part of making mistakes – use them as tools to help you improve. Even bad experiences can be beneficial; they teach you valuable life lessons and help you develop personally and professionally. Develop a plan for ensuring the mistake isn’t repeated, and communicate this to your manager if you think it’s appropriate. To do this, you need to pin down why this happened in the first place, which brings us onto the next point…

Understand why it happened

Take some time to reflect on why you made the mistake in the first place. Were you rushing to meet a tight deadline? Burdened with an unrealistic workload? Distractions in your personal life? Generally feeling stressed and burnt out? Understanding the circumstances which led to the mistake happening is the key to avoiding a repeat performance. 

If it’s down to your workload being too high, you need to address this with your manager. If it’s a result of poor communication between different teams or departments, with things slipping off the radar, look at using some project management software to improve the process. If your health and wellbeing, or things in your personal life are affecting your performance at work, it’s a good idea to speak privately to your boss sooner rather than later – they may be a bit more sympathetic to your cause, and may be able to put some support in place to ease the pressure at work. 

Prove yourself

In the fast-paced world of business, it’s unlikely that your mistake will be dwelled upon for any great length of time – there will usually be bigger fish to fry, greater problems to deal with. But it may have knocked your confidence in yourself, and you may feel as though you’re under greater scrutiny with your every move being monitored. You’ll need to earn people’s trust again, prove to your manager that you are competent and reliable, and remind them of the added value you bring to the company. If you have to pull out some stops and push yourself that bit harder, then it’s worth doing to regain your reputation and credibility.


No-one likes making mistakes, but we are imperfect beings in a world full of imperfections. Mistakes can be the best teachers, forcing us to work on improving ourselves and being more self-aware. The next time you mess up at work, don’t beat yourself up – use this recovery plan to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and push yourself to be better.

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