Uh-Oh! What to Do After Making Mistakes at Work

Ever have one of those days where nothing seems to go right and then you top it off by messing up at work? Here's what to do to keep your professional reputation intact.

We all know that no one is perfect, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way when you’ve screwed up. To this day, I still remember a slip-up I made in 5th grade: While reading aloud to the class, I said, “A ripple of applesauce went out in the crowd,” instead of “A ripple of applause ...” Mortifying!

When making mistakes at work, though, there can be even greater consequences than just embarrassment.

Here are the key steps you need to take for damage control:

1. Determine the potential impact

Who is going to be affected by your misstep and how? Messing up at work can easily send you into a panic, but take a deep breath and think about what’s realistically going to happen next. This will help you move on to step 2.

2. Figure out how you’re going to fix the problem

So, you’ve just realized you failed to get that critical package ready in time for the overnight delivery pickup. The driver has come and gone. Now what? There are often easy solutions to mistakes at work. If you stay calm and focused, you might find that you can still drop off the package at another site and it will arrive at its destination in time. In situations where there is no simple fix, though, it’s best to fess up to your boss and ask for help.

3. Apologize

One of the key components to damage control is acknowledging your error and the impact it had on others. Keep your apology short and sincere, and don’t go overboard. You want to appear in control of the situation, not overwhelmed or frazzled.

4. Look toward the future

Let people -- especially your manager -- know how you’re going to avoid making the same blunder again. For instance, if you accidentally billed a client twice for the same service, you might decide to allot an extra half hour in the future before sending invoices to double-check all data is correct.

Some of life’s best lessons are learned through mistakes. It’s not fun going through them at the time, but you may be a better administrative professional in the end by fine-tuning the way you work.

How do you handle damage control when you’ve made mistakes at work? Share your best advice in the comments section below.