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How To Move Past A Failure At Work

Failure is a normal part of life, but making missteps on the job is still an uncomfortable situation. It can feel frustrating, humiliating, and even scary to realize you’re made a mistake at work. Remember that everyone makes mistakes from time to time, including your management team, director, board, and other decision-makers. Explore the following steps to minimize, address, and move past professional mistakes.

  • Minimize Damage When Possible
  • Immediately Inform Your Manager
  • Be Accountable For Your Actions
  • Learn From The Situation
  • Refocus On The Future

Minimize Damage When Possible

When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take a moment to see if you can solve the problem yourself. Any potential damage will be reduced when you can handle the mistake immediately. For example, if you misspeak when communicating with a customer, circle back to clarify your statement. It’s the same philosophy as turning off a sink instead of letting the water run. Any mistake will be more manageable when it’s addressed quickly.

Don’t step beyond your normal job duties, permissions, or level of responsibilities, as this could cause further problems. But if you’re empowered to handle the situation, do so as soon as possible.

Immediately Inform Your Manager

Don’t try to hide your mistake or hope no one will notice. Loop your supervisor into the situation as soon as you realize something is wrong. When you explain what happened, your manager can help with damage control. If you’re not able to immediately solve the problem yourself, you’ll likely need your manager’s approval for emergency measures. 

Ideally, your boss will also advocate on your behalf during stressful situations. Depending on your company’s procedures, you may need your supervisor’s support during an inquiry, investigation, or disciplinary process. Your boss can offer the most assistance when they understand the full scope of the situation and its consequences.

Be Accountable For Your Actions

It can be scary to realize you’ve made a mistake at work, particularly if your job is at risk thanks to your oversight. Present the most professional version of yourself by taking accountability. Consider drafting a plan for how you can personally address the mistake. This shows your leadership team that you’re thinking about the long-term consequences of your actions.

Don’t be tempted to obscure the truth, blame uninvolved people, or state that the situation isn’t truly your fault. Your company may be able to uncover unexpected details of the event through security footage, digital records, eyewitness accounts, and other sources. Be honest about what happened to maintain your professional reputation. 

Learn From The Situation

After the dust has settled, take some time to consider what you can learn from the mistake. Think through the larger context of the situation, any trigger moments that threw you out of your normal routine, and how you could have responded differently. Make a framework for responding differently in the future.

Not everything is always within your control at work. You may look back at the situation and realize it was caused by unexpected forces outside your realm of influence. Some mistakes highlight areas where you need additional training or resources. Try to bring these large-scale concerns to your supervisor to find a solution together.

Refocus On The Future

Dealing with a mistake at work can feel awful, but the aftermath doesn’t last forever. Absorb the lessons of your mistake, make any changes or improvements you need to, and then focus on what’s ahead of you. Remember that everyone makes a mistake from time to time, even on the job. 

Try not to dwell on what happened in the past. Your mistake is probably a single blip in your overall career history. Take a moment to remind yourself of your previous wins and successes. You’ll feel more confident when you look through the great work you’ve done in the past. 

You’re still capable of doing a good job. After looking through your favorite accomplishments, spend your energy on new projects and your other existing work. You’ll rebuild your confidence when you dive into future tasks and return to your usual standard of work.


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