March 22, 2021

Helping You Choose The Right Career!

What to Do When You Screw Up at Work

3 min read

I remember my first real full time job post-college. I was working at a non-profit, with a full salary and benefits. I even had an office! I felt very official.

What I loved most about my job, though, was the flexibility and autonomy I had in my role. My boss was pretty hands off, and trusted me to do my work. She was also a bit of a pushover. So one can imagine my surprise when I found myself being reprimanded for making too many personal (and mostly long distance) calls on company time.

I learned a big lesson: I was not a student anymore! So even if my day was going a little slowly, I didn’t have free reign to fill my time by talking to friends, watching clips online, or any other slack-tastic activity. I was very embarrassed, and in the end, had to admit I knew better. I’d tried to take advantage of a seemingly lax work environment instead of appreciating how it could truly benefit me as a new professional. It was a day I would never forget.

At some point in the workplace, we all trip and fall. It happens to seasoned professionals, and especially, newcomers. But a minor setback doesn’t have to ruin your work relationships or reputation forever. It’s how you handle the situation that will ultimately decide how others view you afterwards. Here are a few ways to ensure a safe landing:

Accept responsibility immediately

The worst thing you can do is lead your response with excuses. Whether you feel you have a justifiable reason for what has occurred is not in question here. You could very well have a perfectly legitimate excuse to explain why you missed a deadline, or forgot to call an important client. But the end result is the same: someone, probably a higher up, is not pleased.

And the one action you can take to move a conversation in a more positive direction is accepting the fact that somewhere you fell short of expectations. It takes a big person to admit they have done wrong and a bigger person to…


Enough said. Because the only thing worse than excuses is a lack of remorse.

Take steps to mend the problem. So how do you begin to turn things around? Is it something that may blow over with time? Can it be fixed immediately? Is it simply a change in behavior, or do you need to actually take action to repair what has transpired? Not sure how you and the offended party can move forward? ASK.

Go beyond (at least for awhile)

This might mean showing up early, leaving late, bringing donuts for a morning meeting, or simply being on top of your game at all times. Become the superstar they wanted in the first place. Show them your slip-up was not of regular character, and that you are much more capable than what showed in that one moment.

Don’t repeat your mistake! If nothing else, do not continue to make mistakes, if they can be at all avoided, especially the same one as before. Most people will forgive you the first time, but in professional settings, second time offenders are not treated as kindly. It implies you are not taking your job seriously, show clear disregard for what needs to be done, or are just plain incapable. None of these are ways you want to be described by colleagues.

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