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How to bounce back from a mistake at work

7 Jul 2023

Made a mistake at work? It’s not the end of the world, just make sure to reflect on how to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Everybody makes mistakes at work, but once the error is made, not everyone’s responses are the same. Some people immediately overreact whereas others brush it under the carpet and hope the problem will go away. Neither of these responses are ideal; if you think you have made a mistake it’s best to just be honest and flag it.

That way, it is more likely that the error can be fixed as soon as possible. Of course, there are varying degrees of mistakes. There are big mistakes that warrant disciplinary action due to the severity of the fallout and small day-to-day errors that might cause a short-term inconvenience.

Sometimes, if you keep making the same mistakes without learning from them you may find yourself on the receiving end of disciplinary action designed to correct your behaviour. While this may seem quite a big problem when you’re faced with it, in the long-term it could stand to you and force you to assess areas where you are repeatedly messing up.

It sounds really cliched but making mistakes can be a learning opportunity because in facing the consequences you are building up your problem-solving skills. Here are some other ways to think about making mistakes at work and how you can respond in a positive light.

Don’t always assume the worst

Immediately panicking and letting your thoughts spiral out of control is not the reaction you should have when you make a mistake – but, unfortunately, it’s the reaction a lot of us have. If you take a lot of pride in your work and you have perfectionist tendencies it can be pretty devastating and embarrassing if you go wrong somewhere. You have to recognise this tendency to overreact as a pattern in your behaviour and factor it in for when something does go awry. Take a moment and put things into perspective if you make an error. Are things really that bad? Is it salvageable? Can you learn from it?

Don’t dwell on it

While the first point was for the spiralers, this tip is for the overthinkers. Mulling over something that has gone wrong and obsessing over it is not going to make it right. It’s also not going to make the mistake unhappen, so stop looking backwards and concentrate on how you can move on. Overthinking about these kinds of things leads to stress and that leads to burnout, which is very difficult to overcome.

Own up and face the consequences

Now, something for the people who can find it hard to admit when they are wrong. Whatever you do, don’t brush something like a big error under the carpet. It won’t do you or your teammates any favours and you will get a reputation as sneaky and underhanded. It is a sign of maturity, responsibility and pride in yourself and your work that you can come clean and say you are sorry and you will do your best to fix things. People might be annoyed briefly, but they will respect you if you can handle things practically and honestly.


This last one is a point for everyone, whether you’re a spiraler, a perfectionist or a devil-may-care type. Once you have identified and fixed the mistake, if it can be fixed, have a think about what went wrong and why it went wrong. If you have a weak area – skills-wise or personality-wise – then make a conscious effort to watch it so you avoid falling into a pattern of bad behaviour. Remember, continuously making the same old mistakes again and again makes you look careless and, yes, badly behaved. But if you show you are taking steps to correct your behaviour then that is a good thing.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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