5 Steps To Take After Making a Mistake at Work

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 24, 2021 | Published February 25, 2020

Updated August 24, 2021

Published February 25, 2020

Making mistakes at work can help you improve your own processes and develop trust among your colleagues. It also shows your team members how you handle errors, demonstrating your own professionalism. Learning the steps for addressing mistakes at work with your team and identifying the root cause of those mistakes can help you avoid making similar errors in the future. In this article, we discuss what mistakes at work are, what you can do if you make a mistake on the job and tips to prevent errors in the future.

What are mistakes at work?

Work mistakes range from technical errors to embarrassing gaffes, which include things like:

  • Making grammatical or spelling errors in a presentation or important email

  • Accidentally sending a private message to the wrong recipient on chat or email

  • Forgetting to double-check figures that turn out to be wrong during a presentation

  • Double-booking clients on your calendar

  • Misspeaking during a meeting

  • Missing a deadline for a project

What's important, and what people usually remember, is how you respond to a mistake after you make one.

What to do if you make a mistake at work

If you make a mistake at work, you can take certain steps to help reduce the impact and prevent it from happening again. Once you recognize that you've made a mistake, here's what you can do:

  1. Acknowledge the error.

  2. Offer an apology.

  3. Find a solution.

  4. Plan what to do next time.

  5. Create a positive pattern of work.

1. Acknowledge the error

It's natural to experience some frustration or embarrassment after making a mistake at work, but it's also important to move forward and shift your energy to responding properly. Acknowledging the mistake not only to yourself but also to others emphasizes your level of professionalism. When you tell others of your mistake, be direct and straightforward.

Related: Emotional Intelligence: Definition and Examples

2. Offer an apology

Offering a genuine apology to anyone affected by your mistake accomplishes multiple things. It shows that you sincerely regret the error and take responsibility for it. It also demonstrates that you respect the people who were affected. If there were any lingering feelings of negativity over the error, a genuine apology should help restore a positive relationship.

3. Find a solution

Next, it's time to rectify any problems that resulted from the error. Identify a solution to resolve any problems that happened because of the mistake and communicate your solution to any key stakeholders. This could mean working after hours or simply apologizing to a client personally. If any colleagues were impacted by the mistake and have extra work as a result, look for ways you can alleviate their workload. This should help build trust among the team since you're demonstrating how you take full responsibility for mistakes.

Related: How To Overcome Fear of Failure

4. Plan what to do next time

Evaluate what you could do differently next time to ensure the mistake doesn't happen again. This means identifying the root cause of the mistake. For example, you may have rushed to meet a deadline or worked on multiple projects at the same time.

Whatever caused the mistake to happen, identify the issue and address it. You may need to start on a project sooner to meet the deadline, or set aside time to work undisturbed on just a single project. Communicate the solution to your managers so they have confidence that you've taken the steps to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

Related: Setting Goals To Improve Your Career

5. Create a positive pattern of work

Once you resolve the mistake, take actions that show you're improving your work style. Adhere to the new guidelines you set for yourself to avoid making the same errors. If you find a method that works particularly well, share it with your coworkers, who may find it useful too. Setting this example encourages more communication, which can be useful in identifying ways to reduce the possibility of future mistakes.

Tips to reduce the likelihood of mistakes at work

In addition to acknowledging, apologizing for and resolving mistakes, it's also important to be proactive about reducing the likelihood of another mistake. Here are some tips you can use to reduce the chances of making more errors at work:

  • Give your work your full attention at the best times. Depending on your personal energy levels, it's a good idea to structure your day so you're working on your highest-priority tasks when you feel most energized. Another strategy is to work on these projects during the time in your day when you're least likely to be disturbed by others.

  • Double-check all communications and presentations. The more you get in the habit of checking for errors before clicking the "Send" button in chat or email, or printing documents for others to read in a meeting, the more assured you'll be that your communications are error-free.

  • Create checklists. A checklist is the easiest way to avoid making mistakes, especially for more repetitive tasks. Once you have a process in place, you just need to follow those specific steps each time you complete that task.

  • Review your work. Each time you're done with a task or process—especially high-priority work—review it for mistakes. If possible, take a break from the project before reviewing it for the final time. This will help you more successfully identify errors.

  • Take breaks. Take a break from work every 90 minutes to two hours to increase the likelihood of error-free work. Try to take a break away from your workspace to fully disengage from your responsibilities.

  • Eliminate distractions. When you're working on high-priority tasks, put your phone away, close your email and unnecessary browsers and put any work-related messenger apps on "do not disturb" mode. Keep a pen and notepad available to write down any unrelated thoughts to help you stay on task.

  • Ask questions. When you start a new job or begin a new project, ask as many questions as you need to fully understand your role. Learning more about your duties and the steps you need to take can help you eliminate the possibility of making errors.

  • Create a detailed schedule. To ensure you meet deadlines, create a calendar that outlines everything you need to do in a day, week and month. You can even schedule your hours so you spend the right amount of time on each task.

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