How to Recover from a Major Work Fail

It happens to everyone. Without fail. The #workfail.

In a recent post on soft skills, I shared why it’s so important to own up to a mistake at work. In my experience, other people remember how you handle a mistake, not the fact that you messed up. ‘Fessing up fast, resisting finger-pointing, and fixing your errors are key.

Everyone makes mistakes. Keep reading for more in-depth advice on how to clean up your messes and move forward with grace.

Own the Consequences Without Complaining

“Depending on the blunder, accepting the consequences could mean different things: Maybe you have to make an hour-long drive for an uncomfortable meeting to smooth things over with a client. Maybe you have to work 20 hours of overtime to recreate the file you deleted off the company’s shared drive. Whatever you have to do, do it, and without complaining. It’ll show everyone around you you’re taking your mistake seriously—and frankly, it’s probably a small price to pay for keeping your job.”  —  Read more at Inc.

Want to Say the Right Thing? Make Sure You Prepare

“It’s hard to be clear when you’re concerned about upsetting a coworker or getting in trouble. ‘Most of us become indirect when we’re uncomfortable, so we add a lot of words,’ says Liane Davey, cofounder of 3COze Inc. and author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done. ‘It’s as if we think that spreading the disappointing news over 400 words makes it easier to hear.’ Sigal Barsade, a professor of management at the Wharton School, notes that heightened emotions sometimes also cause people to err in the opposite direction: ‘Sometimes you get so nervous, you blurt it out in a callous way so you can just get the information out there.’ So try to go into the conversation feeling as calm and centered as possible. Barsade recommends taking three deep breaths before starting.” —  Read more at Harvard Business Journal.

The Goldilocks Approach to a Mistake at Work — Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold

“Unfortunately, our instincts generally throw us to either side of a wide spectrum. On one end, you may act too quickly—saying too much and overcomplicating a situation in your attempts to recover quickly. On the other, you may be tempted to hastily cover up what happened and look for ways to defend yourself. While seeking help and self-preservation are both natural, neither extreme is the most effective when it comes to owning up to a mistake at work.” —  Read more at The Muse.

Don’t Pull Others Into Your Shame Spiral

“You shouldn’t take responsibility for things you didn’t do, but it’s never a good idea to throw someone else under the bus either. If other people are partially responsible for what went wrong, leave it to them to own up to their part (and leave the worrying about it to them too). Just concentrate on your part in this. When apologizing for the mistake, discuss your actions only. Be clear and specific, but don’t bring other people into it.”  —  Read more at Payscale.

Accept Being Under the Microscope

“It’s going to be natural for your manager to pay closer attention to your work for a while. You might have to deal with more intensive questioning than you’ve had in the past. This is a normal part of the process of moving on from a serious mistake. Rather than seeing it as something annoying, you should see it as something that will help you rebuild trust.” —  Read more at U.S. News.

If you found yourself in the middle of a #workfail, how did you fix it? What did you learn? I’d love to hear in the comments!

Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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