Made a Mistake at Work? How to Recover from a Major Failure

Jason Cortel
5 min readFeb 10, 2022

Making a mistake at work can be embarrassing and frustrating. You may feel like you have let yourself, your team, and your company down. However, it is essential to remember that everyone makes mistakes. Furthermore, making mistakes and suffering from workplace failure is the best way to learn. So, when you make a mistake at work, the key is to learn from your mistake and move on. In this article, we will discuss how to recover from a mistake at work. We will also share tips for preventing future mistakes.

What are the common types of mistakes people make at work?

There are many types of workplace failures. Making these mistakes may seem like the end of your career, but you can easily recover from them. Some of the most common mistakes people make at work include:

  • Failing to meet a deadline
  • Making a mistake on a project
  • Failing to deliver on a promise
  • Losing a client
  • Not communicating
  • Being unresponsive to emails
  • Not preparing for meetings
  • Not smiling
  • Wearing multiple faces
  • Saying something to the wrong person
  • Making excuses when you made a mistake
  • Making an inappropriate joke
  • Misunderstanding your objectives
  • Dressing inappropriately
  • Withholding bad news

How to recover from a mistake at work

It is important to own up when you make a mistake at work. Do not try to hide or downplay it. Acknowledging your mistake shows that you are willing to take responsibility for your actions. Expressing a sincere apology is the first step towards recovering from a mistake at work. Here are the other steps you need to take after making a mistake at work.

1. Prepare to feel awful

When you make a mistake at work, you will experience intense emotions. Being aware of the negative emotions will help you manage them better, so you don’t worsen the situation.

2. Own the outcomes you created

Admit you made a mistake at work and accept the consequences without complaining. And urgency matters when you make a mistake at work. So quickly and readily take the blame and address how you will fix your mistake.

3. Don’t bring others along for the ride

You don’t have to own the role others played in the mistake you made at work, but throwing them under the bus won’t make the situation any better. If others contributed to your mistake at work, it is up to them to own their part. Concentrate on your actions and own your mistake.

4. Reflect so you don’t repeat

Reflect on your mistake to understand why you failed. For example, what was your thought process? Why did you act a certain way or say certain words? Why did you miss the deadline? Understanding what actions or inactions created the failure at work will help you avoid repeating them.

5. Prepare to be scrutinized

When you make a mistake at work, expect your manager to pay closer attention to you. They will question you, ask you to explain your plan in detail, conduct more intense follow-ups, and check in on your progress more than they have in the past. This is a normal part of regaining your credibility, so deal with it and don’t show your annoyance.

6. Become obsessed with asking for feedback

Asking for feedback as you recover from a mistake at work helps you stay focused on improving. So take advantage of every opportunity to get feedback on your progress. Additionally, by asking for feedback you encourage people to see your improvement which helps improve your reputation at work.

How do you prevent future mistakes at work?

Making mistakes is part of life, especially when it comes to your career. Of course, nobody is perfect, and we all make mistakes from time to time. However, if you want to recover from a mistake at work, it’s essential to take steps to create a positive work pattern by preventing future mistakes. Here are a few tips on how to avoid mistakes at work:

  • Give your full attention and focus to the task at hand:
    Make your tasks a priority and don’t allow others to derail you or steal your time. Additionally, multitasking creates a huge risk for mistakes, so don’t do it.
  • Proofread your written communication:
    Create a habit of checking for errors before sending anything out. Additionally, walk away before hitting send if you are writing a heated email. If you still want to send it after an hour or so, it is probably safe to do so.
  • Prepare and practice for meetings and presentations:
    Review your calendar for any important meetings and schedule time to prepare. Don’t wing it, especially when key executives are attending. Thinking you can wing it in a meeting or presentation will cause you to make a mistake at work.
  • Take breaks:
    The more you work, the lower your creativity, memory, and critical thinking skills go. So make sure you schedule regular breaks to reenergize your mind.
  • Remove distractions:
    When you have a high-priority project that requires focus and concentration, turn on do not disturb, close your email, and find a quiet place to complete the task.
  • Review your work:
    Before reviewing, walk away and come back an hour or two later to conduct a review. By taking a break, you will have a fresh set of eyes and perspective to catch errors more easily. Fresh eyes and perspective help you avoid making a mistake at work.
  • Ask questions:
    Ask lots of questions to make sure you understand what your priorities are. Additionally, ask peers or your manager for advice, solutions to a problem, or to review your work before distributing it. Enlisting others to quality check your work helps prevent making a mistake.
  • Create a task list:
    You have the highest chances of success when you create a list of to-dos.
  • Ask for feedback:
    Share the areas you are focused on improving after a mistake at work and ask your boss, peers, and other people you frequently work with for specific feedback.
  • Be consistent:
    You have to show up daily and make these things a habit to reduce the chances of making another mistake at work.

Mistakes happen at work — it’s how you recover that counts!

Making a mistake at work is never fun, but it’s important to remember that everyone makes mistakes. The key is to recover from the mistake in a way that shows you’re taking responsibility for your actions and are committed to learning from the experience. The tips above will help you own your mistake and set you on a path to recover from that workplace failure.

Share your stories about a mistake at work and how you recovered in the comments below!

Originally published at https://www.jasoncortel.com on February 10, 2022.

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Jason Cortel

Changing the world by developing people professionally. Author who blogs about leadership, career advice, and coaching. #WhyYouNow