How to manage mistakes at work

After 6 months of working in the data industry, I made a mistake that caused the company nearly a half million dollars issue.


The mistake could be summarized as a combination of three elements:
SAP, Data, and VBA Macros.

When I noticed the mistake… probably one of the worst days in my professional career.
I nearly collapsed. Literally.

My mind was racing, from one thought to another.
Am I good enough for this? Would I get fired for this? Shall I flag the issue to my manager?

All these questions were going through my mind, without any clear answer.

If you want to learn how to manage mistakes at work (and how I managed it in my case) – keep reading here.

How to manage mistakes at work

Whether you want it or not,
sooner or later you are going to a mistake.

Everyone at some point in their professional careers will make a mistake – you will not be the exception.

Do you have in mind that perfect colleague who knows everything and is having everything under control?
That perfect colleague at some point in her professional career has been making mistakes.
That perfect colleague is so perfect because of all the lessons that she learnt from making mistakes.

Being said that.

Is it normal to make mistakes at work?

Yes, it is normal to make mistakes at work.
I would say even more,
If you are not making mistakes, you are not taking enough risks. And this is slowing down your growth.

On the other hand, what would not be normal, would be making the same mistakes over and over.

You are trying your best to deliver and when you want to realize the mistake happened.

How do you handle a mistake at work?

You suddenly realized you made a mistake at work – what to do next.

When you will realize you made a mistake,
you will most likely feel frustrated, disappointed, and even embarrassed that such a mistake happened.

It is okay, you are human.
When you care about your work, your performance, and your reputation it is very natural you will have such feelings.

The three steps to follow to successfully handle a mistake at work.

Manage your emotions
The first thing that you need to be clear about is that your mistakes do not represent you,
you are not your mistakes.

Mistakes can happen to everyone, and mistakes will happen to everyone.

If the mistake happened – I cannot change the past.
However, What I can change, is how I react to my mistake.

Take a few steps back from those thoughts of frustration and disappointment that you may be feeling… and a couple of deep breaths and time to move on.

Try not to get blocked by your emotions, this is the time to act.

When it comes to the time after making a mistake – every minute counts.

Accept the mistake
At some point, you may think that hiding the mistake could be the right thing to do.

Do not do it, and do not hide your mistakes – it will penalize you in the long term. natural.

Quoting here Naval Ravikant: “You should play long-term games with long-term people”.

If your manager gets to know from another person that you made a mistake,
and that you were hiding it from her… trust is immediately gone and there is no long-term game anymore with your manager.

What to do instead:
Contact your manager to inform him/her that you made a mistake and clearly state what the mistake is about and the (financial) impact on the business.
If the impact of the mistake is USD500,000 – do not say it is half of it.
Clearly state it and do not hide anything.

It is important at this stage you share with your manager all the information that you have on hand, so your manager can assess the criticality of the issue and support the next steps.

Once the issue is being managed – let’s say in the next 4-5 days – prepare a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) where you will cover these 4 elements.

  • Problem statement – What happened and what financial impact
  • Root cause – Why it happened
  • Corrective action – What it can be done to mitigate the current mistake
  • Preventive action – What it needs to be in place to ensure the same mistake does not happen again?

You can read more about how to run an effective Root Cause Analysis here.

Be kind to yourself
When we make a mistake the days after we tend to be very hard on ourselves, caring so much about what people will think about us after the mistake happened.

The reality is that people really don’t care as much as we may think, and that’s why you shouldn’t care much either.
On the other hand, if you are normally a person performing well, with some small mistakes here and there, people tend to remember more all the good things you do rather than those mistakes that can happen from time to time.

How to admit a mistake at work

It is key to be crystal clear when admitting a mistake. No half measures here.

Few principles to consider when admitting a mistake at work.

  • Address the message directly to the person (people) impacted.
  • Clearly state what you did wrong (if any financial impact)
  • Explain what the next steps are.

I bring you here some examples you can use for admitting a mistake at work.

When you send the wrong information via email:

Imagine you sent via email to the top management the wrong information regarding the financial budget for the next FY and you realized after you sent the email that the numbers are incorrect.

Hi [Name], 

I want to apologize; I sent the wrong information email in the email [subject of the email].
I’m sorry about this.
You can find below the updated and correct information.

Apologies once again.
Thank you for understanding.


[Your name]

When you say something wrong in a meeting:

You are in a meeting, and you end up in a heated discussion with another colleague in front of your manager.

In this case, I would go for two apologies, one for your colleague and another for your manager.

“I wanted to apologize to you in person for what happened yesterday in the meeting [name of the meeting]. I’m sorry about what happened, and I really feel bad about it. I propose [your proposal] and I would appreciate if you could share your feedback on this.”

When you did a wrong action in the system with financial impact:

Imagine you maintained wrong discounts for certain customers in the system and you generated as a consequence of the mistake a negative impact of USD 45k

Hi [Name], 

I want to apologize as I have made a mistake in the system,
and it will have a financial impact of USD 45k

This is what happened [define the issue],
going forward I will do this [define corrective action]
and I will ensure it will not happen again by [define preventive action]
Once again I’m sorry about this and thank you for understanding.


[Your name]

What are the common mistakes in the workplace?

Anything that needs human interaction can be potentially at risk for mistakes at work.
Let me list for your common mistakes I noticed in the workplace

Wrong data entry into the system
Placing an order in the system, you were planning to place an order of 100 units of a certain product, and you ended up placing an order of 1000 units – that extra zero at the end.

Wrong estimation in Excel
Preparing a budget calculation for the customer, you were referring to the wrong cell, and you ended up sharing with your customer a budget 15% cheaper than what you would normally share.

Wrong recipients address
Every month send the same report to your customer,
one morning you get distracted, and you realize that you shared the confidential information of customer A with customer B

I could continue the list going on and on… as you may notice most of the common mistakes in the workplace have 2 things in common human interaction and lack of focus.

And meanwhile we -humans- keep doing the jobs in corporations – these mistakes will keep happening.

What truly makes the difference, is understanding once we made a mistake which preventive actions we can put in place to make sure that same mistake happens again.

For example, in the case of the wrong recipient’s address, one potential preventive action would be to delay the delivery of an email by 2min, so we can do a second check once the email was sent that the right recipient was included in the distribution list.

If you do not know how to delay the delivery of an email, click here.

FAQ Mistakes at work

Is it good to admit your mistakes at work?

Yes, it is good to admit your mistakes at work.
If you noticed you made a mistake flag it immediately to your manager clearly explaining what happened, proposing how it can be fixed (or at least partially mitigated) and asking for help needed.

Once time passed, prepare a small Root Cause Analysis explaining how to avoid it in the future.

Will I get fired for a mistake at work?

It depends. If you are only making a few mistakes with no major impact on the business and the organization, chances are very low that you will be getting fired.
However if you are making every day the same mistake, and you don’t learn the lesson it, chances are high that your manager may show you the door.

Should I tell my boss I made a mistake?

Yes, you should tell your boss If you made a mistake.
As soon as you notice the mistake, let immediate know your boss stating clearly what was the problem, what you will do to fix it and which help is needed from your boss if any.

Shall I flag to my manager each mistake that I make at the workplace?

No, you should not flag to your manager each mistake you make at the workplace.
You should be logical and flag those mistakes that have a certain impact on the business.

You can use the 7-day golden rule
Will I care about that mistake in 7 days?
If yes – flag it to your manager.
if not – do not flag it and manage it on your side. Provided that, this mistake does not mean any financial impact.
If the mistake meant financial impact I would encourage you still to flag it to your manager.

Do good employees make mistakes?

Yes, both good and bad employees at some point in their professional careers will make mistakes.
What differentiates the good from the bad employees, is that the good employees learn lessons from their mistakes. The following quote summarizes it very well. “If you are not making mistakes, it means you are not growing”

Memes mistakes at work

Ups that feeling when you realized you made a mistake – that frustration. 😱

The frustration of the mistake still stays after the following day. 😢

You start to see the light at the end of the tunnel – it will be fine! 👌

You act and you fixed the mistake – you can do it! 💪

There is always the option of not working … 🤓

Leave a Comment