5 Ways to Save Face After Making Mistakes at Work

By Robert Half on April 3, 2018 at 7:30am

Don’t panic. Making mistakes at work is a fact of life. There are times when we all wish we had double-checked our figures, reread an email before hitting send, or removed our foot from our mouths before speaking. Though it feels terrible, there’s a lot to learn from making mistakes at work, even in the world of accounting and finance.

First of all, you're not alone. According to an Accountemps survey, more than four in 10 professionals (45 percent) said they've cried at work. Fifty-two percent of the respondents said they'd lost their temper while on the job.

Making a mistake is just one of the challenging situations that can lead to such emotional outbursts. It ranks up there with overbearing bosses, coworker conflicts, personal problems and heavy workloads.

Once you acknowledge your error and take steps to correct it, you may emerge wiser and more capable of greater challenges ahead. But first, start saving face. Here are five steps to take to start that process.

1. Forgive yourself for mistakes at work

After making mistakes at work, you likely feel embarrassed, fearful and frustrated. Maybe you raced through your day trying to finalize next quarter’s forecast when you suddenly realized that the report you emailed out earlier has an error in column K, rendering your analysis way off the mark. You’re mortified and petrified that your mistake will cast a pall over your performance forever.

Take a small amount of time to acknowledge what happened, and then let it go, because you have repairs to make. Pull yourself out of the gloom of realizing you're not perfect.

2. Confess and take responsibility

Although it’s important to understand why the mistake happened, this is no time for excuses. Take responsibility, apologize to all affected parties for your misstep and promise to do better in the future. Avoid blaming coworkers or circumstances (though you may want to consider whether certain distractions in the workplace led to your flub). Keep in mind, there’s a difference between acknowledging fault and berating yourself. Own up to your part but also display confidence in your abilities. Lastly, if your manager or peers have sound advice, use your listening skills and be open to their ideas to resolve the issue.

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3. Do what you can to set things right

Create and communicate your plan to set things right, such as volunteering to work extra hours to undo the damage. If you caused a ripple effect that is now out of your ability to stop, let your boss or coworkers know you would still like to help, even if it means taking on some of their projects. This will help you rebuild accountability and trust. When the dust settles, follow up to see if there are additional action items you can complete.

4. Take stock of what you've learned

This is where you can find the silver lining. This experience could reveal hiccups in your process or help you be more careful in the future. Ask yourself, “What will I try to do differently? What still works?” Ask peers for feedback on how you could have avoided this blunder. Check in with your boss on the aspect of your work where the error occurred. You may have thought you understood the process, only to discover you do not. Think of yourself as someone who embraces lifelong learning.

5. Get back to work or move on

Don’t dwell. This mistake was one moment in your career, likely amid myriad successes. So, get back into your daily work while applying your new insight. The bottom line is that one mistake — even a big one — doesn't have to derail your career. Focus on your ongoing self-awareness and improvement, while regaining faith in yourself and restoring it within your team. Failure is part of life, and your response will demonstrate your professionalism and resilience.

If you find yourself after this experience hating your job — or if you're fired because of your mistake — discover the job opportunities that are out there. Get your references in place and your accounting resume updated. Compose your comeback story and start anew.

The Ups and Downs of Emotions at Work infographic



45% of workers admitted to crying at work


Crying is OK from time to time, but doing it too often can undermine career prospects

Workers: 38%
CFOs: 44%

Crying has no negative effect — it shows you’re human

Workers: 31%
CFOs: 30%

Crying is never OK at work — people will perceive you as weak or immature

Workers: 32%
CFOs: 26%


52% of workers said they have lost their temper at work

Of those who admitted to showing anger, their emotional outburst was directed toward*:

Colleague 65%
Manager 37%
Customer 21%
Vendor 14%
Other 7%

Source: Accountemps surveys of more than 1,000 U.S. workers age 18 and older who work in an office environment, and more than 2,200 CFOs from a stratified random sample of companies in more than 20 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas.

*Multiple responses were allowed.

© 2018 Accountemps. A Robert Half Company. An Equal Opportunity Employer M/F/Disability/Veterans.

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