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How to Handle Messing Up at Work

You might go to work every day with plans of giving your absolute best. You have career goals, which might include advancing the corporate ladder and hitting a certain salary within a given timeframe. But even if you’re on the right track and your boss thinks you’re a great employee, you might do a few mistakes from time to time. Messing up at work can affect productivity and completely destroy your self-confidence, but it’s not the end of the world. Below is a guide on how to handle the situation if you’ve messed up at work, read through it and remember that it’s not the end of the world.

See AlsoHow to Write an Apology Letter for Making Mistakes at Work

1. Fess up - Soon

When you know you’ve made a big mistake at work, you might run different scenarios through your mind. If no one knows about your screw up yet, you might consider keeping your mouth shut and praying the problem goes unnoticed. The problem with this plan is that your boss, or maybe a coworker, will likely discover the mistake. And the longer you wait to open your mouth, the worse the repercussions. My best advice to you? Fess up, and do it soon.


Besides, if you happen to be an honest person, the fact that you didn’t speak up to notify your boss can destroy your conscience. You might come to work every day looking over your shoulder, just waiting for the problem to resurface. You have enough going on in your life, so you don’t need this type of stress. The mistake might be a biggie, but the sooner you face the music, the sooner you can move on with your life.

2. Beat Your Boss to the Punch

Depending on the severity of the mistake, your boss could fly off the handle and your job might be on the line. There’s no way to predict how your boss will respond or deal with the screw up. However, his reaction might be calmer if you approach the matter at the right time. In other words, if your boss just got off a phone call with an irate customer, this isn’t the time to go into his office and come clean. This doesn’t suggest waiting too long a time, but you should wait long enough for him to cool down.

Make good use of this time and brainstorm possible solutions to your mistake. Your boss won’t like what he hears once you confess, but if you can propose possible solutions, he may quickly realize that the problem isn’t as bad as it seems, and take the news better.

3. Don't Play the Victim Card

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If you screw up big time at work, do not play the victim card. You’re at work and you’re an adult. This isn’t school and you’re not a youngster dealing with your parents. Therefore, you need to put on your big boy pants and take responsibility for your actions. Understandably, knowing that you messed up royally can invoke panic and fear. Just like everyone else, you need your job. You might have a mortgage or rent, credit cards and student loans, so you can’t afford to be without work.

But although you want to save your job by any means necessary, playing the victim card or blaming someone else for a mistake you obviously caused is the worst way to handle the situation. From your boss’s standpoint, your excuses imply that you’re not sorry for screwing up, nor owning up to the mistake. Even if you don’t lose your job, your boss will take note of this behavior. And when the time comes to promote, he’ll remember your actions. He might pass over you and give a position to someone who has a history of taking responsibility for their actions.

4. Realize It Can Happen to Anyone

At the end of the day, everyone makes mistakes. And even though your boss is livid, he likely made similar big mistakes at some point during his career. For that matter, he’s probably more sympathetic to what you’re going through than you realize. He just needs time to cool off. Therefore, don’t let his reaction tear you down.

Your screw up might set the company back a little, and the fallout could affect others in the office, but nothing is permanent. The company and the office will recover, and eventually, no one will even remember your mistake. This is especially true if you resolve to make responsible choices going forward and you rebuild your reputation.

Messing up at work can have a tremendous impact on your self-confidence, and you may start to question whether you can handle a particular assignment. Don’t do this. The worst thing you can do is beat yourself up too hard. You’re not perfect, and no one expects you to be perfect. The best thing you can do for your career and sanity is to learn from this mistake and move on.

5. Don't Jump Ship

If you mess up at work, the first thing that comes to your mind might be quitting and finding a new job. But running isn’t going to solve the problem, and if you get into a habit of running, you might never learn how to deal with the consequences of your actions.

Again, your boss might be mad today, and your coworkers might be rolling their eyes as you walk by, but the situation will eventually blow over. Besides, running and finding a new job is how cowards deal with a setback. Moreover, you’ll probably need your employer to vouch for you or provide a character reference if you get a new job. If you make a big mistake and then quit your job, he isn’t likely to provide the best reference letter. Also, running doesn’t teach you how to deal with these types of situations. Even if you go to a new job, you might mess up there as well. What are you going to do, quit your job every time something doesn’t go right?

We all mess up, that’s life. Think about it this way: if your boss didn’t fire you, then the screw up wasn’t as bad as you think.

6. Take Your Punishment Like a Pro

Cast Away

After messing up at work, your boss might give you a slap on the wrist or a verbal reprimand, and then move on. Or, he might suspend you for a couple of days without pay. Depending on the severity of the mistake, you might be demoted.

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It’s an unpleasant situation to be in, but instead of whining, complaining and crying, you need to deal with the consequences in a mature manner. Don’t argue with your boss or try and plead your case, and don’t badmouth your boss to coworkers. The more immature you act, the longer people will remember the mistake.

See Also: How to Take the Blame for Your Mistakes at Work

You can be the best employee in the office, but this doesn’t mean you’re exempt from making a mistake. A big blunder can have you shaking in your boots, and you might lose sleep and your appetite worrying about the future of your job. Just know that the sooner you talk with your boss the better it will be for the both of you. And you can also save your job by brainstorming possible solutions before speaking up. Messing up doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lose your job, so don’t become overly anxious about the situation.

It might take a few days, a few weeks, a few months or longer; just know that you can recover and move on from a mistake.