What to Do When You Make Mistakes at Work (With Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Whether you are new to the workplace or an experienced employee, it's normal to occasionally make a mistake. These mistakes can lead to positive changes if you manage them well. Knowing what to do when you make mistakes at work can help you learn from your past challenges and grow professionally and personally. In this article, we discuss what you can do if you make a mistake at work and provide tips you can use to prevent them from happening again.

Related: 50 Positive Traits to Demonstrate in the Workplace

What to do when you make mistakes at work

Before analysing what to do when you make mistakes at work, it's critical to identify what are the possible work mistakes. They can vary from miscalculations to unintentional errors such as:

  • grammar or spelling errors in an important report

  • mispronouncing a client's name, especially if it's in an unfamiliar language

  • addressing someone by the wrong gender in written communication

  • missing a project deadline

  • going to the wrong venue for a business meeting

  • scheduling multiple appointments at the same time

Whatever the mistake, big or small, what people usually remember is how you handle the situation after you make a mistake. After making a mistake at work, there are steps you can take to lessen the impact and prevent it from recurring. As soon as you realise that you've made a mistake, this is what you can do:

1. Admit that it's your fault

When mistakes happen, you may experience emotions such as frustration or disappointment. You may worry that others may think poorly of you professionally and wonder if it may result in you losing your job. These emotions are understandable, but it's also important to tell yourself to move on and put your energy into rectifying the error. When you're able to acknowledge the mistake to yourself and others, it demonstrates your level of professionalism.

Related: How to Deal with Job Loss

2. Apologise for your mistake

A sincere apology to all those affected by your mistake may have multiple positive effects. From the apology, others can see that you're genuinely sorry for the error and take responsibility for it. It also shows the respect that you have for the people who were impacted by the mistake. If they had any negative feelings when the mistake was made, getting an honest apology from you may, in most cases, help to bring your relationship with them back to a positive level.

If your mistake led to some major consequences, you may wish to talk about it with your supervisor in private. During your meeting, be clear in describing what happened, stick to the facts and accept responsibility. It's important to remind yourself that it's only human to make mistakes. Your supervisor has encountered mistakes made by others and has probably made some of their own as well. Try to minimise the time justifying yourself or giving excuses.

3. Offer a solution

Identify any problems that arose from the mistake and offer a solution. Explain the situation to your supervisor, then suggest a way to solve the problem caused by your mistake. If you really can't think of a solution, be honest and humble and ask for help.

Fixing a mistake may mean having to work longer hours or even making a personal apology to a client. The mistake may have also created more work for your colleagues. If so, look into how you can lessen their workload. Showing that you take full responsibility for your mistakes can help to restore and even increase trust among your team members.

4. Think through what to do the next time

After you've resolved the issue, take time to analyse what caused the mistake. For instance, mistakes may have happened because you've taken on multiple projects with close deadlines. Think about how you can prevent the mistake from happening again.

You can secure more material or human resources to better manage multiple projects, or may negotiate with your managers to reduce the number of projects you may manage, so that you have sufficient time to do them properly. Share your findings with your supervisors so that they can see that you've taken steps to learn from the incident and avoid a recurrence of the mistake.

Related: How to Self-motivate at Work (with Steps and Tips)

5. Change how you work

Demonstrate to your managers and colleagues that you're improving the way you work in the future. Stick to the new guidelines you adopted to avoid repeating the errors. If you find that a particular method works really well, share it with your colleagues, as they may find it useful too. Discussing possible new solutions can improve communication among your team members, and contribute to developing a collaborative culture that encourages continuous improvement.

Related: 4 Types of Communication

Tips to avoid repeating the same mistake

After doing service recovery, acknowledging mistakes, apologising to customers and colleagues who were affected by the mistake and resolving the error, it's essential to take steps to prevent further mistakes from happening. Here are some tips to lessen the likelihood of making more mistakes at the workplace:

Work at your optimal time of the day

Different people perform at their best at different times of the day. Take an honest look at your day and note when you're at your most or least energetic. Being able to identify when your personal energy level is at its highest allows you to schedule your work for those hours. Another approach would be to arrange to work on your projects during the time when you're least likely to be interrupted by other people or activities.

Check your work before submitting it

Get into the habit of proofreading your communications before sending them out. You could arrange for colleagues to help check your writing and reciprocate by checking theirs when they need your help. Doing so can give you more peace of mind that your communication gets sent out free of mistakes.

Besides checking on the content of your presentation slides, you may want to practise delivering the presentation before the actual day. Until you have gained enough experience, you may wish to rehearse so that you're well-prepared with the things you want to say and the pace at which you may deliver your presentation. You could get a colleague or family member to give you feedback on your delivery, or simply record yourself on video to look out for areas in which you can improve and those that you're doing well.

Create checklists

Have a checklist to help avoid mistakes. Having a visual list, whether in hard copy or soft, can help you recall the items on the list. Once you've made it, you can follow the steps. This can reduce the risk of missing an item each time you have to perform that task.

Take a break

Pause your work every hour or two and step away from your workspace. The physical movement can help to clear your mind and reduce the likelihood of errors in your work. Keeping yourself well hydrated by drinking more water may also help you feel focused.

Review your work

When you're done with a task or project, review it for mistakes. This is a good habit to adopt for all tasks, but especially important for high-priority work. You may find it helpful to take a break from the project before the final review. Actually walking away from your work station, going off for a cup of tea or a breath of fresh air and then returning to the task may help you identify errors better.

Remove distractions

When working on major tasks, you may want to consider putting away items that may cause you to lose focus on your work. You can put your phone on silent mode or turn off notifications for email and messaging apps. If thoughts of unrelated matters come to mind, write them down on a notepad so that you can come back to them when you have completed the task. Some people may find that having their favourite music in the background helps them to work better.

Clarify any doubts

Before starting on a new task or project, clarify any doubts or uncertainties you may have. Ensure you're equipped with the necessary information that you require to do a good job. Being clear about the expectations and deliverables can help remove or reduce the risk of errors.

Prepare a detailed schedule

To help you track deadlines and deliverables, you can make it a practice to enter tasks and due dates into a calendar. This ensures all relevant information is easily accessible at one place and can be printed out. This also allows you to get an overview of how full your schedule is, and which days, weeks or months to avoid when scheduling new commitments.

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