Managing a Major Mess Up at Work

Most of us go through our lives with the best of intentions and the desire to do the right thing. We pay our bills and taxes, we see our dentist, we take care of our relationships and we do our best to ‘not let others down’.

Whilst the picture painted is particularly rosy (and we all know life likes to throw some curve balls) we can go a fair distance in our personal lives before we stumble.  But when we are at work the pressure of deadlines, the complexity of the work, varying personalities and a competitive, fast-paced environment can result in us making mistakes.

What happens when we make mistakes in the workplace? Not a simple mistake like double booking yourself or forgetting to attend a meeting.  What happens when the mistake costs your organisation serious money, a lost account or bad publicity?

We conducted a survey and found almost 20% of organisations fire an employee when they have major ‘stuff up’.  To ensure you steer away from termination when you make a big mistake at work, Happening People have prepared our TOP 5 on Managing a Major Mess Up at Work. 

  1. Stay Calm
    Staying calm is one of those ‘easier said than done’ concepts.  It seems panic can rise just as fast as the feeling of dread from discovering we have made a mistake.  This is when you need to take some deep breaths, and logically step through what has occurred.  We have all heard the stories where the attempted ‘fix’ for a mistake is so botched it makes the original error seem like an ink blot.
  2. Qualify & Quantify
    Look at the mistake objectively.  Ask yourself is the mistake a genuine mistake, i.e. did you have the correct numbers, information or understanding and then look at what the impact has been.  Ask yourself, who is affected, how are they affected, what is the known and projected cost of any fall out.  Write a timeline of events.
  3. Tell the Truth
    Our political leaders would do well to heed the advice here at point 3. Covering up a mistake which turns a salvageable situation into a shambles.  All credibility is lost when you don’t own up.  Now that you have gathered the facts and understand the situation clearly, notify your manager or those affected and tell the truth.  Your manager will be better able to help manage the situation and fall out if they know all the facts, not just the ones you want them to hear.  More than likely you will be a little ‘red faced’ for a while but the shame of a lie being found out would be far more shameful.
  4. Resolution Time
    This is where the hard work really begins. It’s time to put a plan of action together for execution.  This is where you may need to involve others in the organisation, it might be your Communications department or Human Resources, you may need to talk to the Account Manager for a particular client and work up a strategy to minimise the fall out.  Execute this plan well and you might gain back some of that lost credibility.
  5. Learn from it
    Oscar Wilde is famously quoted for saying, ‘Experience is the name we give to our mistakes’. You do need to be able to move on from a mistake.  Accept that it happened, understand that you did your best to manage it and move forward knowing that you have more experience now to avoid the same mistake in the future.

Now it’s your turn!! We would love to hear from you! Tell us about a huge stuff up you witnessed in the workplace and how it got fixed.

Don’t make the same mistake twice!!  Call Happening People on 1800 68 67 69 we can train you and your organisation to make better decisions every time. Call or go to


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