What To Do When You Keep Making Mistakes At Work Due To Stress and How to Avoid
If you’ve lately noticed that you’re making mistakes at work, it can very well be due to stress, or rather, stress that’s not dealt with properly. Stress is normal, and there’s no escaping it. In small doses, stress can motivate you to get stuff done, or help you cope with a high-pressure situation. This is because of the adrenaline that’s released into your blood.
However, high levels of stress over a prolonged period of time can adversely affect your performance at work. Since unmanaged stress leads to poor decision-making and general anxiety, you are bound to make more mistakes when you’re stressed. Learning how to minimize the stressors in your life and also manage your stress better, will positively affect your work performance.
11 People On The Biggest Mistake They Made At Work
I can’t tell you the number of dumb mistakes I’ve made at work — the kind that are completely embarrassing in the moment, especially if they aren’t necessarily work-related. Once, while reading a Jezebel article at my receptionist job in college, I clicked on a link to a rather racy Wikipedia article, which I was not expecting to include an image of a naked woman covered in whipped cream. I didn’t click out of it before an older VP walked by my desk. I internally freaked out, worried I would be fired for looking at porn, and let my direct supervisor know what happened right away, lest she find out first from someone else. She kindly equipped me with a tinted screen protector, so that no one passing by would be able to see what I had open on my desktop, and the incident never came up again.
This is just one example of a work mistake, and a very minor one at that. And though it’s the one that I remember giving me the most immediate anxiety, there are many more. I fell asleep (more than once) at the very first job I ever had, summer interning at an insurance company as a junior in high school, because it was the first time I’d ever had to focus on essentially one task for eight hours. I once accidentally texted my boss something that was meant for a friend with the same first name, and it included a few ~colorful~ phrases. There were other missteps that simply showed poor judgment on my part, too, like how I used to take gratuitous advantage of printing privileges, and once got caught printing three drafts of my entire college thesis from my work computer.
My point is, we all make embarrassing mistakes at work, and even if we learn from them, we’re bound to make embarrassing mistakes in the future. I don’t think I’m going to never get caught with my foot in my mouth after saying the wrong thing, again, simply because I’m an adult with some perspective. Similarly, you can be a very responsible individual, one who is well past being newly 21 and still viewing alcohol as a novelty, yet make a few missteps and find yourself saddled with one of the worst hangovers of your life (perhaps because you are not newly 21 anymore).
But, as embarrassing or silly as those mistakes may feel, they’re simply a part of life. Something very, very real is the idea that misery loves company, and hearing other people tell you stories about their mistakes is extremely cathartic. That’s why whole websites like Texts From Last Night exist: they allow us to laugh at our own shortcomings (or simply moments of drunken idiocy), and find solace in the fact that mistakes are completely human. Of course, work mistakes may be a lot more anxiety-inducing, since — much of the time, at least — the environment is far more serious, and a big enough mistake could put your financial security in jeopardy (or even others’ safety, depending on your job). But I think the immediate seriousness of these kinds of errors is even more of a reason to seek out others’ similar stories, or to read about terrible mistakes that make yours seem like absolutely nothing.
This archived Reddit thread is a treasure trove of people’s worst work mistakes. I highly encourage you to comb through the whole thing, especially if you are in need of some workplace-anxiety-catharsis. If you prefer to just read the highlights, we’ve collected some of our favorite answers below — some funny, some not-so-funny, some with terrible consequences, some pretty gross.
1. “I managed a pool when I was younger, and one night I forgot to turn off the chlorine pump. When I got out of my car the next morning to open up, I was hit by an overwhelming smell of bleach. When I finally got to the pool, it was yellow. Took three days of flushing to get the pool useable again.” – hdg3xb
2. “A long time ago when I worked in foods, I forgot to put salmon and crab in the salmon crab cakes, and didn’t tell anyone because I was embarrassed. People were now paying $18 for bread cakes. I still feel guilty.” – 4ofclubs
3. “When I was young, I worked at a paintball field. I was a referee/general employee. The main part of my job was to take the players (which were usually 10-13 year-old kids for birthday parties) for a ‘Safety Briefing’ and explain all the rules, stressing they they should never take their mask off, etc. Well one day, I come in and we have a huge party, like 40 kids from a hockey team or something. My manager says, ‘Take the kids to the staging area for the safety briefing.’
“Usually, we have a room designed for the briefings, but we wouldn’t fit inside. So once we get to the staging area i completely blank out, and i just send these kids out on the field…The result, 10 kids remove their masks, and two of them are shot in the face, one permanently losing their vision. As a result, the field shut down.” – PaintballThrowaway
Assess the Damage
You realize you’ve made a mistake, but at what magnitude? It’s important to assess the damage and fix what you can, if possible. Some minor mistakes may not have a major impact, and there may not be a lot that can be done to fix them. Other mistakes, however, can be potentially catastrophic and it may be critical to address them as soon as possible. Some mistakes can also have a ripple effect and may affect other team members or departments within an organization. You may need to determine just how far this mistake goes and notify anyone affected as soon as possible. It can be hard to focus on these things once you realize a mistake has been made, but the sooner you can work on fixing it (or at the very least, notifying anyone affected), the better off you’ll be in the long run.
As Indeed.com points out, making a big mistake at work can make you very upset, and understandably so. However, it’s important to keep things in perspective and avoid getting emotional in the workplace and around your colleagues. On the other hand, you don’t want to be too aloof or nonchalant about the situation, either. Own up to what you’ve done and make sure others know you are remorseful and apologetic, but at the same, keep things professional, stay calm and don’t make a scene.
Be Upfront and Apologize
If you’re aware that you made a mistake at work, don’t hope that it will just disappear or that nobody else will notice. Instead, meet with your boss privately, explain the situation, and apologize. Honesty is always an appreciated quality in an employee. Your boss will also appreciate the fact that you owned up to the mistake and apologized for it. An explanation may or may not be necessary — perhaps you were stressed or distracted, but sometimes, mistakes just happen. However, explaining to your boss how you plan on avoiding these mistakes in the future can be reassuring.
When you do inevitably make a mistake, don’t dwell on it too much or beat yourself up for it. You can think about where things went wrong and you could have been done differently, but instead of using this experience as a way to punish yourself, turn it into a lesson and learn from it. Keep a positive attitude and make a plan that helps you avoid repeating the same mistake in the future. Depending on what exactly happened, sharing what you’ve learned with your colleagues may also be helpful for them, and can also help them to avoid making a similar mistake. If you do end up losing your job as an end result, it can be devastating at first, but again, remember to use this as a learning moment. We are always learning and always improving, and while we may never be perfect, we can always strive to be better versions of ourselves as we continue on our career paths.