I know it has never happened to you, but some of us make mistakes at work. Big, bad, messy mistakes that could rock your company and end your career.
While making a mistake is easy, correcting a career-ending boo-boo can be tough. This is why you will not make a mistake by reading Heather Yamada-Hosley’s recent blog post on Lifehacker, “What to Do If You Make a Big Mistake at Work.”
It is Yamada-Hosley’s thesis that “knowing how to react could save you from losing your job.” I’m not so sure. You could be working for a boss who believes in taking risks. In this environment, if you’re not making mistakes, you’re simply not trying hard enough.
(If mistakes are encouraged at your company, please let me know. I want to apply for a job.)
For most people, the immediate reaction to making a big mistake is to make an every bigger effort to hide it. No matter how huge the blunder, it goes without saying that you say it didn’t happen.
You have no idea why your company’s biggest customer has just announced they’re moving to your biggest competitor. You haven’t a clue as to who insulted the client’s wife, and as for crashing your company car into the living room of the senior vice president of sales, that is simply an urban myth.
Considering the teeny-tiny brains of your managers, you may actually get away with it.
If there is no way you can convince your boss that buying scratchers with the money earmarked for the company picnic wasn’t a shrewd financial brainstorm, your next move is to blame someone else.
Who to blame is up to you. I suggest choosing someone who has crossed you big-time. Like that weasel in human resources who called you on the carpet for putting a measly $10K personal vacation on your expense account.
He gets the blame and you get off the hook—that’s turning a sow’s ear into a Hermes Matte Crocodile Birkin Bag, no question about it.
Surprisingly, Yamata-Hosley does not agree with the “deny, deny, deny” or the “blame, blame, blame” approaches. “As soon as you realize you’ve made a mistake,” she writes, “bring it to your boss’ attention.”
The idea here is that if you don’t tell your boss, someone else will—like that weasel in HR.
You would think that fessing up to a mistake would be sufficient to get you off the hook. Not necessarily so.
Sure, you told the truth and explained that the mistake occurred because you weren’t paying attention, and didn’t really care, anyway, and besides, you had just come back from a long boozy lunch at the Kit Kat Klub and were totally blitzed.
This explanation could win you points for candor. More likely, it will also win you an all-expense paid trip to the nearest unemployment office.
I recommend that if you do decide to proactively reveal your blunder, put the mistake in context.
“Yes, I made a petit faux pas,” you say, with the continental insouciance for which you are famous, “but I’ve made far bigger mistakes in the past, and will make even bigger mistakes in the future. Relatively speaking, this current mistake may seem like a disaster, but it is only a teeny-tiny slip-up compared to the truly massive screw-ups I’m capable of.”
If that doesn’t work, take an aggressive stance, and use your mega-blooper as emotional jiujitsu against your unsuspecting manager. “Yes, I made a big mistake,” you admit, “but you made an even bigger mistake. You hired me.”
If you do manage to get past the moment of truth with your manager, you are further advised to “move forward with the solutions your boss has approved and keep them in the loop on progress and results.”
Or maybe not.
After making a mistake, the best course of action is to make yourself scarce. Call in sick. Say you’ve been abducted by aliens. It doesn’t matter as long as you disappear from the work place until the fallout from the kerfuffle has dissipated. If you can’t wait to see if the ax will drop, stay at work but keep a low profile. Change your appearance by dying your hair, or start wearing harem pants, or just accelerate your current efforts and put on an extra 50 pounds.
You’ll be unrecognizable, and that’s never a mistake. It’s a basic law of business success—if they can’t find you, they can’t blame you.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.