Here's exactly what to do—and say—after you've made a mistake at work

Jenny Teo | Twenty20

We all mistakes at work — and it's not a bad thing. It's how we grow and become better at our jobs.

Maybe you missed a deadline or came to a client meeting completely unprepared. Whatever it was, the most important thing is that you take action and address the situation sooner rather than later.

Here's how to save your reputation and recover from a mistake at work:

1. Allow yourself to feel bad

It's completely normal to feel embarrassed, ashamed, disappointed or worried that you might get fired.

Accept what happened and allow yourself to take in those emotions — but not for too long. Then, take a few deep breaths and tell yourself, It's not the end of the world.

2. Assess what happened

Pretend it was someone else that made the mistake and evaluate what happened with a calm, objective eye.

Ask yourself these essential questions:

  • What was the mistake?
  • What actions led to the mistake?
  • What were the consequences of the mistake?
  • What should the person have done instead?
  • How can this be prevented in the future?

Maybe it wasn't your fault at all, but you won't know until you look at the situation from an unbiased perspective.

3. Fix your mistake (if possible) and apologize

If there's a way to fix your mistake, do it immediately. Then, let your boss know what happened and apologize. Depending on how big or small the mistake was, you can do it via email or in person.

Keep it short and get to the point: "Hi [X], I sent you the wrong sales report this morning. I'm so sorry about that. I just emailed you the correct one, but please let me know if there's anything else I can do."

If any of your colleagues were affected by the mistake, reach out and apologize to them as well. But be mindful of who you share the news with — not everyone in the office needs to know.

4. Have a private meeting with your boss

This isn't always necessary, but if your mistake led to some serious consequences, ask your boss if you can have a private meeting.

When you have your sit-down, be factual, clear and take responsibility: "I wanted to apologize again for [X] and explain to you what happened."

Your boss expects you to make mistakes, so don't whine or try to come up with excuses.

5. Offer a solution

After you've explained what happened to your boss, offer a solution.

You might say: "I know I already missed the deadline, but I can stay late today to finish things up."

If you truly can't think of a solution, just be honest: "I want to rectify the situation, but I'm not sure how. What can I do to make things better?"

6. Change how you work

Your should constantly be adjusting your work style until you find a routine that works best for you.

If you're always missing deadlines and behind on your work, consider waking up earlier so you can get a head start to your day. Incorporating healthy habits like taking walks outside or meditating for a few minutes can also help improve your focus.

7. Be kind to yourself

Learn from your mistakes, eliminate any negative self-talk and then let it go. The mistakes you make won't ruin your career, but how you react to them can.

Debby Carreau is the founder of Inspired HR. She has been recognized as one of Canada's Top 25 HR Professionals and is a regular contributor on multiple TV shows, Entrepreneur Magazine and many other print and online publications. She is a board member for Young Presidents Organization and sits on the Advisory Board for FinDev Canada.

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