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What Should You Do When You Make a Mistake at Work?

It happens to the best of us.

No matter how well prepared, organized, skilled or knowledgeable you are, occasional mistakes at work are bound to happen. Hopefully, most will be minor and quickly rectified. But in reality, serious mishaps also sometimes occur. And when they do, there are steps you can take to make the best of an unfortunate situation.

Own up to it.

As soon as you realize you’ve made a mistake, accept reality and immediately tell your boss. Denial isn’t going to make it disappear, and it speaks positively to your integrity and honesty when you take ownership. Trying to cover it up, on the other hand, will only hurt your relationship with your manager and erode trust and respect.

  • Don’t point fingers. If you were working on a team project when your mistake happened, chances are other people were also involved. If you can, get your coworkers to approach your boss with you. But even if they deny any responsibility, don’t throw them under the bus. It won’t help; in fact, you’ll show even more of your leadership strengths by being the bigger person. Let others handle themselves.
  • Make a plan to correct your error.

    Turn a lemon into lemonade and make this an opportunity to demonstrate your problem-solving skills and ability to deal with pressure. Try to come up with a plan to correct your mistake, ideally before you meet with your boss, but if you can’t, ask for whatever help you need and reassure them that you’ll continue to work diligently toward a solution.

  • Once you do know your plan, present it to your boss. Be very clear and specific about the details, including cost and how long it will take. Have a Plan B ready, just in case Plan A isn’t acceptable.
  • Apologize without beating yourself up.

    Apologize for your mistake concisely and sincerely, and then move on. If you continue to dwell on it, it will only stick in people’s minds – and nobody wants that. Instead, redirect the conversation to the corrective action you have planned.

    Last but not least, take action.

    After meeting with your boss, get started on your corrective action plan ASAP – preferably on your own time. Come in early, work through lunch, or stay late if necessary. But if you are a non-exempt employee and your boss will have to authorize overtime pay if you work too many hours, be sure to get permission beforehand.

    Nobody’s perfect. And while you can’t expect to be, you can take whatever steps work for you as you advance as a professional – either in your current role or by finding your next great opportunity. The PrideStaff Fresno team of career development experts is here to help. Think of us as an experienced resource, connected networker, and career coach, all rolled into one. Read our related posts or contact us today to learn more.

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