5 Steps to Move On When You’ve Made a Mistake at Work

Picture this: It’s 4:45 on a Friday afternoon and you’re scrambling to meet a deadline by 5:00. You’re going over a major project that were sure would only require a few finishing touches, and you notice a HUGE mistake in your work during your proofing—only to realize that it’s down to the wire and you have no way to backtrack and figure out where you went wrong before the deadline approaches and the work will be considered late by your boss.

Okay, so maybe this exact scenario hasn’t happened to you at work, but chances are that somewhere along the line in your career either you or someone you know has made some kind of mistake that has completely upended any “progress” made.

But here’s the thing: Mistakes happen! And whether we like to admit it or not, they can happen at any time, no matter how productive we might be each day… and no matter how much we try to safeguard ourselves from the disaster that even the smallest mistake can bring.

Rebounding after we’ve made a mistake—big or small—and have experienced that dreaded sense of failure is exactly what we’re talking about on Episode 132 of the podcast this week.

And while I share my own personal experience with failure (trust me, it’s a big one!) and how I was able to pick myself up by the bootstraps and recover after the dust had settled, I thought I might expand on that conversation here just a bit more by talking about how we can recover when we’ve made a mistake in the workplace…

Because it’s not every day that we answer to ourselves when it comes to our day-to-day jobs, right? And even if we play the role of “being our own boss”, mistakes are inevitable there too!

One thing to keep in mind here is that making a mistake doesn’t need to be such a scary concept… and being afraid of “failure” doesn’t need to keep us from experiencing life and living it to the fullest (we’ve talked about nipping our fear of failure in the bud many times before).

If anything, mistakes… failure… both of these are what help us to grow well beyond the comfort zone that, in a lot of ways, keeps us from reaching our goals and experiencing the success that we all crave.

So, whether you’ve made your fair share of mistakes at work, or you want to learn a few tips and tricks on how you can recover from making a mistake in the event that you happen upon one at your job… I implore you to read on as we take a peek at how you can bounce back and move on when you’ve made a mistake at work!


5 Steps to Move on From a Mistake at Work


1. Own It –

For so many of us, confrontation can be a difficult thing to navigate. This is especially true when we’ve done something wrong (on purpose or by accident, at home or at work)!

To me, the hesitation to confront our mistakes stems from feelings of guilt and/or embarrassment (among others).

We feel guilty for having potentially disappointed someone by having to delay or miss a deadline due to the mistake we’ve made, and we feel embarrassed for falling short of the “perfection” we were striving for when we accepted the project and the deadline in the first place.

But guess what: You’re only human! And no one – and I mean no one – is perfect, no matter what picture we try to paint… no matter what story we try to tell ourselves or those around us.

So, keeping that in mind, the very first thing that you need to do once you realize you’ve made a mistake in the workplace is to simply own it. (Don’t ignore it!)

Acknowledge that you’ve made an error – both to yourself and to your boss or those that may be impacted by the mistake, and then let any feelings of discomfort settle for a bit.

The more you’re able to acknowledge that you’ve made a mistake, the easier it will be to recover after the dust has settled… and the easier it will be to approach an unfortunate situation (should it arise!) in the future.

After all, you’re only human – and these things happen!

And who knows… The mistake you make that feels insurmountable today might just be that one little thing you laugh about a few days, weeks, months, or even years down the road once you’ve met the success you have your eye on.


2. Apologize –

On the other side of the coin of acknowledging the fact that you’ve made a mistake is to apologize to those who may be impacted by the error in your work.

If you owe your boss, a client or potential client an explanation, let them know what happened as soon as possible. Don’t put off having a difficult conversation just to save yourself from experiencing any more discomfort…

The quicker you’re able to offer up an apology (and an explanation regarding the missed or delayed deadline), the more professional you’ll appear in the eyes of your boss, clients, and so on.

Honesty – especially in situations like this – goes a long way!


3. Create a Recovery Plan –

So now that you’ve acknowledged that an error has been made and you’ve apologized to those in need of an explanation, it’s time to come up with a plan of action so that you can recover from the mistake as quickly (and effectively) as possible.

Take a peek at where you went wrong in your work and, if you’re able to extend a deadline (if the mistake was made on a project you were working on, for example), come up with a game plan to correct the error immediately.

How long do you anticipate backtracking and making corrections might take? Let the necessary parties know as soon as you’ve figured out the gritty details, and then buckle down and get to work!


4. Accept the Consequences –

If you’re lucky, the mistake you’ve made is of the smaller variety that won’t bring about too many consequences… but if the mistake you’ve made is a bit bigger and carries even bigger consequences with it, it’s imperative that you accept whatever they might be from the get-go.

Whatever the case may be, accept the consequences of your actions and carry out your tasks (additional or otherwise) without complaining.

Taking any consequences stemming from your mistake in stride not only reinforces your apology, but it will also likely generate additional respect from those affected by the situation.

Remember: It’s not enough to apologize! Let those you may have set back with your mistake that your apologetic words carry weight by showing them through your actions as you move forward.


5. Reflect –

Once the dust has settled and your work has returned to normal, it’s important to analyze exactly what happened. How did the situation arise in the first place? What were you experiencing that may have thrown you off track?

Maybe you were feeling a little overwhelmed by something at work or in your personal life, or maybe you lost track of your schedule and your time management suffered as a result.

Reflection here is key: Recognize some of the factors that may have led to your mistake and look for solutions to prevent it from happening (as best as you can) in the future.

The more of a handle you have on potential red flags in your day-to-day that could result in a mistake that might upend your productivity, focus, and so on… the easier it will be for you to avoid them as you push on!


If you’ve made a mistake in your career – big or small – what steps did you take to recover? Share your experiences and any tips and tricks you have up your sleeve in the comments below…

And tune in to Episode 132 this week to learn all about how I was able to recover from a colossal mistake of my own… and what I learned along the way about the importance of reframing failure in my quest to find success!

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Tonya Dalton
Tonya Dalton