Even the most dedicated and skilled professionals suffer from occasional “off days”, and smart managers know how to forgive errors when they occur once in a blue moon. However, if you’re consistently turning in work that includes factual mistakes and/or lacks the polish and precision expected by your supervisors, that constitutes a major performance issue. A reputation for producing sloppy work can result in being overlooked for promotions, receiving less-than-ideal assignments and, if the problems persist, in termination.
Luckily, it’s fully within your power to prevent sloppy work from yourself, and it’s also possible to encourage your coworkers to clean up their own acts. With patience, dedication, clear communication and plenty of self-awareness, you’ll be able to make sloppy work a thing of the past and establish yourself as a meticulous employee with an excellent eye for detail.
What exactly is “sloppy” work?
Of course, the definition of sloppy work varies from workplace to workplace (and from industry to industry). A course of action that seems completely acceptable in one office could be totally sub-standard in another, and gaining a strong sense of your own company’s norms is an essential first step to avoiding unsatisfactory results.
In a general sense, these three situations tend to qualify as “sloppy” in the vast majority of workplaces:
1. Producing a study, a presentation or a document without engaging in a thorough fact-checking process.
Factual mistakes aren’t just embarrassing for you and disappointing to your supervisor; they can also result in legal trouble for your company.
2. Regularly forgetting to complete important and routine elements of your work.
These can include sending project updates to your boss, copying the correct people on emails and filing reports by their deadlines.
3. Failing to speak up when instructions and guidelines are unclear and turning in assignments that don’t meet expectations as a result.
Your manager needs to know when the specifics of a task aren't clear, and by staying silent, you're compromising your own work and setting your boss up to be disappointed.
Essentially, the “sloppy” adjective refers to any work that falls well below your company’s concept of acceptable performance.
How to get consistently-satisfactory work from your employees
If your employees make a habit of producing below-standard work, it unfortunately (but rightfully) reflects poorly on you as a manager. A successful boss needs to keep her employees aware of their work quality and to take necessary steps to fix areas that require improvement. To bring your team’s performance up to the appropriate level, try these strategies:
Require your employees to double-check their work before passing it along.
While giving a project a final check before handing it off seems like an obvious necessity, some workers forgo this step — usually to their own detriment. But if you as the manager inform your team that reviewing their own work is a mandatory task, and that you’re prepared to enforce consequences if you receive “completed” assignments with careless errors.
Assign work tasks that suit your employees’ individual strengths.
The simplest way to prevent sloppy work is to dole out tasks in a judicious manner. For example, if you have an employee who consistently writes clear, articulate, grammatically-perfect memos, hand writing-related tasks off to her whenever possible. It’s certainly possible to help an employee grow her capacity for precision, but one of your team members has a natural knack for a certain task, she’s more likely to produce results that meet with your approval.
Address problems with work quality quickly and directly.
A sustained pattern of sloppy work won’t rectify itself, but when it comes to sitting their employees down to discuss their not-so-great performance, many managers choose to procrastinate. However, your reports can’t correct their mistakes if they don’t understand exactly where they’re falling short, and it’s your responsibility as a boss to tell them when their work isn’t satisfactory, to ensure that they fully understand your department’s expected standards, to give them clear instructions on how to elevate the quality of their work and to take disciplinary action if you don’t see improvements.
How to prevent yourself from delivering sloppy work
Even if you’re fully aware of the unacceptable nature of job-related sloppiness, it can be painfully easy to excuse yourself for producing work that’s less than impeccable. “I had a bad day”, “This assignment doesn’t suit my strengths”, “My boss didn’t give me a clear idea of what she wanted” — all justifications that may spring to mind in this situation. However, because sloppy work shouldn’t become habitual (at least, not if you’re hoping to keep your job), a savvy employee should know how to get herself back on track. If you need some help getting started, consider these questions and answers:
What’s the best way to limit workplace mistakes?
Of course, we’re all human, and human beings make errors every now and then. However, developing positive work habits can reduce the likelihood of damaging “oops” scenarios. To improve your work’s quality, be honest with yourself about the time you’ll need to complete your task, and remain rigorous about maintaining your focus and attention. Do NOT skimp on proofreading and double-checking, and if you have trouble meeting deadlines, try setting calendar reminders and alarms to keep yourself on-schedule.
How should you behave after making a mistake at work?
After messing up a work project, you may feel an immediate inclination to offer effusive apologies to your boss. And it’s certainly true that you should discuss the matter with your supervisor as soon as possible. But if your manager is good at her own job, she’ll be less interested in mea culpas and more interested in how you plan to avoid errors in the future. Therefore, after turning in a sloppy assignment, you should openly acknowledge the mistakes, tell your boss that you’ll do everything in your power to prevent them from recurring, and give her a specific idea of how you plan to avoid errors in future projects.
What are the consequences of producing consistently sloppy work?
Considering the negative impact that sloppy work can have on your career path often proves a useful deterrent, because the consequences can indeed be severe. Employees known for sub-standard work regularly receive less-desirable assignments, and they aren’t at the top of anyone’s list for promotions. Also, dismissing an employee who delivers unimpressive results is a perfectly legitimate course of action for a manager, so if you let sloppy work become a way of life, it can easily cost you your job.