How to reshape your career after making a blunder at work

Posted August 21, 2013 by
Businessman in shock about a mistake

Businessman in shock about a mistake. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Everyone has made a mistake at work. Blunders can be something simple such as getting caught by your boss using Facebook or shopping on Amazon on company time to spilling a cup of coffee on your new company-owned laptop. More serious offenses include sending out an inappropriate or offensive email, constant lateness, missed deadlines or even getting nabbed for drunk driving.

While certain mistakes may seem like career killers — and depending seriousness of the error they can be — it’s possible to revamp a tarnished image with some hard work and a game plan. Following these three steps can help you put negative issues in your rear-view and regain that coveted “golden-boy/girl” status in the workplace.

Saving Your Career: Three Steps to Recover From a Bad Workplace Mistake

There’s no shortage of ways to be a better employee after making a bonehead move and regain the trust of corporate management, but workplace experts and career counselors agree there are three main ways you can put the mistake behind you.

1. Own it. Accountability may be the single-most important action you can take, says Linda Galindo, an executive consultant based in Park City, Utah. “Do not deny, defend, deflect or delay your full ownership of your actions and the results,” Galindo says. “Do not utter a single word of finger-pointing or blame.”

Recovering from workplace mistakes takes time and finesse, adds Tiffani Murray, an independent HR consultant based in Atlanta. You can accelerate the recovery process by putting your best foot forward and owning up to your mistake. Also, management should take notice of your candor and honesty in the face of adversity.

2. Accept the consequences. Taking responsibility for the consequences of your mistake is another important step in getting past it. Most companies have structures in place for errant behavior, such as a write up that goes into your employee file. This documentation can be used as verification of grounds for employee termination. Instead of battling this aspect of your mistake, accept it and sign off on it, suggests Sean Gallagher, social media director for i7 Marketing of Southern Oregon. Your real battle is working toward rectifying the attitudes and actions that led to your reprimand.

Oftentimes, adds Jason Swett, founder and chief executive officer of Snip Salon Software of Walker, Mich., when you punish yourself for your mistakes, others won’t lower the boom quite so hard. And don’t think management isn’t keeping an eye on how you handle yourself under negative pressure, adds author Jonathan Ness. “Punishment of some form may happen,” Ness says. “Bear it with a smile and humility. Don’t beat yourself up or take out frustrations on anyone else; just get back to work.”

3. Learn from it. If you are written up for using Facebook or watching streaming episodes of “Game of Thrones” on the company computer, it clearly is not in your best interest to continue such behavior. Use your smartphone (and your personal time) for social media status updates during the day, and save your TV viewing for nighttime.

Mistakes happen, an unfortunate fact that most employers understand, says career coach Farnoosh Brock of Morrisville, N.C. What really matters is what you do to handle the problems your mistake creates. After admitting to the mistake, accepting its consequences in full and learning from it, close the loop by making sure your employer knows what steps you have taken to regain their trust, Brock says. Be sure to follow through on those steps for three to six months, if not indefinitely, as management already has you in its radar.

If the workplace mistake is so egregious that you must cut ties with your employer, use the incident as a foundation to make sure it never happens again, says Galindo. “If you authentically own your role in it and what you learned, it can be an attractive attribute to the next place that wants open, honest and continuous-learning employees,” she says.

Regardless of the mistake you might have made, take the opportunity to flip a negative situation into a positive one by reexamining your approach to your job and reevaluating your workplace goals. Take the steps needed to become a better employee and improve your performance, and chances are those are the things that come to mind when management thinks of you.

By: Rob Sabo

About the Author:

Rob Sabo writes about education, the workplace, and business. He is a contributor to several websites including

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