How to recover from a mistake at work

Work mistake

Below are a few examples of managerial errors and some tips for making a comeback.

Everyone makes mistakes, and managers are no exception. Unfortunately, because of your status and responsibilities, your missteps may garner more attention and have more consequences than if a junior employee did something similar. It’s important to know how to recover from a mistake quickly and move on. Below are a few examples of managerial errors and some tips for making a comeback.

You’re a micromanager
A good boss knows the difference between managing and micromanaging. Employees want supervisors to trust them to make decisions and work independently. When you watch over your employees’ every move like a vulture, they feel as if you’re just waiting for them to slip up. Such an environment isn’t conducive to high morale or job satisfaction.

If your own boss has told you to stop micromanaging, what do you do next? It may be difficult, but the first step in recovering from this mistake and regaining workers’ trust is to acknowledge your shortcomings. Tell your direct reports you’ve been squandering their time and talents with your micromanagement and that things will be different from now on.

Follow through on your word. Give them decision-making power and, as the “Frozen” song advises, let it go. More important, ask them to hold you accountable in case you slip back into old habits.

You didn’t give good instructions
When employees don’t get enough direction or the right information, they can take a project down a different path than you expected. Nobody wants to start a project over from scratch because they were given vague or confusing guidelines. Misdirection can even make employees feel like they were set up for failure.

If you’re guilty of giving bad directions, you owe your team an apology. Express regret for not explaining the assignment better, and then make sure they’re clear on exactly what they need to do going forward. In the future, avoid situations like this by giving clear and detailed instructions, asking for questions and comments, and checking in periodically to make sure nobody is heading into the weeds.

You really stepped in it
The press loves writing about executive blunders. Whether it’s an unfortunate slip of the tongue, getting caught in a lie or losing millions of company dollars, a public mistake is embarrassing and gut wrenching — and you think you’ll never get over it. While some executives are fired or asked to resign over a misstep or poor judgment, most survive the fallout.

But how to recover from a mistake, especially when it damaged the company’s reputation (not to mention your own) and/or cost money to fix? For one, there’s no need to fall on the sword, although one in three managers surveyed for a Robert Half survey said they’ve accepted blame for something that wasn’t their fault.

However, if you were the one who erred, here’s how to get back on your feet and put the mistake behind you. It won’t be easy, but it is necessary.

1. Say you’re sorry. Apologize to your boss, shareholders, the board, people who work for you, the public — anyone who felt the repercussions of your mistake. Don’t dodge or get defensive. Accept full responsibility for your actions.

2. Fix the problem. Can you undo the damage or salvage the situation? If not, do whatever you can to mitigate the impact of your mistake. If you’ve made a bad hire, for example, take the onus for firing the person and recruiting a replacement.

3. Live and learn. The worst mistake is not the one you just made, but failing to learn from it. We are the sum of our experiences. Furthermore, don’t let this one get you down and make you afraid to take risks in the future.

No one wants to fumble on the job, but it happens. Use the incident as a growth opportunity for yourself, your team and your organization. Knowing how to recover from a mistake means the difference between regaining people’s trust and losing their respect — or even your job.

Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 400 staffing and consulting locations worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit For additional management advice, read our blog at or follow us on social media at