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Career Advice

6 Ways To Recover If You Screw Up At Work

Posted by Heather Huhman

Last Updated November 1, 2016

Mistakes happen. Let’s say you were absent from a high-priority client meeting, dropped the ball on a big account, or maybe even mishandled a large sum of company money. While the scenarios may vary, all eyes are now on you. What happens next?

Making a mistake on the job can be a jarring experience, but there’s a lot you can gain from your errors. You might even come back stronger and more knowledgeable than before. By putting a cleanup and prevention plan into play after the fact, you’re likely to move past this bump in the road.

Here are six tips for coming back stronger after screwing up at work:

1. Pull Yourself Together. The variety of emotions experienced after your on-the-job error are likely to overwhelm you. Whether it’s frustration or embarrassment, spending a brief moment analyzing the situation and getting your thoughts together will put you in a better direction. Keep your analytical timeframe brief, but make sure you’ve dug into your thoughts.


2. Fess Up. This isn’t time for excuses. It’s crucial you own up after a sticky situation. Take responsibility and apologize for your misstep. Your manager and co-workers will know whether you’re genuinely sorry for your actions, so this isn’t a time for any inauthentic apologies. Use your best judgment in your approach for your apology. Sometimes going overboard with apologies can rub others the wrong way – try to find a healthy medium.

3. Clean Up the Mess. If you don’t move quickly, your small mistake could turn into something much larger. Whatever the case may be, do your best to step in and handle the cleanup process. This will show your interest in improving the situation and hold you accountable. If it’s out of your hands, be sure your boss or co-workers know you’re still interested in helping in any way possible, even if it means taking on some of their projects.

4. Don’t Dwell on It. The first step to moving forward after a mistake is accepting the situation. It doesn’t do you any good to beat yourself up, this only leads to self-doubt. As Malcolm Forbes once said, “Failure is success if we learn from it.” Don’t let your misstep ruin your plan of action for the future.

5. Learn From It. What can you do to improve, not only in your current position, but in your career as a whole? Gather beneficial advice from company outsiders like your trusted network of connections and also from your fellow co-workers or even your manager. Utilize this wisdom to learn where you may have gone wrong and how to ensure you avoid this situation in the future. Use this as a personal growth experience to improve yourself in more ways than just this one incident.

6. Move Forward. You’ve faced the problem, apologized, and create a plan for improvement, now it’s time to move on. Your boss and co-workers are likely to want to move past this as quickly as possible and so should you. Leave the situation in the past and never reference it again. If you latch onto it, you’re likely to impair yourself without even realizing. Set your sights on continued self-improvement, both on and off the job.

Mistakes are an essential part of growth when it comes to your career path. Learning to be accountable, forgive yourself, and make improvement for the future will keep you moving in a positive direction.