So You Made a Mistake at Work: What to Do

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Years ago, an employee came into my office, pale, and said she expected me to fire her.

As part of a rebranding, FrogDog had printed thousands of folders with a client’s new brandmark and tagline. Responsible for the project, she had approved the creative before sending it to the printer.

Only when the folders arrived—some to our offices and the majority to our clients—did she catch a glaring typo in the client’s tagline on the folder’s cover.

She knew we would have to call the client and point out the error—and that we would have to eat the five-figure cost of reprinting.


Mistakes happen. What matters is how we handle them. So what should a person do when she realizes she’s made a huge blunder?

  • As my employee did in the scenario described above, own up to the error the moment you uncover the problem—and if someone else discovers it, take responsibility immediately.

  • Don’t use the passive voice: “It appears a mistake was made.” No—you made the mistake. Person up and shoulder the burden.

  • Don’t make excuses. People who make excuses try to justify the error. In doing so, they come across as whiny and blame-shifting.

  • Why a mistake happened doesn’t matter as much as how you will ensure it doesn’t happen again. Clearly explain the steps you will take to prevent the issue from reoccurring.

  • If you receive a reprimand, accept it with grace. Don’t whine to your coworkers. Don’t act like a petulant child. Bear your consequences.

Did I fire the employee who’d missed the typo? Absolutely not.

Impressed by the way she handled her mistake, I stood by her in rectifying the situation. Yes, the client hollered. Yes, my company had to reprint the folders and eat the cost. The employee put safeguards in place to ensure it didn’t happen again. And not too long after, I promoted her.

Have you ever made a huge blunder at work? What happened?