Career Advice

How To Own Up To Mistakes in The Workplace

Emily Totura
By: Emily Totura
Nov 20, 2020 • 6 min read

Owning Up To Mistakes in The Workplace

Did you make a mistake at work? Don’t panic! We all make mistakes—even our bosses, so don’t beat yourself up when you do too. Work can be busy, especially when you have to manage a lot of responsibilities in one day. Whether it’s something small or something big, you should always take accountability and own up to your mistakes. In this article, we’ll give you some of our tips on how to own up to any mistake in the workplace and regain professionalism. 

own up to mistakes

Evaluate The Mistake

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and think that this mistake is a bigger issue than it is. Pretend one of your coworkers came up to you and told you that they made the same mistake. What would your reaction be? This helps put more perspective on the situation itself. Right when you realize the mistake, you might tend to blow it out of proportion. Think about what the mistake was and what caused it. This will not only help you figure out what to do to resolve the problem, but it will also help you avoid getting into a similar situation in the future.

Don’t Lie or Make Excuses

We’ve all been there. We want to impress our boss, and you might think a little white lie isn’t the end of the world. However, this will ultimately backfire on you. If you take the route of lying, you will most likely get caught in the future. This will make a mistake even worse. Similarly, bosses don’t want to hear excuses. They don’t care what your coworker did or what other factors contributed to the mistake. They want you to be honest and offer a solution. Take a deep breath, maintain your integrity, and tell the truth. This will give you the best possible outcome.

own up to mistakes

If You Can, Try to Fix The Mistake

If it’s something minor, try to fix the mistake before running to your boss. If you need assistance, ask a friend at work for help. Your initial reaction might be to tell your boss but only do this if they need to get involved. If you can fix everything on your own, you can then go to your boss afterward and let them know what happened. It’s perfectly fine to apologize, but don’t say you’re sorry too much. This can make you seem like you lack confidence. Instead, you can thank your boss for understanding or thank them for helping you.

You can say something like, “Hi, I made a mistake on the EOD report that I sent you last night. I just updated it and sent you the right one. My apologies for that, and please let me know if you need me to do anything else.”

Keep it short and simple. Acknowledge the mistake, let them know the issue is resolved, and make sure to apologize. Again, avoid making any excuses, even if it isn’t your fault. If your boss needs to speak to someone else, they will.

What if You Can’t Fix The Mistake?

If your mistake is more serious and you need assistance from your boss, you should set up a meeting with them. Bosses are busy, so if you bombard them, they might be more upset. Similarly, if you send a quick email letting them know what happened, they might think you don’t care. Instead, ask them in person or send an email asking if they have time for a quick chat. Once you are with your boss, remain calm. Get straight to the point, rather than including irrelevant details. Explain to them what happened. This mistake might not be your fault, but you still need to take accountability. Chances are, if you are in this predicament, you play a role in the mistake, and that’s okay! Your boss expects you to make mistakes because nobody is perfect.

After explaining what happened, offer them a solution. Let’s say you work as a barista and the new person you are training made a mistake. You can say something like, “I know it’s my responsibility to watch Sara, but since the morning shifts are busier, I was wondering if I could train her in the afternoon.”

Coming up with a solution tells your boss that you care and want to prevent a similar mistake from happening again. This is a chance for you to turn something negative into something positive! All employers want their workers to be honest and independent. So, owning up to a mistake and working towards a solution will impress them.

own up to mistakes

Adjust Your Work Style

One of your goals when working should be to never get static in your role. No two days are ever the same, and as you gain more experience, you will likely have more responsibilities. This can be challenging, so make sure to make changes to your work style when you need to. If you feel stressed out, it’s okay to take a day off. If you need help, it’s okay to ask for help. No one expects you to do everything on your own. Figure out what isn’t working, and adjust. If you feel overwhelmed by all of your tasks, a solution could be something as simple as getting to work a little bit earlier so you can get yourself situated and organized.

Earn Your Trust Back

Don’t just stop at telling your boss what happened. They will apricate you being honest and letting them know what happened, but actions speak louder than words. Show your boss that you are a hard-worker and reliable. A mistake doesn’t define your career, but what you do afterward does define your career. So, show your boss that you will do everything in your power to avoid another situation like this again. Show them that this experience taught you something.

own up to mistakes

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

As we said, we’ve all made mistakes, and we’re bound to make a few more in life. Try not to get too down on yourself, and don’t let this be a roadblock in your career. Instead, use these experiences to learn. Remember, it isn’t about the mistake itself. It’s about what you do to fix it and how you learn from it.

Have you ever made a mistake at work? What did you do to fix it? 

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