How to fix a mistake at work? Tips


We are all mortal men and perfection is out of our reach. Any attempt to be s often proves disastrous. Therefore, we must accept our limitations and know that life is a process of learning. Working in a corporate environment is not an easy experience. We go through turbulent times with our colleagues and leaders. Despite being seasoned professionals, misjudgments and errors at the workplace continue to occur. We must find ways of rectifying the situation and learn from it. In this article, we shall how to fix a mistake at work and some sample mistakes did at work.

Common workplace mistakes


This is having a misunderstanding with colleagues, leaders, or clients. Various situations can lead to this such as unclear job descriptions, diverse value systems, unfair treatment, among other things. This creates a poor working relationship since tension builds up between the affected parties.

Case Study: The supervisor issues instructions to a team member on their way out to lunch concerning a report. The team member only gets sections of the request since the supervisor is in a hurry and is walking out of the office. The team member decides to wait for the supervisor’s return since the matter didn’t seem urgent to them instead of calling the supervisor on phone to clarify the instructions. Upon his return, the supervisor is both shocked and annoyed that the report isn’t ready and he is due for an urgent meeting in a matter of minutes with the report. The supervisor speaks harshly to the team member and storms out of the office. The team member is both embarrassed and angry at the supervisor’s reaction. The mistake was not intentional; the supervisor assumed the team member got instructions well while the team member assumed the report was not that urgent.

Solution: The two should have a discussion about the incident so that they understand each other’s reactions. They should also apologize to each other in order to remove the tension between them. The supervisor should not be issuing critical instructions while in a hurry and the team member should always seek clarity immediately when in doubt.


Some work environments are high-risk zones and a lapse in judgment can easily cause an accident. Injuries at work can be self-inflicted or as a result of a colleague’s error or an overlooked procedure. A colleague who feels or is responsible for the sickness of another person is often distraught.

Case Study: While on a construction site two engineers are working in a secluded section with electrically powered machines. One of them is called by the foreman to work in another section. Instead of alerting his colleague that he has been diverted, he hurriedly walks away. This leads to the electrocution of his colleague a few minutes later. Luckily, the sickness is non-fatal but renders his colleague bedridden for a few weeks.

Solution: The diverted team member ought to have alerted his colleague on the new instructions received from the foreman. He should also have switched off the power source for the equipment before leaving the work area. He could have asked the foreman to reassign someone else to assist his colleague. He should visit his colleague at home, explain his side and apologize for the error.


Sometimes when we don’t have adequate experience in operating certain systems or equipment we can easily cause damage and render it malfunctioning. This is a costly affair since repairs or replacements will be needed.

Case Study: A janitorial staff has been newly employed and he wants to impress his supervisor with his high output levels. He goes ahead to use an advanced vacuum cleaner which the supervisor restricts to himself. In no time, the equipment gets a short circuit and is no longer powering on. 

Solution: The new recruit ought to have followed restrictions provided by his supervisor. He should take responsibility and communicate to the supervisor the damage. Most probably a corresponding penalty will be issued by the organization. If received, the employee should understand the decision taken by the organization since he had a role to play in damaging the equipment.


This is a common occurrence in our daily lives whether at a personal or professional level. Losses can come in many forms such as financial, material, labor, and property, among others. At the workplace, such losses are often claimed by the organization, and penalties are issued to responsible parties.

Case Study: The security guard at an organization reports for the night shift as accustomed. While having a change of guard with the departing colleague he forgets to ask if the back gate is secured as it is often used by the support staff on a daily basis. He also does not remember to go check it himself. In the middle of the night, thieves gain access through the unlocked back gate, and property is stolen. 

Solution: The guard should not have lapsed in the handover procedure. The matter should be reported to law enforcement and relevant leaders in the organization. He should also own up to the mistake and take full responsibility.

Litigation cases

Legal cases come up in many organizations due to a variety of reasons such as accidents and incidents, negligence of duties, poor quality and service standards, adulterated goods, among others. The clients or victims often want compensation for their money and time. Many times the error emanates from one of the employees or department.

Case Study: The school swimming coach is instructing a kindergarten class with the help of the lifeguard and assistant coach. She steps aside to attend to one of the children on the bleachers. As she walks away from the pool several children run after her and since they are all wet, they slip and fall, stumbling on each other. Most of them get serious injuries and most probably the guardians and parents of the injured children will demand compensation.

Solution: The coach ought to have alerted the lifeguard and her assistant that she was stepping away so that they watch the children. She should have instructed the children to stay in the water before she got out and turned her back away. She needs to get medical assistance immediately for the injured children. She also needs to notify the parents or guardians of the injured children through the right protocols. She should inform the school administration of the incident and take responsibility. She may also be required to send apology letters to the management, children, parents, and guardians. The organization will need legal advice from the relevant department.

Unprocedural actions

This refers to failure in following outlined guidelines or standards while executing official duties. All organizations and respective departments have policies and procedures laid down in handbooks and manuals. Sometimes when we are in a hurry to close a deal or complete an assignment, we overlook these procedures and policies. Unfortunately, it’s one time too many and you get caught! 

Case Study: A medical doctor feeling compassion for a dying patient administers an experimental drug without hospital approval. While the drug saves the life of the patient, the doctor is summoned by the ethics board and risks losing her medical license.

Solution: The doctor should have followed hospital protocols and sought approval. She should take responsibility for the incident and apologize to both the patient and the hospital. She should also understand the decisions made by the ethics board concerning her medical license since violated rules and regulations. If the drug didn’t work, she would be facing manslaughter charges.

Unmet deadlines

There are situations when employee workload is unreasonable, especially when there is a corporate event coming up or a crisis is being managed. In such scenarios, balancing the demanding workload and meeting timelines is a challenge. There are dire consequences in failing to meet the set timelines.

Case Study: An overwhelmed procurement officer puts all the effort into compiling a tender proposal for their organization but submits it late to the vendor. The organization is not shortlisted for the project and the board of directors is disappointed with the employee.

Solution: The employee should come clean about the reasons for the late submission of the tender proposal. They should request a discussion with the supervisor on their workload. They should also be truthful about their workload and request help in advance. They should apologize to the supervisor and board of directors concerning the incident.


Poorly relaying a message is the source of numerous problems at the workplace. A message can be construed to be intimidating or inappropriate when not issued in the right tone or setting. Many people have lost their jobs due to poor communication with colleagues, leaders, and even clients.

Case Study: A front office employee receives an emotional phone call from a family member. After they disconnect the call, a client walks into the premises to make queries. The employee lashes back at the client who is surprised at this reaction. They request for the manager and submit a formal complaint against the rude employee.

Solution: The employee should not receive personal calls or visitors at work unless it’s a serious emergency in which case the contact will be limited. The employee should separate personal and professional issues. Just because you have a bad day at home doesn’t justify you projecting it onto your clients. They should learn to compartmentalize matters and deal with relevant persons. They should explain the reason for the emotional outburst and apologize to the client and the organization. 


This comes in several forms such as verbal insults, physical abuse, and psychological abuse, among others. The leader can disrespect the team member or vice versa. This may be due to a disagreement they might be having on a work-related issue such as the technique to use in performing a duty or merely personal bias existing in either of them.

Case Study: The supervisor and assistant are debating on the best course of action with a client account. The supervisor loses his temper and in the heat of the moment refers to the assistant as a “rookie” who has no experience in business matters. In his defense, the assistant retorts back referring to him as “old fashioned”. An argument ensues and the HR department is called in by fellow colleagues.

Solution: The two employees should not have allowed their emotions to get in the way of work. They should have respected each other’s position and views or alternatively called in a third party to assist in decision making. They should both apologize to each other for the incident.

Misusing resources

Most departments in an organization work with a budget that has to be properly managed at a team and individual level. However, sometimes we fail to plan or we overlook the plan and find ourselves with a deficit before the next budget review or financial year. Misuse of resources can also occur with materials such as unnecessary printing. Once we run out of these resources prematurely we have to explain ourselves to the procurement and finance departments. Often this is not a pleasant undertaking.

Case Study: The team leader is charged with the responsibility of taking the team members for a team-building session outside the region. The budget is prepared and approved and they set sail. Unfortunately, a few days later they run out of money since they went overboard with unnecessary entertainment and exploration instead of adhering to the approved organization plan.

Solution: Always stick to the plan that has been approved and avoid unnecessary spending. Do not use company resources for personal activities. Inform the relevant person in the company when you run into problems. Sometimes you have to resolve the mistakes using your own resources.

What to do with a mistake


The idea here is to reach a compromise acceptable to both parties. Each party gives its minimum acceptable terms for the other party to put into consideration. There has to be a trade-off between the two parties. In most cases, one of the parties has superior bargaining power and oftentimes they win. Ideally, it is meant to achieve equal opportunity and rights. 


This refers to a discussion held by both parties but they incorporate a third party to help in the deliberations with a neutral perspective. The third party may be a friend, colleague, supervisor, legal entity, among others. The third party tries to use a structured and interactive approach in the communication. The third party tries to make the two other parties reach a compromise acceptable to both of them.


In this scenario, an arbitrator(s) is appointed to listen to the “rights” and “wrongs” of each disputing party. The matter is settled outside courts. The decision-maker is the arbitrator(s) upon viewing all the evidence and defenses given. Whatever decision results from this process is final whether or not the disputing parties consent to it. The arbitrator (s) are normally appointed officially or legally and have corresponding qualifications to perform this duty. 


This refers to seeking legal redress for a problem. The aggrieved party files a lawsuit in court following due process. They seek the services of an advocate who undertakes this duty on their behalf. Both parties will use advocates and the matter will be brought in front of a Judge and witnesses in court. Evidence is presented in several sessions and the Judge makes a ruling on the matter. This is normally final but either party can seek an appeal in a higher court if they are not satisfied with the judgment given.


In some cases, employees make mistakes or encounter problems at work since they are overwhelmed. They should communicate to their supervisors this challenge the moment they sense it. The supervisor can assign an assistant(s) to help in performing some of the duties so that the quality and quantity of work are not compromised. 


Leaders and colleagues need to acknowledge a team member while they are carrying out their duties and when their performance is exemplary. This will prevent problems that arise due to apathy and other emotional issues like depression. A happy person is often alert, less prone to errors, and willing to follow instructions. A sad person is withdrawn and resistant to authority.


In some case scenarios, employees make mistakes or encounter problems due to fatigue. They have worked on so many activities or for long periods of time until they have no energy or concentration left. This category of employees needs to be given time off from work to replenish their energy.


Organizations should develop policies and procedures to govern the workplace. In turn, the employee should seek solutions from these reference materials concerning the problem they are encountering. Once the course of action is identified they can implement knowing they are in compliance with the company guidelines.


Some employees make mistakes or encounter problems due to a lack of skills and knowledge. Training programs can be developed or the employee can request to be taken for additional training to reduce, if not totally eliminate these mistakes 


All human beings get emotional and sometimes it goes overboard when the personal or professional problems are intense. The employee should seek external assistance and allow discussion and sharing of these issues. This will reduce burnout levels and negative outbursts that can cost them their jobs and freedom.

How to fix a mistake 

Identify the mistake

This implies that you should not be in denial of reality. Accept that it exists and you had a role to play in it. Acknowledge that both of you need to sort out your differences in an amicable manner to preserve the professional relationship. Ignoring a problem only prolongs suffering for both of you since it destroys morale and self-esteem. Work is no longer enjoyable or meaningful once you reach this point. Hence, a solution needs to be found quickly.

Analyze mistake

Establish the reason you reacted in the manner that you did. Why were you not patient? Why were you too slow? Were you completely innocent? Was this direct assault? Was the other party in their right state of mind? All these questions will help you examine the situation better and get a thorough understanding of the matter at hand. To solve a problem, you must first understand the root cause.

Establish a set of alternative solutions

Identify which problem-solving technique is the most suitable for that particular situation based on the results of your analysis of the situation. We have listed several in this article such as negotiating, delegating, and counseling among others. Understand what each entails and whether it’s appropriate or effective. In some cases, you’ll be forced to use several.

Select the best option from the set of alternative solutions

After understanding the techniques, choose the best one to give you the most desired results or outcomes. This may be based on resources, availability of service providers, the complexity of the problem, and whether or not it involves criminal activity. Once statutory and criminal laws are broken, the matter is now complex and it needs specialists to resolve.

Implement the solution

Execute your plan of action as per the guidelines of each technique and the organization. Obtain the relevant resources and service providers if necessary and work closely with them. Remain focused on the solutions and outcomes. Whenever support is needed, ask for it to avoid having an emotional and physical breakdown.

Review the impact

Once the problem-solving process is complete; evaluate the success and failures realized with your choices. Let it serve as a learning process and hopefully, there won’t be a repeat of the same situation in the future. Implement mitigation measures to prevent the negative impact of the outcomes. 


Problematic situations occur all the time at the workplace. Employees and leaders come from diverse backgrounds. They were nurtured differently and have various professional histories. They can’t all view issues from the same perspective and they can’t relate with one another in the same way. As a consequence, mistakes and problems may never cease in the world, let alone the workplace. We must always strive to accommodate our differences and learn from each other where possible in order for us to have a harmonious environment. We don’t have to be similar; however, we need to be objective and optimistic when judging the next person. There are various ways of resolving issues at the workplace and even in our personal lives. Our goal should always be to maintain peace and not to destroy each other. By having this attitude we shall always select the best alternative among the many that are out there. We may not get 100% compliance each time but we must try to resolve the situation and not leave it hanging indefinitely. This harbors hatred and tension at the workplace and it affects work performance. In the long run, organizational success is hampered.

Frequently asked questions
  1. What is the difference between mediation and arbitration?

Mediation involves a third party who is a neutral negotiator while Arbitration involves a third party who gathers evidence to exonerate one of the parties.

  1. What is the difference between litigation and mitigation?

Litigation is a court process to resolve a problem while mitigation is a process of reducing the negative impact of a problem.

How to fix a mistake at work? Tips

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