How to Write an Apology Letter for Making Mistakes at Work

We have all made mistakes and in the fast-paced world of management, it is only natural that we slip up from time to time (who left that banana peel on the floor, anyway?). Jobs today require more quick thinking, more long hours, and more demand from us mentally than jobs from any other day and age before us. Managers often oversee multiple employees in different divisions, and employees are usually encouraged to take on higher amounts of responsibility. But with great responsibility comes great accountability.

Maybe in an attempt to deal with work stress, we start burning the candle at both ends, which inevitable leads us to making mistakes. We’re held accountable for those mistakes we make at work – and sometimes even the ones we make off of the clock – but just because you make a mistake doesn’t mean you have to lose your job forever. After all, who really wants to live in a cardboard box and dance for people’s spare change? Sure, work might suck sometimes, but it sure beats digging through garbage and hanging out with the pigeons. Work is just an evil of life that we have to deal with.

So if you have recently made a mistake at work, or if you just think it is something that could happen in the future, I will provide you with a step-by-step guide to write a personal and impactful letter to your boss that will let him/her know exactly why you made your mistake, what you will to do to fix it, and that you fully accept the mistake as your own doing. That way you can get back to partying as soon as possible – just kidding; sort of. Here's a bit of friendly career coaching that might get you out of a bind.

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

1. Acknowledge Your Mistake

Kanye West shrug

You should start out your apology letter with a brief introduction into the situation and let your boss know exactly what happened. This section should be as objective as possible, so try to do your best in avoiding adding your personal feelings, or anything else that isn’t concrete. Just simply state what happened and when it happened, and explain (objectively) what was happening at the time.

Example: On Monday, the 31 of August, a customer entered the store requesting a return on a previously purchased item. The customer did not have a receipt, and as the active manager on duty, I informed the customer that we could not process a refund without a receipt. She became upset, started yelling, and asked to speak to my supervisor, at which point I told her to go to Hell.

2. Accept Responsibility

The next step in your apology letter is to accept responsibility and state why what happened was ultimately your responsibility. For an apology to be sincere, you must acknowledge exactly what you did wrong and accept it as your action: this will show your boss that you understand why your actions were unacceptable.

Example: As the active manager on duty, and because of the customer being dissatisfied, I should have reached out to supervisor to double-check my decision. Additionally, I was unaware that we had a special policy about accepting returns without a receipt that could have applied to this customer. Because I did not double-check the policy, and because I did not ask an upper manager to intervene, we potentially lost a returning customer and made a bad business connection. Additionally, telling the customer to go to Hell didn’t help the situation either.

3. Apologize

The third step in the process is to apologize for the mistakes that you just acknowledged. It takes someone mature to accept responsibility and apologize, and many people will never get this far in the process. Just accepting your mistake and making a genuine apology will go far in letting your boss know how sorry you really are; after all, an apology without an apology is pretty lame.

Example: These mistakes were not reflective of the type of behavior that a manager should exhibit, and for this I am truly sorry. I am sorry that I did not check the policy, I did not check with a manager, and that I did not uphold the standard of service that our customers deserve. I lost my temper with a customer and I am deeply sorry for my behavior.

4. Let Your Boss Know Your Job Is Important to You

After you have apologized, let your boss know how much your job means to you, and let them know that this isn’t just a paycheck for you, but something more. Let them know that you feel like part of a team and that you really want to continue to be a part of this company. This section may just be you blowing smoke, and maybe you just need to fan your supervisor’s ego, but this is still certainly an important step in the process.

Example: As you know, I have been working here for over a year, and I have enjoyed the entire process: working from cashier into sales, and finally into management has been a rewarding and fun process. I feel like part of a team with everyone out on the sales floor, and I value each day I get to spend out there with my team. I have always had the dream and ambition to eventually move up to upper level management, where I can continue to learn and grow as a member of the company team.

5. Explain Your Mistake But Don't Make Excuses

Briefly explain why you made the mistakes you made, but be careful not to whine, reject responsibility, or make excuses. Let your boss know the reasons why you made the mistake by letting them know that you didn’t have bad intentions.

Example: It was my intention to take initiative and deal with this problem in a way that would not create extra burden for the upper managers. I know that management is very busy, and I thought that I could handle this situation in a way that would save the other managers time and effort. Unfortunately, by taking charge, I put additional stress on myself that resulted in a blowup on my part.

6. Accept Responsibility and Apologize One More Time

One last time, accept responsibility and apologize for your error, just so you can make sure the explaining of your position doesn’t come off as you just making up excuses.

Example: Ultimately, I should have not taken this situation into my authority and I should have put the customer first by bringing in someone higher above me to help solve the issue, and I am deeply sorry for losing my cool in this situation.

7. Make a Pledge Not to Let it Happen Again

Next in your letter, you should be sure to include a solution, or write exactly what you would do differently to ensure that the mistake doesn’t happen again. When you make a mistake most people can apologize for, it takes a special initiative to offer a solution and to let your boss know what you would do differently next time.

Example: I promise that in the next situation when I am unsure of company policy, I will double-check the handbook. If there is any doubt in my mind at all, I will always contact my supervisor and ask for further directions and – no matter what – will not tell anyone else to go to Hell.

8. Ask for Forgiveness

In the final step in your letter, you should ask your boss to forgive you for your mistake and to allow you to keep your current position with the company. You have already let your boss know that you acknowledge your mistake, you are sorry, you have a plan to prevent it from happening again, and that you are ready to continue working for this company; all that’s left is a genuine apology.

Example: I am truly sorry for my decisions and the actions that I exhibited, and I would like to ask that I be allowed to continue working for this company that I love. I hope that you will be able to see how badly I feel for my mistake but also that I have a huge desire to continue to be a part of the team.

And now, you wait. After you turn your letter in, all that there is left to do is wait till your boss decides how to handle the situation. You have taken all of the right steps to let him know exactly how much your job means to you, and he will take these things into consideration as he determines what to do next.

Look, we have all blown up and lost our cool, and we have all made mistakes, but that doesn’t mean you have to be jobless for the rest of your life. Just let your boss know you are sorry – trust me, it will go a long way. Even if it doesn’t work out, there’s always that living in a cardboard box thing, right?

Have you ever made a big mistake at work? What was it, and how did you apologize? Leave a comment below and let me know your story!