Elinore Court | Contributing Writer | Thursday, 4 June 2015

What To Do If You Massively Screw Up At Work

What To Do If You Massively Screw Up At Work

The Debrief: 'Dust yourself off and try again' (Aaliyah)

“Oh God. No. NO. How do I undo this? Has anyone noticed I’ve messed up? How do I stop myself from hyperventilating? Oh great, here comes the nervous heat rash. Aaannd now the cold sweat. Fabulous.” 

Sound familiar? This horror show typically follows when you’ve screwed up at work. And I’m not talking about running a bit late or spilling water all over your desk, I mean epic fuck ups or ones that are so bizarre and stupid that you can never live it down. 

But if you think your mistake is bad, a BBC journalist accidentally tweeted that the Queen was dead. And she spelled her name “ELIZABRTH.” And everyone saw it. Ouch. 

So (hopefully) your epic fail isn’t on the same scale and you will not see your name all over the papers with pictures of your mistake, but even if it’s not as bad, you will still feel like shit and have all the classic wishes of crawling into a hole/ suddenly becoming invisible/ ground swallowing you up etc. 

Fear not, we asked occupational therapist Dr Angelina Bennet how to cope, style it out and move on. 

1. Own Up 

The most tempting option is to pretend nothing ever happened and deny all knowledge of the mistake. This will not work. Don’t do it. The problem will either escalate because you left it festering, or you’ll get caught out and look bad for not having the balls to admit when you’ve messed up.

Luckily it’s not all bad because 'the best learning comes from mistakes. Remember that once you’ve made the mistake, you will never make it again' so see that as a positive sign.

Also, just blurting out that you’ve made a mistake and running away actually isn’t very helpful so Dr Angelina says to 'have some discussion around the issue, brainstorm some possibilities for shortcome damage control and really think about what the consequences could be. Gauge your relationship with your boss to set the tone of your discussion, our natural instinct is to build a defense or shift the blame but it’s not the most helpful coping mechanism so always just be completely honest and straight talking.' 

2. Don’t Flap 

Panicking, wailing or just generally flapping around is the least productive emotional reaction possible. So think of ways you can pull yourself together and think straight. 'If you can, phone a friend or someone completely outside the situation who you can. Discussing with colleagues could escalate the problems and add baggage to it. Gossiping or stewing about it will only make it worse,' Angelina recommends.

Also make sure you 'remove yourself from the situation and go somewhere quiet to compose yourself but don’t procrastinate.' Take a minute, gain composure and then bite the bullet. 

'Just leave emotion out of it when you state your case. Keep calm and show you’ve identified the error and that you care about wanting to fix it. Pick the issue apart and present it as a learning curve with the key points you’ve gained from the situation.' 

3.Don’t Go Overboard With Your Apology 

Many of us go into ‘Simon from The Inbetweeners driving in London’ mode and see how many times we can squeak the word sorry in one minute but you really don’t have to do this to yourself. 'Don’t throw yourself on your sword. If it was a mistake caused because certain systems weren’t in place or there was poor communication, taking on all the blame isn’t constructive.'

Obviously don’t be a complete dick and 'do apologise once but don’t get carried away with heartfelt apologies because it will make you look like you part in the error was bigger than it actually was.' 

And remember that the best thing to bring to the table when apologising is a solution or suggestions for how to avoid a similar scenario in the future. You might fear the dreaded question: ‘Haven’t you done enough?’ In a chilling tone but Albertina warns that 'being cast aside will leave you feeling powerless and that can be damaging because it is demotivating and crushes your confidence. Think of ways the problem can be rectified or prevented in the future. ' 

4.Move On And Learn From Your Mistakes

 Don’t beat yourself up over it forever and remember that one day it will probably turn into a hilarious anecdote. Until then just get on with what you were doing before to the best of your ability but don’t worry if you’re still struggling.'The way people bounce back from this situation depends on the individual resilience of the person involved. Some people will be determined to do an awesome job and put 100% into the task that they got wrong before, others will be far more anxious. If you aren’t so resilient it’s still important to get back on that horse but don’t be afraid to flag up to your boss as a reminder that you made a hash of it the last time and ask for support to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Don’t be afraid to ask for someone to go through it with you or shadow you so that you are more confident next time you are given the same task.' 

So, in the wise words of Aaliyah, 'if at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.' 

Like this? You might also be interested in:

Here's Proof That Some Workplace Fails Can Pay Off 

Ask An Adult: What Are The Warning Signs That I Should Quit My Job?  

No Boss Bullshit: How Do I Get Away With Being Hungover At Work? 

Tags: Ask An Adult