4 Ways to Recover After Majorly Messing Up at Work

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Kayla Heisler1.16k

Making a simple error like double booking a meeting or misspelling a client’s name may feel awful in the moment, but those miscalculations are nothing you can’t bounce back from. However, there is a significant difference between making a minor mistake and consciously making a bad decision that can tarnish your reputation beyond repair. 

It’s important to always consider the potential consequences of your actions before making a choice that could have a negative outcome. Protect your professional reputation by avoiding these career pitfalls:

1. Gossiping to (or about) the wrong person.

It’s pretty safe to say that the best rule to follow when it comes to workplace gossip is to avoid gossiping altogether. Not only can gabbing about a coworker lead to hurt feelings, but it can also hurt your career. You never know who will keep your conversations to themselves and who will spread comments made in private to the public. 

Never say anything about a coworker that you wouldn’t say to them; you could be one snarky email comment away from unemployment. Even if you regularly have dish sessions with a coworker, you could malign a peer who they’re close with without realizing it. If word of your insults reaches someone with power, you could risk losing out on a promotion, get fired or ruin your chances of receiving a positive recommendation in the future.

2. Refusing to learn new skills.

No matter your age, years of experience or current skill level, there’s always room for improvement. Don’t let attaining a certain title or reaching a certain goal keep you from expanding your knowledge. If you’re just starting out, take every opportunity to learn from those who have been working longer. If you’ve been in the game for decades, ask those who are starting out how they get things done to stay on top of recent innovations. 

Whether you’re a brain surgeon or an administrative assistant, being aware of the smartest way to work is crucial. If the company you work for is acquired or a new system is implemented, companies are more likely to ax those who don’t adapt than those who have a strong track record of welcoming change.

3. Letting fear control your moves.

Growth is a key component of having a good career. Turning down projects because you’re afraid of failing will cause your career to stagnate. While you shouldn’t burn yourself out, you also should keep challenging yourself and give yourself room to grow. Sitting out networking opportunities or chances to take on extra responsibilities because you’re afraid of messing up can lead to you having a dead-end career and missing out on powerful experiences. 

4. Rage quitting.

Videos of people rage quitting are kind of hilarious. But no matter how many times a week (or — let’s be real — a day) you may fantasize about airing your list of grievances to your entire office and walking out without looking back, it will harm you more than your boss in the long run. 

If you plan on leaving your job, resign gracefully instead of burning bridges. People talk, and there’s always a chance that the boss you walk out on is connected to people at other companies that you may want to work for in the future. Don’t let rage quitting one horrible job keep you from getting better jobs in the future.  

5. Posting inappropriately online.

Once it’s out there, it’s out there forever. While it’s important to do regular sweeps of your social media activity to make sure that nothing from your past will come back to haunt you, it’s also important to remember that anything you do post has the potential for anyone to see. 

Similar to rage quitting, posting an expletive-filled rant may feel amazing in the moment, but the consequences could be dire after the dust settles. Even anonymous misdeeds are at risk of being exposed.  Recruiters pay attention to your online presence. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t write harmful things to others because it’s a bad thing to do, but protecting your career should be another layer of motivation to back away from the keyboard. 

I messed up... now what?

After the damage is done, how can you salvage it? Everyone messes up sometimes, and sometimes we mess up majorly. Even if you’ve made one of these seriously bad choices, the only way out is through:

1. Don’t just give up!

Be proactive and fix your problem as thoughtfully as possible.

2. Make better choices in the future.

Experiencing the negative consequences of a poor choice is never fun, but you can learn from your failures. 

3. Remember, you're not the first person who's ever made a poor choice. 

You're definitely not the only person... and you won’t be the last. So keep your head up!

4. Cope with your resentment.

Did a coworker’s poor choice impact you? Respond in a healthy way and move on as best you can.

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Kayla Heisler is a New York City-based writer who runs the newsletter totally recc’d