What To Do When You Make a Mistake at Work

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Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes happen at work. When you make a mistake at work, it could endanger a relationship with a client, cause a legal problem, or put people's health or safety at risk. Repercussions will ultimately trickle down to you.

Here are some steps to take when you make a mistake at work and want to try to correct it.

Key Takeaways

  • When you make a mistake at work, admit it and present a solution to your boss as quickly as possible.
  • Focus on your role in the mistake—blaming others won't fix anything.
  • If you can fix the mistake on your own time, then do so, but don't trigger overtime pay without first consulting your boss.

Admit Your Mistake

As soon as you discover that something went awry, immediately tell your boss. Don't try to hide your mistake. If you do that, you can end up looking a lot worse, and others could even accuse you of a coverup. Being upfront about it will demonstrate professionalism, a trait most employers greatly value.


If you make an insignificant error that will not affect anyone else, then you might not need to let anyone know. The same goes for errors that you can quickly correct.

Some mistakes may be so severe that they cost you your job. Even if you fear you could get fired, you need to let your boss know about the mistake before it gets worse. Being proactive and honest could help you keep your job, though it isn't guaranteed.

Present Your Boss With a Plan To Correct the Error

You will need to come up with a plan to rectify your mistake and present it to your boss. Hopefully, you will be able to put something together before you first approach them, but don't waste time if you can't. Reassure them that you are working on a solution.

Once you know what you need to do, present it. Be very clear about what you think you should do and what you expect the results to be. Tell your boss how long it will take to implement and any associated costs. While making a mistake is never a good thing, don't miss the opportunity to demonstrate your problem-solving skills.


Make sure to have a "Plan B" ready, in case your boss shoots down "Plan A."

Don't Point Fingers at Anyone Else

In a team-oriented environment, there is a good chance other people were also responsible for the error. While people are typically thrilled to take credit for successes, they are reluctant to own mistakes. If you can, get everyone to approach your boss together to alert them that something has gone wrong.

Unfortunately, you might not be able to make that happen. There are going to be some people who say "it's not my fault." It won't help you to point fingers at others, even if they do share responsibility for the mistake. In the end, hopefully, each person will be held accountable for his or her own actions.

Apologize, But Don't Beat Yourself Up

There's a big difference between taking responsibility and beating yourself up. Admit your mistake but don't berate yourself for making it, especially in public. If you keep calling attention to your error, that is what will stick in people's minds.

You want your boss to focus on your actions after you made the mistake, not on the fact that it happened in the first place. Be careful about tooting your own horn, though. Bragging about how you fixed things will not only call attention to your original blunder, it could raise suspicions that you made a mistake so you could swoop in to save the day.

If Possible, Correct the Mistake on Your Own Time

If you are exempt from earning overtime pay, then you might want to get to work early, stay late, and spend your lunch hour at your desk for as long as it takes to correct your mistake. This won't be possible if you are a non-exempt worker since your boss will have to pay you overtime—1.5 times your regular hourly wage—for each hour you work over 40 hours per week. You certainly don't want to stir up more trouble by forcing them to pay you extra, so get your boss's permission if you have to work longer hours on the clock.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I get fired for making mistakes at work?

Depending on how bad of a mistake you make at work, you may get fired for it. Your employer may fire you if the mistake has a serious negative impact on the business, casts you in an incompetent light, or is part of a pattern of mistake-making.

Is it OK to make mistakes at work?

Some small mistakes are acceptable and expected in the workplace. If you're learning new tasks, for example, the employer might expect that you make some mistakes as you learn. What's acceptable may vary by workplace, so speak with your manager about what kind of mistakes are a normal part of learning and which mistakes you need to avoid.

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  1. Department of Labor. "Overtime Pay."

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