I get angry when employees make mistakes

A reader writes:

I’ve got a question regarding how much “mistake tolerance” is expected in the workplace.

I have very low, almost zero, tolerance for mistakes. Whenever I see a mistake in anyone’s work, especially trivial ones, I will get very angry. The rationale in my head is always “We have one job and one job only, and that’s to get this done! No excuses.” As such, I will remove the person from the project, in addition to having a detailed (sometimes heated) conversation with both the person about why such mistakes are not allowed in my team.

So how bad is this? I sort of know my intolerance is not good. But I just cannot forgive mistakes easily. Do you have any advice?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 404 comments… read them below }

    1. Anonys*

      To be honest, I think the OP should step back from managing, at least for now and work through these issues in therapy to learn how to accept mistakes (theirs and others) and figure out if their personality is generally suited for management. Regularly having heated conversations with your direct reports is not ok and is making people miserable.

      In an individual contributor, attention to detail about mistakes can be generally very positive (as long as OP doesn’t get angry at peers for making mistakes). But when managing people, coaching them through mistakes and difficulties is one of the key aspects of the job. Helping people improve and get better is what makes a good manager. And I would argue in order to help your employees advance and learn, sometimes it’s even crucial to put them on projects where initially, they will make some mistakes as they learn the ropes. Having a “low, almost zero, tolerance for mistakes” and getting “very angry” about trivial mistakes is not okay for a manager. I think basically the only time it’s justified to get angry about a “mistake” is if someone has been negligent in a way that puts other people at risk or causes significant financial damage.

      The OP’s “We have one job and one job only, and that’s to get this done! No excuses.” attitude also concerns me – I might be extrapolating but I imagine that this rigid attitude about work goes beyond just a low tolerance for mistakes and might extend into expecting employees to be “married to the job”, expecting long hours and being inflexible.

      OP – I don’t mean to pile on and honestly, I can relate to getting frustrated to seeing other people make mistakes, especially if I think I would have done it better. But for the sake of your team (and ultimately also your own job, as this might become an issue if people quit over your management), please have an honest look at your management style and use the resources available to you (both on AAM on how to manage well and therapy).

      1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

        This LW could be the manager of the young woman a couple of weeks ago whose manager put her on a PIP, excluded her from all department activities, and eventually fired her for “a few careless errors in [her] first few weeks”. Where do these people come from that no one ever makes mistakes?

        Deleting an important database/file system/share data is practically a right of passage in the systems world. I don’t know a single person with more than a couple years of experience that doesn’t have a story about have to restore some important thing or other from a backup after they catastrophically messed up. Except maybe the few unlucky souls who have a similar story, but there was no backup.

        Either you work in an industry where you accept some mistakes happen, or your design systems to mitigate the impact of mistakes (code review, unit tests, backups, etc). No one doesn’t make mistakes, not matter how good they are at what they do.

        1. DataSci*

          Or both. Mistakes will always make it through code review, and test coverage is never 100%. If code review and tests were foolproof, there would never be any bugs that made it to production.

        2. Sova*

          “Where do these people come from that no one ever makes mistakes?”

          I think some of them come from bad Lean Six Sigma training in industries that just are not similar enough to manufacturing in the first place or with just absolutely terrible follow through and implementation. Like, if you only half pay attention to a mistake proofing lesson, go back to your office and publish one check list for people to follow while doing X, send one link to it and email/memo and then get mad if people ever make a mistake doing X and ream them out if they didn’t follow the check list exactly….while ignoring other factors, like that you are so understaffed and have such unrealistic expectations of how fast people are supposed to be working/how much to produce so that no one ever has the time to review the check list before doing X. Or you punish the people who are taking time to follow the X checklist but don’t meet your timelines more harshly than people who makes mistakes doing X.

        3. Widget*

          I don’t remember reading this one – do you happen to remember the header or have the link?

      2. FrenchCusser*

        I work in finance, and when I got promoted out of Accounts Payable, I had to train my replacement.

        Well, one month she totally messed up the Purchaser’s Visa bill – seriously made every possible mistake.

        She was VERY upset about it (she had previously worked at a very toxic workplace), but I just decided I needed to train her better. So the next month we sat down and did it together, and it was fine from there on.

        I’ve told her I would hate to create an environment where people were afraid to own their mistakes, because then those mistakes don’t get fixed (besides that just being completely sucky).

        Mistakes – everyone makes them.

        1. Mother Trucker*

          This is exactly my thought. I have a 3 mistake rule. If someone makes the same mistake twice, it was just a mistake and I’ll just fix it. If they make it three times, then we didn’t train them properly and it’s now worth bringing up. No sound adult just wants to do their job poorly. They don’t realize it is wrong.

        2. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Being angry about mistakes is one really good way of never being told about them. This can and will bite you in the rear (glancing briefly at the surprisingly substandard performance of a currently invading army).

  1. Loulou*

    It stood out to me that OP has a detailed conversation about why mistakes aren’t okay. Are they also having a detailed conversation about what the correct procedure is? That is more helpful to me!

    My boss is great at this. He’ll often email our team after someone makes a small error or has a question explaining what the correct procedure is for everyone’s benefit. Even though he uses us as examples, I don’t feel singled out in a bad way because it’s totally unemotional, just super matter-of-fact. The key is just being straightforward and factual.

    1. Lacey*

      I think this is a great point – though it sounds to me more like the OP is freaking out of the kind of mistakes that just happen. Like a typo or forgetting that one of the project contributors can’t meet after 2pm.

      I’ve worked with multiple people who think that my work should be error free when it comes to them for proofing. But the reason they’re proofing it is because that’s not possible.

      They shouldn’t flip out about it and I shouldn’t take it personally that they found a couple of mistakes in my typing.

      1. There's No Such Thing As Unicorns*

        Yup, if the mistakes are that big of a deal, you have a process problem. Add in the proper checks so that these aren’t slipping through. Also, I feel inclined to point out that even robots make mistakes, and I am certain OP has made a mistake at work. It sounds like they need to work through some things, including self-awareness.

        1. Anonys*

          I don’t think the mistakes are a big deal, the OP even says that it’s especially trivial mistakes that make them angry. OP seems to be one of those people who can maybe understand if someone makes a mistake on a complex process or when something hasn’t been fully grasped yet but cannot stand mistakes they attribute to carelessness.

          1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            In fact they even say that *more* trivial mistakes make them *more* angry. Which is… a bit crazy?

          2. There's No Such Thing As Unicorns*

            Right, which to me says they also need to take a step back and rethink how their direct reports spend their time. Small mistakes (like inconsequential typos) can indicate efficiency. For example, it doesn’t make business sense to require your accountant to proofread an internal communication for 30 minutes just to ensure all the commas are in the right place. How much time and money is OP wasting with misplaced perfectionism?

            1. Koalafied*

              Yeah, I would not last at this place. A significant component of my job is writing for a public audience and I’ve always been praised for my “writing ability.”

              I’m also neurodivergent and some of the ways my particular difficulty with language processing manifests if I’m not going very slow, are that I frequently put the wrong endings on words (like -ed instead of -es), and less frequently but still with some regularity, I will write unrelated vague sort-of-but-not-really homophones instead of the word I mean (like speed instead of speak). I also get my 6s and 7s mixed up if I don’t take care with them, because they both start with “s” – I know how many items the numeral 6 represents but it’s never automatic for me to recall whether the name for that number of items is “six” or “seven.”

              Again, I’m a professional writer! But I’m not publishing unreviewed/unedited content, so as long as my editors know what I meant and can fix it, or at least flag it, it’s fine. That’s what they’re there for. My job is to primarily to produce compelling prose, not necessarily to transcribe it flawlessly into written text on my first draft.

      2. Greg*

        One of the greatest things I’ve learned is that no matter what processes are in place, no matter what procedures are followed, not matter how great the training regiments are…mistakes are going to happen. I’m not on edge waiting for one to happen but when they do, hey, mistakes happen. Now, how big of a mistake and what do we need to do to fix it (and is it a pattern?)?

        I’ve noticed people often panic more about something being wrong than the actual issue. Removing that panic from my day-to-day life has been liberating to say the least.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I also notice that people panic sometimes when the process DOES work.
          Per Lacey’s comment, they’re upset there’s a typo that’s caught in the last check–but that is just proof that the process worked as it should.

          Sure, you now want to discuss how to avoid that near miss, for safety’s sake, but it was nonetheless proof that your process works.

        2. The OTHER Other*

          Yes, even organizations with reputations for the highest quality realize mistakes are inevitable. The key is to have processes that catch as many of them as feasible given the constraints of time and budget, and also a process to train (and re-train, as necessary) the employees.

          This is an old letter so OP will probably not read this, but I still don’t want to pile on, but I will say I have family members and have had bosses like the OP. Accidents were never just accidents, inevitably there was a tirade about carelessness, what is WRONG with you, etc. Suffice to say relations with those family members are distant, at best, and I got out of the jobs with those managers ASAP.

          OP, employees are not making mistakes AT you. I hope you read Alison’s excellent and thorough answer and took it to heart. Honestly it sounds as though therapy, or at least intensive mentorship, was called for to help you work through these issues.

    2. quill*

      My kingdom for a WRITTEN list of correct procedures. Can’t make the computer do what you need if I’m translating from your context clues to me to computer.

    3. Chauncy Gardener*

      I agree! Mistakes happen and generally I find it helpful to understand that they can be indicative of a process, training or, less likely, people problem. Use a mistake as an opportunity to discover what could maybe be done better, to prevent it happening in the future.

    4. Wintermute*

      This is a good point. Maybe it’s because of my IT background but I think all bosses should really take a root cause analysis approach first and foremost. Problemsolving rather than blame-assigning is almost always going to get you further.

      I like to use the example of National Chemical Safety Board investigations, because their youtube videos and re-creations are fascinating to me. even if the immediate cause is obvious, they dig far further. In one real event An operator picked the wrong vat, overrode the safeties on a dump valve, and connected an air supply hose to override the backup power lockout, dumping thousands of liters of vinyl chloride on the floor and blowing up three people. the cause was obvious– but they don’t just stop there, they ask “why was it so easy to pick the wrong vat?” “why was the ‘tank full’ indicator not visible from the dump valve location?’ “why was it so easy to bypass the safety?” “Why was a tool which could be used to bypass the backup lockout located where you could reach it from the valve?” Even in case of malicious sabotage, they ask “why was this possible to do without someone stopping it?”

      Now this can be overdone, at a certain point if the answer is “our policies are clear and the procedures available, everyone knows where the runbooks are, this is something we’ve communicated clearly and should be well-known, training is there and we confirm everyone has knowledge of the right procedures; Fergus didn’t follow them for some inexplicable reason” well, then it might be legitimate to start disciplinary action on Fergus, but it shouldn’t be the first or only place you go.

      1. Asenath*

        I liked watching “Mayday” (I think the series was also broadcast under different names in different countries). It was exactly this sort of thing – airplane accidents examined in detail to figure out not only what happened, but what might prevent it from happening again. This included some cases in which a crash followed a very similar earlier one, and the recommendations from the earlier one hadn’t been implemented.

        In my own much less high risk life, I had to learn to let go of a bit of my perfectionism. Having high standards was fine; getting worked up over minor typos wasn’t.

          1. Kal*

            I think they mean a show literally called Mayday, broadcast as Air Crash Investigation in other regions. It focuses on real world investigations, where Departure is fictional. I suspect Departure was highly influenced by Mayday, since some of the scenarios they explored were straight from incidents covered by Mayday episodes (though it could have also just been inspired by the actual incident reports that Mayday also bases itself on).

            So if you liked Departure, look into Mayday Air Crash Investigation.

        1. Wintermute*

          it’s all a matter of time and effort. I had a boss pull that “what if doctors made mistakes as often as you idiots do?!” thing and it was absurd. Life-critical processes have safeguards that take time and money.

          At one job we did have a critical process, and the boss was an old navy nuclear officer. And he instituted the same procedure they used for reactor work (this was a system that handled e911 traffic for multiple states, for an understanding of the stakes)– ALL work was done by two people. One had the manual, one did the work. Manual Person would read out a line from the procedure, “confirm you are working on module A” the other guy would do it and repeat back, “Confirming we are working on module A” (adding “Aye” or “aye sir” optional, but traditional) while physically touching the “A” label. Then manual guy would read out, “locate channel-1 fiber optic” and the second guy would touch the channel-1 fiber cable and ask “confirm channel one fiber optic located?” and the manual guy would look and make sure he had the right one and go “confirmed channel one fiber optic in hand. Step 3: disconnect fiber optic from module” and they’d go on doing this the whole time.

          It was absolutely mistake-proof. But it was now a job for TWO engineers each with a six-figure salary… if you’re not willing to put up those kinds of bills, don’t expect perfection.

          1. Kellbell*

            Ha, I used to work at a daycare that had a near identical structure for feeding infants. Bottles and food were all parent provided, so making sure Baby Jane didn’t get Baby Adam’s breast milk was very important. Teacher one would ask teacher two “Teacher two can you confirm I am holding baby Jane?” teacher two would have to visually and verbally confirm the child’s identity, then teacher one would ask “teacher two can you confirm this bottle is labeled with baby Jane’s name?” then teacher two would again visually and verbally check that the bottle was both labeled with Jane’s name, and had a color coordinated rubber band around it with the correct color that was assigned to Jane. Both teachers would then need to sign off on the daily log. I hope it brings those parents comfort that their infant feeding was being treated with as much seriousness as nuclear reactor work!

            1. A Library Person*

              Going through fertility treatments is similar- you confirm your name several times throughout the procedure.

              1. JanetM*

                In my admittedly limited experience, pretty much every medical procedure requires confirming name, birth date, and planned procedure multiple times.

                1. Clisby*

                  Yes, even when I went to have my eyes checked after cataract surgery, I had to repeat my name and birthdate two or three times along the way.

                2. Anon Supervisor*

                  I was hospitalized with an intestinal blockage that the tried to fix via a colonoscopy and was asked why I was there that day. I was about to be snarky and say that I was getting my eyes checked the long way, but then realized they asked to make sure they weren’t going to scope someone who was dropped off at the wrong door.

          2. Kwsni*

            We do this in Vet med- especially if its something irreversible, and Im doing it on the order of a doctor; “Dr, I am giving cerenia to Fluffy.” Then i wait for both visual and verbal confirmation. We get pretty busy and things can change fast, so confirmation from other nurses in the room in not an acceptable substitute.

            1. The OG Sleepless*

              I always know when I’m working with a good tech when I get a steady stream of those little confirmations. :-)

          3. This is a name, I guess*

            My doctor signed my hip when I had surgery to ensure that he performed the surgery on the correct joint. I then had his signature on my body for weeks because it was permanent marker and my showering was limited.

            1. ceiswyn*

              Yup – when I had surgery, the anaesthesiologist confirmed who I was, confirmed what surgery I was having, confirmed which joint it was on, and then, with me awake and agreeing, drew a big arrow on my leg pointing at the correct ankle.
              The low-tech nature of it amused me, but I did also appreciate the simple elegance of it as a failsafe.

            2. Pennyworth*

              My doctor drew all over my hip, I don’t think he signed it, but when I asked if there were special pens for drawing on people he laughed and said “I just grabbed it from my kid’s desk this morning.”

              1. Very Social*

                As the parent of an artistic preschooler, I can confirm that you don’t need special pens to draw effectively on people!

            3. Rara Avis*

              My husband was given a pen to indicate which knee needed a meniscus repair. He was then left alone for a looong time due to some sort of mishap that required a deep clean of the surgical suite. He’s an artist. The permanent marker art was quite amusing. (He also decorated the wrong knee with, “Not this one!” and a growling dog.)

          4. Gumby*

            “what if doctors made mistakes as often as you idiots do?!” thing and it was absurd. Life-critical processes have safeguards that take time and money.

            Also? It isn’t as if doctors *never* make mistakes. They do! And the consequences may be large or small. But the reason that before my mom’s knee surgery at least 4 people confirmed which knee they were operating on and wrote on it with a sharpie is because at some point some doctor DID operate on the wrong knee.

            Plus, I assume doctors make more mistakes on lower stakes tasks that don’t have the safeguards. I’m sure they have typos in their emails just like anyone else.

            1. ceiswyn*

              I can certainly think of quite a lot of mistakes that doctors have made. Because, y’know, human.

            2. Azure Jane Lunatic*

              When I was getting radiation therapy, they told me that my picture would be posted outside the treatment room when I was going in, in addition to the verbal confirmations that I was used to.

            3. Gingerbread Gnome*

              I can confirm that a doctorate degree does not prevent typos. Just because you are excellent (or educated in) one area doesn’t make you good in all. Even proofreaders will miss spelling/useage mistakes.

              1. bowl of petunias*

                Yeah, I am a proofreader among other things and I once spent weeks drafting a long, complex document for my department. I proofed it myself three or four times. I got to the point where I couldn’t find a single issue with it. When it went to my colleague for a final proofing from a second pair of eyes, he found three errors in it. And he praised my work to the skies for being *almost* error-free, and I was very pleased myself that it was that good. Everyone makes mistakes, even the people whose job is to fix mistakes.

          5. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            We did this at the Missile Defense Agency. Every operation had (at minimum) two people involved: An administrator (who had the root password) and a QA person (who had the procedure). Very often there was also a rep from the component team that designed the component in question also, and if anything other than a keyboard and mouse needed to be touched there had to be a rep from the data center team.

            If at any point the procedure failed or one or more people in the group noted an error in the procedure, we had to stop, back out any changes already made, and wait for a new procedure. It was an expensive as hell way to do things, but it certainly kept errors to a minimum.

          6. tamarack & fireweed*

            I really like this sub-threadlet. It illustrates that the OP isn’t just overly rigid about errors, and inappropriately angry in the workplace – but that the OP has really no understanding at all of what mistakes are, and how to design systems around them.

          7. Rolly*

            I had a professor in library school who worked for a company that owned, among other things, nuclear power plants. Their records and document management practices for those plants were very very tight. She explicitly told us that in most contexts, it would be a waste of time and money to be that tight. Misplacing a copy of Highlights magazine in a regular library is bad, but not that bad. Missing a copy of a manual in the control room of a nuclear power plant could be catastrophic.

            Perfection or near-perfection has costs, so it’s always a trade off.

          8. London*

            “what if doctors made mistakes as often as you idiots do?!”

            I never understood that. “Good thing we’re not doctors then huh?” doesn’t seem to be the response they’re looking for either

            1. EchoGirl*

              Mayday/Air Crash Investigations/Air Disasters are all alternate titles of the same show. (Air Disasters is the title used by the Smithsonian channel and some of their affiliated streaming services.)

        2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          In my own much less high risk life, I had to learn to let go of a bit of my perfectionism. Having high standards was fine; getting worked up over minor typos wasn’t

          Likewise. In my case, it helped to redirect that energy into making mistakes that’ll happen easy to correct.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            The other thing that helped was putting energy into removing opportunities for errors by automating things.

        3. Mangled metaphor*

          Air Crash Investigations in the UK on Nat Geo.
          The program also points out that very frequently there is often multiple little causes of an accident, any one of which could have been a problem, but taken together caused a disaster.

      2. Juniper*

        Yes, the “5 Whys” of Root Cause Analysis. We use that in our business too (manufacturing.) There are sometimes several causes of events, and it’s important to find as many as possible to improve for next time.

        It sounds like this boss isn’t digging past “someone made a mistake” to find out why they made a mistake, which must be understood to prevent it from happening again. Starting all over with a new employee without improving the process just guarantees you’ll be stuck repeating that first, most obvious error/root cause without learning.

        1. Mr. Shark*

          Sometimes all the 5 Whys you go through and you still end up with a person just made a mistake, no matter what. You can also try error proofing to avoid that, even if your processes are clear, training is correct, and everything else checks the boxes.

          1. Lab Boss*

            This. I’ve been guilty of a mistake and the 5 Why’s just ended up at “we have to have two chemical compounds on hand that have extremely similar names and look identical and there’s really not an absolutely perfect way to prevent someone from picking up the wrong one.” The mistake cost us a few days and about a thousand dollars and any multi-person step-by-step mistake proofing would have just made everything even slower and more expensive than the mistake did.

            1. Anonymous4*

              I don’t work in a lab, but is it possible to put a strip of red tape around the bottle of sodium sulfate decahydrate and a strip of blue tape around the bottle of sodium sulfite decahydrate? (Yes, I made one of them up.) That way you’d have a low-cost, easy way to distinguish between compound A and compound B — as long as you keep marking the bottles the same way until the end of time. And if it’s acceptable to do so.

              1. Lab Boss*

                Without getting into too much sticky depth: That would work in a lot of cases (and we have some systems similar to that). In this particular case both things were needed for the same process just at different times, so they had to be stored near each other. It wasn’t so much that I thought Compound A was really Compound B, it’s that the names and uses are so similar that I saw Compound A and thought “yes of course this is what I need” even though it was really Compound B. Just a weird little edge case.

                1. possibly-an-alien*

                  To solve this issue, pharmacy uses Tall Man lettering.

                  DiPHENhydramine and diMENhydrinate are very similar meds that do very similar things, and it’s not uncommon to have both running on a patient profile. They also live quite close to each other on the shelf. By capitalizing different letters, it becomes easier to pick the one you want reliably.

      3. TootsNYC*

        my husband was really into air-crash videos, and that similar sort of analysis was fascinating. I used to see parallels to how I organize my department, in trying to prevent possible errors simply because you’ve installed software, standardized on only one screw length, etc.

      4. Mannequin*

        “ I like to use the example of National Chemical Safety Board investigations, because their youtube videos and re-creations are fascinating to me. even if the immediate cause is obvious, they dig far further. ”

        I JUST discovered their YouTube channel and I am HOOKED! They really get down into the nitty gritty so as to help prevent similar accidents in the future.

    5. TootsNYC*

      I’m so interested to read this.
      I recently spotted a large number of mistakes from multiple people in a short timeframe. Many of them were factual errors where people were trying to add “color” or detail to a phrasing, and they chose the wrong words or inserted something that wasn’t true. (Milan is not the capital of Italy.)

      I thought that using specific examples was the best way to demonstrate where the problem was coming from and why it was important. But I didn’t want to get into pointing fingers or making people feel bad.
      I tried to be matter-of-fact, and simply to focus on the danger and the responsibility going forward, and not on “how horrible everyone was!” in blaming, etc.

      Because blaming people is not only mean, it makes people defensive, and then they won’t internalize the lesson.

      1. Loulou*

        This is a great example! And I do think there’s a real art to highlighting specific mistakes without making people feel bad or like you’re blaming them. My boss is one of those people who is just really matter-of-fact and all business whether he’s praising the team or giving constructive feedback, so it never feels personal when he is like “take a look at this email from Loulou, she should have done this instead” (preventing everyone from making the same mistake next time).

    6. Haven’t picked a user name yet*

      I have spent my career ~20 years in Risk Management or Audit (or in a tangential area) and my entire career has been built on the maxim that human beings make mistakes.

      Procedures are all well and good but having clearly defined and well designed controls are necessary. People will make mistakes. So what is in place to help them make fewer mistakes, and identify the mistakes before they impact the business.

    7. MusicWithRocksIn*

      You are also never going to keep good people around if all mistakes get the same disproportionate response. If I am mistake free and do excellent work for two years, but get taken off a project for one mistake, and have to work with the constant gloom of fear of angry lashing out looming over all of us, I’m gonna be looking for another job as soon as I can. That kind of toxic atmosphere can be crushing to live with.

      1. pancakes*

        Yes. If I was in this environment I’d be looking for an exit whether any of the the mistakes were mine or not. No one with better options wants to work for someone with anger problems.

      2. hbc*

        Ooh, that’s an interesting point. The people who really, really try hard to avoid errors are going to be devastated by being treated this way and would avoid working for this person at all costs. Meanwhile, the thick-skinned “whatever, no one got hurt” guys who are used to being yelled at are going to be fine with being assigned back to Captain High Standard because they never meet anyone’s standards.

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          Oh wow, this. This boss is all but ensuring they get stuck with cavalier, careless people. Talk about being your own worst enemy!

        2. allathian*

          Yeah. And to be fair, the LW deserves nothing else. I’d hate to work for them, that’s for sure.

    8. Rachel in NYC*

      Or why it matters.

      I have a colleague who works 95% on other tasks but is sometimes assigned to my area. In other areas in my office, people generally don’t fuss over emails. In my area, we’re pretty fussy about emails.

      We communicate with a lot of people from both outside our department and outside our company via email so we think that it’s important that the emails convey the right image.

      Explaining why I care so much about the formatting and language of the emails has helped make sure that emails have been more in line with our preference. (I’d never thought about explaining the why- it made sense to me when I started the job. But it’s just like teaching people anything- everyone learns things different manners.)

      1. Lego Leia*

        Thank you for teaching email etiquette! I am struggling to enforce proper email use and it is hard when bad habits are entrenched.

    9. Not So NewReader*

      “Are they also having a detailed conversation about what the correct procedure is?”

      I would be very surprised if the OP was doing this. Angry people usually aren’t very good at explaining things. Worse, people are not very receptive to explanations that are screamed at them.

    10. aebhel*

      This. Everybody knows that making mistakes isn’t okay – that’s LITERALLY why they’re called mistakes. The point isn’t to punish someone for having the gall to make an error; it’s to do what you can to make sure that the mistake doesn’t happen again.

    11. GarlicMicrowaver*

      To give the OP the benefit of the doubt, there are some industries that do not allow for mistakes. It does not sound like this is the case, though, otherwise not sure why they would have written in. But I’d encourage the OP to take a long, hard look at themselves and think back to a time when they made even the tiniest of mistakes.

      1. London*

        In my experience these people usually have a really hard time remembering their mistakes. Still not sure if they just gloss over and minimize it or they really never make mistakes at all

  2. Goldenrod*

    I think Alison’s comment here is extremely insightful:

    “a pattern of strong negative reactions to something that doesn’t warrant that intensity is usually connected to something more deeply rooted, and very often isn’t about work at all.”

    To me, that’s the crux of the issue. My last boss was intolerant of any mistake, anytime, by anyone. But, to my mind, the issue was never really the mistake, because her emotional reaction was so outsized. Even the smallest, most inconsequential mistake was intolerable to her.

    I think what was really going on was rage. She had a deep-seated, unresolved rage, and she used her positional power at work to express it.

    Once in a while, she would blame me for something and I was able to instantly prove that I had not actually made a mistake at all. If this were about the work, that would make her happy and relieved, yes? It did not. I could see the disappointment all over her face.

    Because I had denied her the opportunity to take her anger out on me. And that’s what basically (in her mind) I was there for – to absorb her anger.

    Alison is so right about emotion at work – strong emotion at work (especially negative emotion) is usually about something else….

    Like Alison

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Yeah. It’s about power over others. They derive enjoyment over “catching” people’s mistakes and even angrier if the person proves there was no mistake. People are strange.

      1. The OTHER Other*

        These are hallmarks of a certain species of terrible boss, and as with venomous snakes, the best solution is to avoid startling them and get yourself out of there ASAP. Only those with extensive skills, training, and tools should ever attempt to approach to trap or contain these dangerous reptiles.

    2. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. When it becomes personal, then it’s no longer about the incident, the employee, or the job. I would love a follow up on this, to see if OP figured out what was making them so miserable, inflexible, and angry. Small mistakes are just that. This behavior makes much bigger issues out of little ones.

      1. evens*

        When people get really angry over the mistakes that others make, I find that they are usually just as hard on themselves when they make a mistake. They are super insecure and don’t really like themselves, because they aren’t as perfect as they think they should be.

        OP needs some sort of counseling or serious introspection to figure out why they are so emotional about small mistakes, and fix that stat. I can’t imagine how their subordinates feel with a boss like that.

        1. Ally McBeal*

          I wish I’d had the wisdom to know that this is true, both in professional and personal spheres, when I was young. My mother was/is deeply critical and judgmental, and I learned and embraced the same bad habits for many many years until our relationship broke down completely and I spent 5 years without her, shoveling her BS out of my brain until I could learn to love myself and others. I still struggle with rage/control issues and likely always will, but at least the beast is mostly tamed these days.

          1. ferrina*

            Well done! I know how this is- it’s a lot of hard work to change the thought patterns that your parents give you.
            You might not always struggle with the rage. It took me 10 years of hard work, but I got my temper under control and don’t even think about it most days. (also I got my temper from my dad, and at this point he’s been out of my life longer than he was in it. Def a positive for me) The hardest part when it’s a new scenario and I instantly react like my mother would- it takes either some forethought or trial + error before I can reprogram my reaction.

    3. NYC Taxi*

      I worked for a boss like that too – Any and all mistakes were treated with same over-the-top response. No one was purposely making mistakes at her, and mistakes don’t equal a moral failure, but she acted like we all had it out for her. I later found out that her personal life was a sh*tshow and she was taking out her frustrations at work. Which doesn’t excuse her verbal abuse; I don’t wish her harm but I would never go out of my way to help her either.

    4. Saraquill*

      My former manager was like this, but only to me and another coworker. We didn’t even have to make mistakes, walking past Manager or following instructions was enough to set off a tirade. I don’t know if the rest of the office thought we’re as incompetent as Manager made us out to be.

    5. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      Former grandboss’s comment: “Well, it can’t just be MY fault.” For something that fell through the cracks because we never received any training on it, so yeah, it COULD just be his fault.

    6. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I had a boss like that, where I think her anger over others’ mistakes were just an opportunity for her to express her deep-seated, unresolved rage and to feel powerful.

      She chastised and berated me over a mistake in an excel spreadsheet, and one of the things she said was, “Nobody at this firm has ever made a mistake like that, EVER!”

      So a little while later, when she had gone home for the day, the guys at the firm told me about a huge, costly mistake that *she* had made, that she and her husband, as the founding principals of the firm, had kept from the other staff. They only found out from an engineer at one of the project sub-contractors; it added nearly $80K to the project cost, and nobody dares to tell the principals that they know about it, but they used it to cheer me up.

    7. MistOrMister*

      My grandboss doesn’t like me, for whatever reason (she doesn’t like a LOT of people, so I am pretty sure it’s not something I’m doing). I had a call with her and my boss to tell me I had done something completely out of line. I interrupted her to say it wasn’t me who did the thing and explained the situation. She stopped and said, oh well I guess we don’t need to have this conversation. But then she went back to the original issue and proceeded to berate me for it for a good 5-10 minutes of what was clearly a pre-planned speech. No amount of pointing out that 1) I wasn’t even the person who did the thing and 2) I had previously noticed the problem and specifically asked her and my boss how to handle it and followed their instructions mattered. It was mind boggling, to say the least.

    8. Not So NewReader*

      Deep seated is right.

      With the rageaholic bosses I have had, I just assumed this was how they were treated growing up. Children who aren’t shown patience CAN (not always) become adults who cannot give patience.

    9. Nomayo*

      Yep. I had a job like this and my ptsd ended up with a manifestation tied to checking my email. It’s gone now that I’m in a good workplace, but at a former one, every time I went to work I’d have an email pointing out something I’d allegedly done wrong. And only things I’d done wrong.

      Or so they thought.

      Half the time the issue would have either been fixed, a non issue or not actually my mistake at all and I’d respond to these emails with this and wouldn’t get an apology via email or in person about it.

      My current workplace is wonderful, and my seniors realized they had another person coming in who had come from a toxic environment and recognized it and used a very gentle hand when giving critique, pointing things out that needed a little work, dealing with my slight recoil and pushback in the beginning.

      And you know what? It worked. I trusted them. Almost two years later the cycle from multiple toxic workplaces is mostly broken and even my own latent perfectionism is mostly clawed back.

  3. Dittany*

    Yeah, seriously. What they’re doing isn’t just unkind, it’s counterproductive. Not only are they training people to hide mistakes until it’s impossible to cover up – meaning that something that *could* have been easily fixed can go unrepaired until it’s become a horrible overtime-causing clusterfuck – they’re wasting time that could be better spent elsewhere. To make it even worse, that’s going to make good employees flee as soon as they have a less hypercritical nightmare panopticon-ish option.

    If someone has a *track record* of making tons of small careless errors, that’s one thing, but chewing someone out over a one-time minor error? Now *that’s* what I call a mistake.

    And did I mention that it’s unkind? Because it’s super unkind. Don’t be a dick to your employees, people!

    1. LittleMarshmallow*

      I love that you re-emphasized the unkind aspect of this. I mean I cringed the whole time I was reading this as I have a colleague that gets upset over the tiniest of errors or misunderstandings (a decent portion of the time it wasn’t even a mistake, just not the way they would’ve don’t it). Most of the time it just comes off as negative, condescending, and sometimes downright mean… and it’s uncalled for.

      People like this need to learn to chose their battles, or they just end up alienating people. In LW’s case their employees will hide mistakes, and in my colleagues case, people have started excluding them from meetings and projects because no one wants to work with a nitpicker.

  4. LHOI*

    I had a boss like this, who treated typos in unedited first drafts like personal insults.

    One weekend they were “trying some things” in our email program over a “couple glasses of wine” and “accidentally” sent the “your payment is overdue” email to the list of people who had already paid.

    They sent me a very flippant “oops, please fix for me on Monday” email and said nothing as I fielded angry/panicked phone calls and emails all week.

    1. Lacey*

      Ugh, I’ve had this sort of boss as well. Any mistake I made was the worst thing that had ever happened in the office and probably a moral failure on my part. If she made a mistake – and especially if she’d blamed it on me – it was, “Oh well, mistakes happen”.

    2. Lab Boss*

      That’s the worst. I can at least understand a boss who is super hard on their own mistakes as well- it’s not great, but at least their hyper-focus on perfection is consistent and you can usually rely on them not to mess things up.

  5. Yarrow*

    Counseling can be really helpful for perfectionism. It’s something I’ve worked on for years and I take my own and others’ mistakes much less personally now. It’s made me better at my job, which includes interacting with people in a more professional manner and it’s helped me feel much more secure.

    1. cubone*

      co-signed. I went to therapy for PTSD as well as a lifelong mental illness, and while both experiences were helpful, nothing made as much of a radical impact on my quality life as addressing perfectionism in therapy.

      So many people still tend to think of perfectionism as a type of work ethic or personality quirk (or a humble brag). It’s really just so debilitating.

      1. Yarrow*

        Seriously, I had someone joke that I was humblebragging about being a perfectionist so I described what it feels like to think you’re worthless unless you do everything absolutely right. How it can be this obsessive thing where you’re constantly criticizing yourself over every single thing and you can’t rest until things are right. I didn’t want to diagnose the OP from my armchair, but a lot of times people who are critical and intolerant of mistakes have low self-esteem and have been through some Stuff and no amount of “explaining how to be a professional” will help on its own. Especially if someone isn’t able to empathize with other people.

        1. DyneinWalking*

          Don’t want to diagnose, either, but I would like to add that this can also be caused by disorders that make you particularly prone to making mistakes – in that case, hypervigilance to mistakes and treating every little issue as high-stakes can be a way of bullying yourself into functioning at “normal” levels. Though in my case, that coping strategy stopped working the instant I became an employee and couldn’t use the semester holidays to crash and regenerate.

    2. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      I used to be absolutely crushed by my own failure to meet my own standards of perfection. Any mistake that I made felt like the End of The World, doom and gloom, with overwhelming negative feelings. So focused on the details and getting perfection that I wasted my time re-doing and reviewing over and over. I hated delegating, believing that others would make too many mistakes. Decades too late, I learned that these were features of obsessive-compulsive personality order.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I relate to every word of this, but, oddly, I never applied the same standards to others as myself. It has always been easier for me to empathize and be understanding of others (or blame their mistakes on myself – I didn’t train them properly, I didn’t give good enough instructions). This level of perfectionism made me miserable for years and kept me from trying a lot of things for fear of failure when I was younger. Even now, I can replay mistakes in my head (from literally decades ago), but I’m getting better at using coping strategies not to let those spiral into a Very Bad Place.

  6. Turingtested*

    Getting angry isn’t appropriate but it really depends on what the mistake is. For example, writing good morning instead of good afternoon in an email isn’t a big deal if it happens once. If it frequently happens on customer communications have a chat.

    Similarly, is this a mistake that costs the company fifty cents or $50,000?

    Do the mistakes happen because process is weak or cumbersome?

    1. anonymous73*

      It doesn’t matter how big the mistake is or how much it cost the company, it is not okay to angrily address the mistake maker. Managers should never make their employees feel like dirt on the bottom of their shoe (I’ve been there and it made me lose ALL respect for my boss). If someone messes up in a big way, even if the consequence calls for firing, it should not be done in anger.

      1. Caroline Bowman*

        but there’s a difference surely, between ”being angry and saying so” and leaving someone feeling ”like dirt on the bottom of a shoe”?

        If an employee has messed up in a huge way, then some anger, expressed in appropriate, professional ways seems … fair? I’d expect my boss to be super-annoyed about a large or costly mistake and to express that. I don’t mean screaming and bellowing or having a tantrum, but sometimes anger is… normal and actually proportionate. I think it would be weird to sit there, totally calm and serene and say ”welp, obv you’re fired, all the best for your future”.

        1. They Called Me....Skeletor*

          IDK, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think there is any room in the workplace for anger, regardless of the size of the mistake. None of us are perfect and, while it may be appropriate to *feel* that anger in the workplace it is never acceptable to *show* that anger in the workplace.

          1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

            By saying it, not showing it! You can calmly say, “I’m really angry that this happened” or “I feel frustrated about this.” You can express your feelings verbally without demonstrating them through tone, volume, or body language.

            I’d argue that, in opposition to gifts, anger should flow upward more than downward. Even if you’re expressing it calmly, it can be intimidating for the recipient, especially if there’s a power differential. But thinking back to the letter from a few months ago about the company that screwed up an employee’s paycheck multiple times, resulting in massive stress and financial hardship…I can’t say anger would have been inappropriate to express in that case!

            1. anonymous73*

              That sounds great in theory, but I’ve never seen anyone have the ability to SAY they’re angry without SHOWING they’re angry.

              1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

                Huh, interesting! I have seen it, and–thanks as much to my experience as a parent as to my professional experience–I’m pretty sure I can do it. But it’s a muscle that gets stronger with practice, for sure, and sadly it’s not a skill that everyone is taught.

        2. just another bureaucrat*

          I think a lot of this is internal to the person on the other side of it. I’ve had mistakes I’ve made that have been a huge thing that my boss has been clear but kind about and I felt like dirt on the bottom of someone’s shoe. But I’ve also had situations where it was someone else’s project, it wasn’t something I could have done anything but and I STILL felt like dirt on the bottom of someone’s shoe because this was something I had to pick up and clean up and make better and we weren’t doing the best we could by the people we serve because of that.

          There’s nothing my boss can say to make me not feel shitty about that. There ARE things my boss can do to make me feel worse. But there are times where yeah, it was a mistake and yes people are hurt because of it and yes, I’m going to feel bad because I’m a human with empathy and someone is hurting because of this mistake and I’ll try to do more or better in the future.

          1. just another bureaucrat*

            Sorry, I think what I was trying to get at was lost a bit. If you TRY to make someone feel like dirt, you’re a jerk. If you explain the consequences of a mistake and the person feels like dirt because they have empathy, that doesn’t make you bad. You can do that pretty calmly and without an intent to make people feel bad but trying to make them see. Or without even explaining what the outcome is for people who engage with the work. They can see and feel that.

            And I think that’s ok to do. Explaining the consequences of a mistake so that people understand why it’s important not to do and having them walk away feeling like dirt is ok.

            Trying to make someone feel bad so they don’t do it again isn’t helpful, isn’t effective, and isn’t ok.

            1. anonymous73*

              In my instance, my boss wasn’t yelling or raising his voice, but he was clearly expressing anger. And it wasn’t WHAT he said to me, but the WAY he said it that made me feel like shoe dirt. Oh, and a fellow colleague was standing there too. So yes, it is okay have a serious conversation with an employee who has made a mistake including the consequences. But no, as you say it is not okay to make them feel bad about it. I’m sure most feel bad enough without being MADE to feel that way.

        3. MathBandit*

          “I think it would be weird to sit there, totally calm and serene and say ”welp, obv you’re fired, all the best for your future”.”

          From my perspective, the weird thing would be to fire someone for a mistake! If an otherwise-good employee makes a mistake, whether that mistake costs the company $5 or $500,000 shouldn’t affect whether a person is fired for making that one mistake in my mind. If anything, the employee who made a mistake that was extremely costly will likely even be more likely to avoid making similar mistakes than the one who made a similar mistake that ended up being harmless.

      2. Goldenrod*

        “If someone messes up in a big way, even if the consequence calls for firing, it should not be done in anger.”

        I totally agree with this! I can’t think of a single mistake at work that would warrant an emotional angry response. Even if you are firing someone for a transgression, even at that level, there’s no need for anger. You should be able to calmly and logically address anything that happens at work.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I can even forgive some frustration showing through, depending on the situation (because to Alison’s point, we’re all human). But not anger, and nothing like OP is describing.

        2. The OTHER Other*

          I’m reminded of Warren Buffet’s speech to executives when he took over a troubled company added to his portfolio. He said, if you make a mistake that costs the company money, let me know and I will be understanding; mistakes happen. If you do something that damages the company’s *reputation*, I will be ruthless. I think that sums it up pretty well. Innocent mistakes, even costly ones, happen, and are part of doing business. Malicious behavior—lying, stealing, deliberate sabotage, trying to make money unethically, etc merits a tougher response. Still, better to fire someone calmly than yell at them, IMO but everyone has their breaking point.

          1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

            Reputation is so crucial!

            There was an incident when I worked in the Teapot Use Feedback department. One of my Teapot Researchers had carefully crafted a screener on teapot usage — we were looking for industrial teapot purchasers who were also teapot operators, to ask them some fiddly questions about spout placement — and I sent out an email with the survey link to a selection of users.

            Unbeknownst to me and the researcher, one of the Teapot Lid & Handle Mockup folks on my team who (god knows why) had the login to the survey account, and instead of making a copy or something sensible, chose that particular survey to discard all the questions from, and put some questions that she was thinking about in there instead.

            The first user got back to me within five minutes and said something very confused about the survey. I took a look. I (privately) hit the ceiling. I told my researcher, he reconstructed the survey, and I sent out the new link with a breezy apology about my personal carelessness in getting the wrong link. “You shouldn’t be taking the fall for this!” my researcher said with great indignation, but I had weighed the reputational consequences: either way, we’d be known to these people for sending out the wrong link, but an apologetic Teapot Research Assistant (Temporary Contract) apologizing for a careless mistake would not be memorable in the long term. The real story was incredibly bizarre, and would have been extremely memorable if I’d been fully truthful, and would likely have been passed around as an example of Teapot Company dysfunction for years to come.

            Our manager got the full story, she talked to the manager of the Teapot Lid & Handle Mockup crew, and we got better password control procedures on that account so there would be many fewer opportunities for the error to happen in the future. I will probably never know what the consequences were for my colleague, but that’s okay because it was honestly none of my business.

      3. Turingtested*

        My first statement was getting angry isn’t appropriate. However, I’d react much differently to a serious conversation with my boss about a costly mistake where I didn’t follow procedures than a mistake that costs the company nothing.

        Why is OP so angry? Is their job high stakes high pressure and everything is important? If so, how should they handle errors?

        I don’t think just saying “don’t be angry” is enough. They’ve got to get to the root of the issue.

        1. Observer*

          I don’t think just saying “don’t be angry” is enough. They’ve got to get to the root of the issue.

          Which is something that Alison points out. What makes it worse, though, is that the OP really is over-reacting to minor mistakes. “Lengthy” or “serious” conversation about “trivial” errors (that’s the OP’s designation) are inappropriate even when they are not done angrily.

        2. Cold Fish*

          Nothing against Turingtested but something about your comment after reading others was a total personal epiphany moment. As an anxious person in a family that isn’t, my emotions were constantly invalidated which has made my anxiety worse. “Don’t be angry” is total bs. OP, be angry. Totally invalidating OP’s feelings is not the way to address it.

          The problem is that OP is responding in anger. Taking a minute or two to calm down to evaluate if this is a trivial issue, a discussion-worthy issue, or a fireable offense will do wonders to deal with the over-the-top responses.

          1. KWu*

            Hmm, I’m all about validating and accepting emotions in how I’m raising my kids, so this is an interesting point to me, but seems a bit odd to apply to OP’s anger. I think perhaps it’s more “the anger you feel is real but needs further investigation for the actual root cause.” Accepting feelings doesn’t have to go with accepting the first offered explanation of those feelings.

            1. Fikly*

              Here’s the key distinction.

              Everyone is allowed to feel whatever emotions they feel. Emotions are always valid.

              However, it’s not ok to express whatever emotions you feel, depending on what emotions they are, and how you are expressing them. Particularly in cases when they are causing harm to others or yourself.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              I read and subscribe to the idea that anger itself is not wrong. We have the emotion of anger for reasons.
              What makes anger wrong is the way it’s used. We have choices in how we release that energy, we can put it in to change for the better or we can use it in a destructive manner. We can channel our anger into productive outcomes such as raising awareness about a safety issue that harmed us or a loved one.

              I am wondering how much OP does to set up their employees so they do NOT fail. I have supervised people and I have trained a boat ton more. One of my major to-dos in training was to point out stop gap measures. “Here’s how you can keep yourself from making a mistake on this task [insert explanation].” And where I could I would show them how to fix their own mistakes before the work moved on and the mistake snowballed.

              Take that anger, OP, and put it into helping people succeed. Instead of your employees cowering in fear from your mere presence, you and your employees can be sharing big smiles with their successes.

              You are interested in their success, right? I mean this is not just about yelling at them, right?

    2. AthenaC*

      I mean … when I told a particular person for the THIRD TIME not to email Social Security Numbers’s (!!) … my reaction wasn’t great.

      As self-described, OP’s reaction sounds over-the-top, but like you, I always wonder what the nature of these mistakes are. It’s been my experience that you can be extremely clear with people and they still ignore things that have potentially significant liability impact.

      If I had the authority to tell someone that the FIRST TIME I see them send patient information over email, they will be removed from the project, I absolutely would do that. Instead I tell them that ALL patient information MUST go through our secure portal and absolutely MUST NOT be emailed. Guess what? People do it anyway, and I can’t do anything about other than wag my finger and remind them. Again.

      1. Midwestern Scientist*

        But again, you have a management problem. Transmitting patient info incorrectly is a huge mistake and there should be a disciplinary procedure in place. The situation shouldn’t escalate to the point that you are getting angry.

        1. Coder von Frankenstein*

          We can talk all day about how things *should* be, but presumably AthenaC does not have the power to make it so, or they would have done it. So that still leaves the question of what to do when AthenaC’s direct reports send people’s SSNs in e-mail.

          If a boss can’t enforce professional consequences, then a (controlled) display of (appropriate to the situation) emotion may be a way to get through to people who would otherwise brush it off. Having to use emotion this way is generally a sign of a dysfunctional workplace; but such workplaces exist, and people in them have to do what they can with what they have.

          1. AthenaC*

            Exactly. In the situation I described, one ALL CAPS email and a stern in-person conversation got a tail-between-the-legs response …. but it finally got this person to pay attention and I didn’t have to tell them again. So … yeah, sometimes the “emotional response” is effective. Not ideal, but when you need an outcome, you use the tools you have.

      2. Observer*

        Well, what you are describing is a management problem. Also, what you are describing is not a trivial problem. But even there you don’t need to remove someone from the project the FIRST time they do it. But you should have the management backing to enforce consequences, which you apparently don’t have.

        It’s different with the OP. They say that they are reacting this way to *trivial* errors. And they are yelling at people etc. Worse, they just don’t really think that it’s REALLY a problem.

      3. Autumnheart*

        I could totally see letting PII out in the clear as a reason to remove someone from a project. That could have huge consequences ranging from huge SEC fines to congrats, you’re the next Target breach. Significant professional repercussions for that individual is appropriate in that context.

        If the LW is treating every mistake like that, though, that’s a problem (as is an angry response even if it is a significant issue). Expecting people to *never* make a mistake isn’t realistic. That’s why you have a process that should involve at least one level of review, preferably by a different person than the one who completed the work (since a second pair of eyes won’t have expectations on what they’re looking at).

        And yes, the more critical the system, the MORE important it is to take emotion out of the response. Don’t wind people up and rattle them so that they can’t focus on the fix. Be calm and cool and get it fixed. If you have something to say, do it during the post-mortem—and not by yelling there either. Document what happened and update your process to keep it from happening again.

        If LW has to re-frame mistakes in their mind, maybe they can look at it as discovering weak points in the process that can be improved. People making typos? That’s life, but make sure people are getting their breaks and have enough time to complete their work, so they’re not tired or rushing through things to meet deadlines. Forms getting filled out with the wrong info? Work on making those forms easier and with clearer instructions. Spreadsheets with the wrong data? Work on centralizing information so that everyone is pulling from the same source, not duplicating work. There are tons of ways to eliminate error and redundancy without getting personally upset at individuals.

      4. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        I see that this is a management problem, not being able to discipline people for serious errors, but I also understand being angry because not being able to grok that one doesn’t send SSNs via email seems like someone who is either willfully ignoring precautions because they don’t feel like using the portal, or at best who actively resists having any sense.

      5. Nesprin*

        Whoah- if patient info is being sent by email, you’ve got a bunch of procedure/SOP problems in addition to potentially just sloppy workers. I’m going to guess there’s a root cause here that you’re missing.

        1: Do your workers understand their HIPAA exposure? Are they trained to understand what a big deal this is? And have you been able to enforce consequences for doing so?
        1B: Why are there no consequences for something that puts your company at substantial risk of HIPAA violation consequences?
        2: Why are your workers not using the secure portal? Do they all have working logins and understand how to access it? Is there something obviously wrong with it like not being able to send pictures?
        3: Why is email better than the secure portal? Are you getting frantic calls from doctors demanding health records now? Some other time pressure? Does worker X just insist that email is easier and that no one should ever do anything else?

        1. AthenaC*

          1. Yes. HIPAA training is required for everyone charging time to healthcare projects. Also, at the beginning of each project, we have a kickoff meeting where I emphasize (in ALL CAPS and also verbally) specifically what information is considered PHI for the purposes of our project.
          1B. Probably because if we gave them consequences we’d have turnover and no one to do the work in the first place. Just guessing.
          2. There is literally no advantage to using email other than it’s the first thing they think of. They use the secure portal for all sorts of other things. If I had to guess it’s because many of them are lazy and inattentive (sorry, just being honest).
          3. There is literally no advantage to using email other than it’s the first thing they think of. They use the secure portal for all sorts of other things. If I had to guess it’s because many of them are lazy and inattentive (sorry, just being honest).

          Sometimes there are situations where there isn’t really a “root cause” other than people being lazy, and yes that is frustrating.

    3. Wintermute*

      I don’t fully agree– how much a mistake costs is largely irrelevant, as odd as that sounds.

      If you work for an investment bank it could be EASY to cause that kind of mistake. If you work for a small business it might not SURVIVE you making a 50k mistake. If the mistake is because of a small error in a manual-input heavy worksheet that many people work on, big or small it’s pretty understandable– if it’s because you told the client something that was totally off-base that’s much less understandable even if the impact is smaller.

      looking at mistakes in terms of dollars and cents isn’t particularly useful in my opinion. It’s more useful to look at them in terms of how easy or hard it would be to make, how much oversight there is, and how much attention you are expected to be giving that particular work.

    4. Heidi*

      The OP says that the “trivial” mistakes are the most anger-inducing for them, so I’m guessing that these are not costly or life-or-death mistakes. It’s interesting that they admit that these mistakes are trivial, but seem to have only a vague notion that their emotional response to them is unusual.

    5. Observer*

      Getting angry isn’t appropriate but it really depends on what the mistake is

      Well, here is what the OP says:

      Whenever I see a mistake in anyone’s work, especially trivial ones, I will get very angry.

      The OP is flipping out over mistake that they themselves say are trivial. As I said then, this it NOT “sort of not ok”. This is full on “career limiting bad”.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        If I had an employee who got very upset over trivial matters I would assume they could not handle the job.
        It’s how we handle the small stuff that forecasts what we will do when large stuff comes along.
        It’s not looking good for OP.

  7. Essentially Cheesy*

    Yikes. I already have imposter syndrome and having a boss like this would be horrible. Working for that level of perfectionist would not be tenable.

  8. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    This sounds a bit like my boss from the Hellmouth. Except instead of being heated she was cutting and passive aggressive. Ironically, I think it caused people to make MORE mistakes, because they were always rattled and upset.

    1. quill*

      I’m certain it did, whenever my boss at pig hell yelled at me you could basically count on there being problems with whatever else I did that day. It became a spiral where he would yell at me about something so much I would forget how to do it. There wasn’t any context to determine if he had told me to Never use overnight shipping or Always use overnight shipping. And I should “just know” how to do international shipping because I’d done it intranationally so much, nevermind that I hadn’t been trained in either.

      Long story short, eventually got fired because a shipment went awry in a way that I am STILL not certain was my fault, because if you have biosamples that need to be on ice and they end up stuck in a customs warehouse over the weekend, is that on me because I was the one to make the paperwork, on boss because he said we had to ship on friday, or on customs because TBH if *I* was confused how to fill out a form for pieces of chemically processed pig ear skin, how the hell were they supposed to know if this was even legal to ship? They clearly needed a second opinion, who the dry ice could not have waited for.

      1. Biologist*

        Shipment delays in customs are almost definitely not your fault. When I worked research we had multiple shipments of properly labeled Drosophila (flies) sit in customs so long they went through several generations, ate all their food, and died :/

    2. J.B.*

      The reaction I’ve seen is that boss becoming aware of something led to berating – no matter what it was and if there were even mistakes. People could figure out the odds that only one time out of ten did something come to the boss’ notice, vs. every single thing that was brought directly to him. So they never asked permission and begged forgiveness that one time out of ten. Which was a bad thing overall.

    3. Margaretmary*

      That reminds me of this boss I had who was standing right behind somebody she was training (they were sitting at the desk and she was standing behind them, looking over their shoulder), criticising everything they did, then said disapprovingly, “you’re getting nervous now!” I was thinking “I wonder why!”

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I worked for a place where management believed that angry people work harder.
      They were absolutely shocked when I pointed out that people made more mistakes when verbally attacked by angry bosses.

      I guess they never read about how unions came into being and became popular.

      OP, your nervous employees will be more likely to have sick days and more likely to resign. But while you are waiting on this result you will find yourself yelling more and more as nervous people make even more mistakes. You, yourself, could end up in the emergency room from whipping yourself up into these states. Excessive anger can factor into heart issues, digestive track issues and much more. Some people believe that Alzheimer’s is a disease of anger. In the end, no one wins here, OP, not even you.

  9. oranges*

    I really need to know the type of work being done here. Are people *dying* because of these mistakes? Are buildings falling? Is nuclear war accidently starting?

    For most jobs, including mine, mistakes happen and the world keeps spinning. Trains aren’t going to collide head-on because I forget to respond to an email. But I have a friend who’s a dispatcher, and if she blows off a system warning, very, very bad things happen.

    Not that being an a-hole is ever warranted, but the mistake tolerance is quite different for different jobs.

    1. Cat Tree*

      Even in places where people could die, or rather *especially* in those places, it’s not correct to handle mistakes by yelling or firing. Regulatory bodies want to see the company prevent the mistake from happening again. Human error prevention is big in these industries and actually effective.

      1. Caroline Bowman*

        Good point, and obviously hysterics or tantrums are never okay in a professional environment.

        But are you saying that if a major, huge mistake gets made, that no one should ever lose their job over it, but rather an investigation done and then ”oh well, yes people DID die, but we all make mistakes and we know you won’t do that again”? Because if so, that feels strange. If someone had caused a terrible thing to happen, notwithstanding the idea that it wasn’t deliberate and not to endlessly terrorise them over it, but sometimes these things do and should warrant real anger, proportionately expressed, and occasionally, the loss of a job.

        1. quill*

          I mean, often root cause analysis of deadly or debilitating incidents is done by people besides the one who would personally fire the mistake maker. If you drop a forklift on someone, not-forklift-certified middle management probably doesn’t know how to make sure it never happens again.

          (One of the reasons that we would still need OSHA even if all employers acted in good faith and never balked at spending money on security measures.)

        2. Nameless in Customer Service*

          Is it more important to find someone to punish or to find a way to prevent the mistake from happening again? Sometimes an investigation will turn up a way to prevent a mistake from happening again — why then should someone be fired? To express the gravity of the mistake (such as if the mistake cost one or more lives, or if a C-suit executive were embarrassed in front of other people)? To assure outsiders that “the problem was centered in this one person and has now been taken care of”?

          I cannot say that there exists no mistake that warrants firing, but I think in general it makes more business sense to focus on finding the issue with procedures and practices than to focus on finding a scapegoat to drive out.

        3. Wintermute*

          I watch a lot of national chemical safety board videos, they’re fascinating stuff. They don’t make hiring/firing decisions, and they don’t make decisions about fines though their opinion weighs very heavily with those that DO make decisions about legal consequences (such as OSHA, the NTSB, etc)

          Sometimes it’s really obvious– operator overrode a lockout, fiddled with some wires to fake out the radiation detector, ignored two lights, didn’t check the source status and as a result irradiated himself and two others type obvious– but even when the operator’s violation of common sense and safety procedure wasn’t fatal to themselves (in NCSB investigations, the operator usually pays a high price for the fact they’re choosing to vent flammable gas inside or overriding safety lockouts…) the company might choose to fire them or even sue them sure… but that’s not the whole story.

          Mistakes with consequences like that should not be easy to make. Safeties should not be easily overridden.

          And yes, if despite all that someone does go through elaborate procedures to violate safety (see above where they overrode three safety systems and ignored two alarms plus violating procedure) they should be disciplined, and some degree of anger is warranted especially if they used an unapproved workaround, an air hose and a vice grips to get around safety measures and got someone killed– but those situations are pretty darned rare.

        4. Lenora Rose*

          I doubt anyone said nobody should lose their job over it, but yelling doesn’t prevent mistakes, and firing should be done in the calm once everything else is resolved, not in the heat of the moment.

        5. Observer*

          but rather an investigation done and then ”oh well, yes people DID die, but we all make mistakes and we know you won’t do that again”? Because if so, that feels strange. If someone had caused a terrible thing to happen, notwithstanding the idea that it wasn’t deliberate and not to endlessly terrorise them over it, but sometimes these things do and should warrant real anger, proportionately expressed, and occasionally, the loss of a job.

          It sounds like you are saying that sometimes someone should be fired even though that person is not at fault or made a normal, natural and easy to make mistake. That feels right. But it’s actually wrong. Both morally and pragmatically. Morally, because people should not be penalized just because they are connected a bad event that is not their fault.

          Pragmatically, it’s a really bad idea because it will lead to more, and more severe errors. There are two pieces to this. One is that people will hide errors, so you wind up with situations that go on for far longer than they would have otherwise, with more damage done. Also, people are not going to cooperate with post accident investigations so you will never figure out what happened and fix the underlying problems.

          1. DyneinWalking*

            I would even argue that, if you can point to one person who is responsible for a huge, unforgiveable mistake by sheer accident, that’s your cue that the fault was actually caused by a lack of adequate procedures. If a mistake would truly have such disastrous consequences, you need to implement multiple checks done by multiple people – because YES, mistakes do happen , and if you as the person in power don’t set up preventive measures in advance and instead hope for a miracle where people just never accidentally click on that wrong button that deletes the entire database of over a decade (or whatever), that’s on you for cheaping out on the necessary manpower, tools, and improvements, not on the lone low-level employee doing one mistaken mouse-click on their overtime.

            1. bowl of petunias*

              Yeah, absolutely. It really shouldn’t be possible for one person’s error to cause a problem that large. If the stakes are as high as that, you need multiple people making it happen and multiple safeguards.

        6. HA2HA2*

          Companies are big machines made of people, and people make mistakes. Always have, always will, people making mistakes – both big and small – is a completely normal part of doing business. And part of organizing a company is having policies and procedures in place so that the mistakes of individual people get caught and corrected rather than having horrible consequences, setting the employees up for success by making it less likely they’ll make mistakes, etc.

          There’s a lot of ways of doing this!

          The company can have review processes, so that two, or three, or more people, or some automated checks, get a chance to catch mistakes. The company can have promotion practices to gradually give people more responsibility and trust once they’ve shown they can handle it, in order to decrease the likelihood that people in a position of responsibility make mistakes. The company can give people enough time that they can do reviews of their own work, or training. The company can have ongoing evaluations of performance, to hopefully catch that some people are unsuitable for particular roles, BEFORE they make a catastrophic mistake. And so on; depending on the field, there are probably more ways of decreasing either the likelihood or the impact of mistakes, and it’s hard to talk about them completely in the abstract like this.

          And yes, having a policy of “X mistake is really bad; just don’t make it or you’ll get fired” is also a possible approach. It impresses on people the importance of not making that mistake, which is certainly not nothing. Is it a better mitigation than review procedures? Is it going to be enough to prevent people from making mistakes? Maybe. Maybe not.

          All of those are a cost-benefit analysis. Various measures to decrease the likelihood of mistakes cost time and money (including “fire people for mistakes after they make them” – it costs time and money to hire and train). They also may save money in the long run from fewer mistakes. Is each individual measure worth it, are the mistakes it prevents worth its cost? …there certainly isn’t a general answer, it’ll depend on the job. For each of those approaches there’s probably some job where it’s totally impossible and others where it’s the obvious baseline. Figuring that out is part of the difficulty of managing a business.

          But I think that’s the framework to think about these things. “You’re fired if you ever accidentally do X” is one approach to decreasing the number of times X happens. Whether it’s an effective at preventing particular kinds of mistakes probably depends on the details! “Put in a policy that Y report always gets reviewed by 3 people before being sent out” is another approach, which may or may not work or be cost-effective. And so on.

          And of course there’s details on the implementation of all of those. It’s certainly possible to have a “review process” that’s a useless rubber stamp where nothing actually gets checked. It’s also possible to have “you’re fired if you ever do X” approaches that do nothing but find scapegoats – if you have people work 100-hour weeks, for example, there is no way a threat of firing will do anything to prevent mistakes in hour 101, and firing people who make mistakes on hour 101 won’t necessarily fire the bad employees who are more likely to make a mistake the next week.

          But where does anger fit into any of this?

          I’m not sure. But anger feels like it’s a response to powerlessness. When mistakes are BAD, but you have neither the tools to prevent them nor the authority to accept them as part of the cost of business, all that’s left is making a big emotional outburst to demonstrate that you CARE and agree that the mistakes are bad and it’s really really bad that they happened.

        7. Cat Tree*

          I’m saying that firing is almost never *effective*. When lives are at stake, you have to care more about preventing deaths than about justice or fairness or whatever towards the employee who made the mistake, even when that really rankles. You can’t risk lives to feel good about firing someone.

          Think of it like this – if one person made the mistake another person is likely to make the same mistake eventually. If you don’t address the underlying causes of the mistake, you didn’t fix it. Firing is easy but ineffective. Fixing the system is harder.

          The only time that firing might be *effective* is when there mistake was intentional and meant to cause harm. That does happen but it’s by far the least common cause of mistakes.

          1. Cat Tree*

            Replying to myself to add this. Firing someone does not motivate others to be more careful. It just doesn’t work that way.

          2. Cthulhu's Librarian*

            I’d argue that you should probably be using an or, instead of and there. In that if the mistake was intentional OR meant to cause harm – neither type of action is acceptable.

            But they also aren’t mistakes, really. Mistakes are oversights or accidents, things which happen without intentionality, or through a misunderstanding. Once something becomes intentional, or occurs often enough that it is clear the person is being intentional about not correcting it (such as misgendering a coworker, or embezzlement), the attitude has to shift away from ‘this a learning experience for us and the person doing it’ to ‘This needs to stop, and you can no longer be employed here because of what you have done.’

      2. Saftey*

        That depends on the mistake. I have chewed someone out and put them on a final for being idiotic with a forklift before; that can literally kill people. We’re in a mostly low stakes environment but disregarding established safety practices like, oh, wearing your fall harness 20 feet in the air or NOT PULLING A G-D PALLET OF CONCRETE OVER SOMEONE”S HEAD WTH ARE YOU THINKING is not OK.

    2. not a doctor*

      I remember that on the original post, a lot of people from similar fields commented to the effect that in high-stakes jobs like that, the response to serious mistakes is extremely focused on investigation over punishment, because understanding why a mistake happened is by far the most important thing (and making sure people feel they can safely report other mistakes is the second!).

      1. oranges*

        (I didn’t realize it was an old post, so that’s good to know.)

        That’s also how “mistakes” in high stakes jobs should be viewed. Because if you’re in a job where catastrophic things can happen, you need perfect processes, not perfect people.

      2. AthenaC*

        I can think of several situations in my field where there’s nothing to “investigate” – it’s really as simple as “X person was given simple, clear instructions and ignored them.” Simple instructions like – “do NOT email social security numbers!” or “do NOT email patient information!”

        1. Wintermute*

          yes, that is a case where discipline is certainly warranted, sometimes things come back “yes, it was clear, yes we made ‘the right thing’ easy as it can be, yes, we communicated the expectation, and yes, we did do the right training and confirm they knew what to do… they still did a password reset for a phisher against policy without verifying the right authentication information” and in cases like that, firing is certainly appropriate.

          But I feel like that is much rarer than the more ambiguous sort of situation.

        2. Astor*

          But why are the staff able and allowed to ignore those instructions? The problem here doesn’t end with your staff ignoring those instructions. There’s absolutely something to investigate! What problem are they trying to solve when they send this information via email instead of following the instructions? Will you look for other ways to solve those problems? Will your company build email filters that flag emails that obviously contain social security numbers and other easy to define pieces of patient information before they leave the local network? Will management start determining and enforcing consequences to your staff sending those messages?

          I imagine it’s really frustrating that you’re the only person who has to handle this and you have no way to deal with it. It’s so hard to do this when you’re the person involved! But if so many of your staff have determined that it’s worth getting caught to keep on doing it wrong, then either there’s something else going on that can be fixed (with changing the system or firing the workers) or your bosses have decided it’s not worth fixing. And maybe they’re making a bad decision that they’ll blame you for, but if that’s the true then the problem isn’t just that your staff isn’t following instructions.

          1. Saftey*

            At some level, you have to accept that you’re working with people and people can occasionally ignore instructions, or be really bad at their job. YES you should make sure your processes are sound and make sure that there’s not, for example, middle managers pushing them ignore safety protocols…but you can’t (AFAIK) preemptily block all emails from having strings of numbers (like SSNs) in them. I can’t magically make sure that people don’t screw up with our heavy lift equipment; I can just make sure our processes are reasonable and respected by all.

        3. Cat Tree*

          I think that if you want to be *effective* you need to understand why those people didn’t follow the instructions. Because if more than one person had done it, clearly hand slapping isn’t fixing the problem.

        4. KRM*

          And if they keep doing it, you have a personnel issue which is STILL not compatible with yelling. It’s compatible with a PIP or a firing because they’re violating security measures. But not irrational anger and yelling.

        5. Nesprin*

          Highly disagree. Protocols and Procedures are the difference between inevitable mistakes happening and getting caught before something goes sideways and mistakes happening and a meltdown.

          If your workers are emailing SSNs, why do they have access to email on the computers where they have patient records?

          1. Autumnheart*

            Yeah, there needs to be a technological gateway there that makes it impossible to send that info without it being secured. Hell, I’ve worked at two major banks (e.g. had to go through a scanner on my way into the building to prove I wasn’t carrying any flash drives) and now I work in retail, and while we have some rules where prevention is dependent on compliance (e.g. it is technically possible to put this confidential info in a non-secure place, but don’t do that), we also have technology solves like, if you plug a flash drive into your computer, it notifies the network, and now you are in deep doo-doo because that is a firing offense.

            For infractions that are that serious (like sending SSNs in non-secure email), I really would make it a firing offense. One strike and you’re out. If people aren’t getting fired for that kind of liability, they won’t take it seriously. But in order to protect the company from that kind of vulnerability, they should prevent it from being possible in the first place.

      3. Sorrischian*

        Yeah, the point is that you address small mistakes non-punitively as they happen so that you can find the gaps that might make the big life-and-death mistakes possible and then change your processes. The more comfortable people are reporting small problems, the fewer big ones you’ll have.

    3. Junior Assistant Peon*

      This is what I was thinking, maybe the LW used to work in some highly regulated field where the consequences for a trivial typo were dire.

      1. pancakes*

        Even if that’s so, their tendency to respond with anger didn’t eliminate errors. Flying off the handle isn’t an effective management technique.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          If anything, I think it points to the LW working in fields where the stakes are so low that consequences have to be artificially imposed.

      2. Purple Cat*

        If the consequences were dire, then by definition the typo wasn’t trivial :)
        I think the LW was clear that they blow up over stupid stuff. I hope they got their issues under control.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Then build in stop-gaps or double checks.

        It’s predictable that people can and will make mistakes. I dunno where OP could find a job with error free people.

    4. AnonPi*

      Exactly the approach I take at work. We’re not performing surgery, nothing is going to blow up, the world is not going to end, because of a mistake. Yes try to avoid them, but stuff happens. Wasting energy on the ‘omg how could you make a mistake, why why why’ of it all is not worth it. And let me tell you I know from first hand experience that when people are afraid to admit that they made a mistake, more serious stuff can happen. Like almost ruin a quarter million dollar piece of equipment because someone tried to fix it theirself – instead of paying for the part that initially broke, it cost us a boat load of money to replace several parts plus the bringing in techs to fix it.

    5. Lizianna*

      Yes, but if you are in an environment where mistakes can be deadly (I have worked adjacent to some of those jobs), you have processes in place to try to avoid having a single point of failure. And creating a safe environment where people can quickly acknowledge and fix mistakes is even more important in those situations.

      I’ve sat through a number of After Action Reviews after near misses, and they are so much more useful if the focus is on process, etc., vs. individual blame. When people are afraid of getting fired or belittled, they’ll put their energy into avoiding blame, not in fixing the problem, which can make it so much worse.

    6. Poppyseeds*

      Do you remember the guy in Hawaii who sent out the notification that missiles were incoming? People freaked out and were calling loved ones and basically making end-of-life moves. Even with all that, I don’t think yelling and berating him would have erased what happened – so why do it?

    7. Sigrid*

      Speaking as someone in a job where mistakes often are literally a matter of life and death — I’m an emergency room doctor — it is even more important in those jobs that mistakes don’t elicit anger and blame. Hospitals where the response to a mistake is anger and berating someone are hospitals where MORE people die, not less. Medicine has gone to the effort (to greater or lesser effect, depending on where you work) of establishing that mistakes are first viewed as a system failure that requires a system-level response because, as the seminal paper on the subject is titled, “To Err Is Human”. In other words, people are going to make mistakes, even people for whom their mistakes may mean the matter of life and death to someone else. The system needs to be set up in a way that such mistakes are impossible or their effects are minimized. A culture where mistakes elicit anger and blame produces the exact opposite outcome to what you want — mistakes are covered up, and then they happen again.

      We adopted this method of approaching mistakes from the airline industry where it has been conclusively proven to result in fewer bad outcomes. (I will say, however, that the airline industry has been a lot better at implementing it. Medicine has not solved its ego problem.)

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        Your comment reminded me of the movement for doctors and other medical providers to apologize to patients when they make mistakes. It went against decades of training to never admit fault, not least because of fear of malpractice suits. But many places found that the doctor admitting fault, and apologizing, actually reduced the number of lawsuits.
        I’m not in the medical field, so I have no idea if this movement actually took hold on a large scale.

    8. Observer*

      Are people *dying* because of these mistakes? Are buildings falling? Is nuclear war accidently starting?

      Do you really think that the OP would classify such mistakes as “trivial”?

    9. Margaretmary*

      I also think yelling and berating can lead to mistakes being covered up and therefore becoming more severe/more likely to lead to serious consequences.

      Thinking of something that ended up being a major issue here in Ireland. An invigilator made a mistake giving out the state exams – accidentally gave out the paper for the next day instead of the one he should have. He quickly collected them up and gave out the right one and if he had just rung the State Examinations Department, they would have sent a different paper to every school in the country for the following day and nothing would have happened apart from him being a bit embarrassed. But either he didn’t want to admit to it or was worried about how to send out the message when he had to remain in the exam hall and as a result, the questions the students had seen went up on the internet, the powers that be only found out that afternoon and figured it was too late to get the back-up papers out to every school, so the entire exam had to be scrapped and moved to the following Saturday. This also meant provision had to be made for some Orthodox Jewish students to take the exam separately and they had to remain in isolation for the day so they wouldn’t hear anything about the exam.

      This wasn’t due to an angry boss but just shows how people worrying about getting in trouble can increase the chances of serious consequences. Parents, teachers, students across an entire country were inconvienced and students were worried about the change in exam, all because the mistake wasn’t reported and I reckon getting really annoyed at your employees would increase the chances of this kind of result.

  10. Lora*

    I wonder what happened with OP. I mean, this is definitely the opposite of how we handle mistakes in fields that absolutely cannot tolerate even one mistake, for the reasons Alison stated – people will hide their mistakes until they are a huge disaster, and all you’re doing is making more employee turnover as people flee your department.

    If you are truly in a situation where no mistakes are permitted, you have multiple people doing double-checks and requiring multiple signatures in order to move work to the next step. And when mistakes happen regardless, there’s a whole department of people to investigate the mistake, do root cause analysis, and fix the various causes and potential causes with engineering or procedural controls to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Often the final sign-off will be from someone with a particular licensure or certification. I’m not going to say nobody ever has a meltdown, they absolutely do, but it’s viewed as a “whoa, that guy is an a-hole with an attitude problem” rather than “gosh, that guy cares a lot about his job”.

  11. H.Regalis*

    I remember this letter. I would not want to work for/with someone who yelled at me every time I made any kind of mistake whatsoever. Actually, I would not want to work with anyone who gets very angry on a regular basis, period. I hope the LW has stopped doing this.

    1. EPlawyer*

      Its not just yelling its removal from the project. Your entire career could be messed up because you misplaced a comma.

      Until this person gets her anger under control she should not be managing.

      1. yala*

        That’s the thing that really gets me. They make one mistake and…instead of showing them where and how, so they don’t make the mistake again, you just…take them off the project entirely?

        That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. They’re expecting people to be perfect on the first try, and to remain perfect forever.

    2. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex*

      I once worked for a tiny family business (not my family, and I know better now!) where my boss, the owner, had no idea how to manage and so if I made a mistake he just yelled at me until I cried (it was a tough time in my life…)

      Did it make me less likely to make mistakes in the future? No, and I didn’t really make all that many to begin with. It just made me resent him and not care about the success of the business at all.

      He bullied his family, especially his wife and 20-year-old daughter, the same way. His 18-year-old son got off a little lighter, and also tried to bark orders at me the same way his father did. That was 15 years ago. Wonder what they’re up to now and if the business is still around.

  12. ___JustNo___*

    This may be an old letter, but if you see yourself in a situation like the OP is in, you 100% have a bunch of mistakes being covered up on your team. People will absolutely not approach their manager if they feel that they are going to get yelled at or punished for making a simple mistake. Again, not the same as somebody who makes mistakes constantly, but an occasional mistake has to be tolerated and learned from.

    Again the irony is that this OP is making a big mistake in his or her managerial role. I would hate to think of the turnover that would occur under such a person.

    When I started my very first job as a cashier at age 16, my wonderful boss told me on my first day “You will absolutely make mistakes. That’s fine. Come and get me and we’ll work it out.” I did and she kept her word. That was 40 years ago and I still remember it like it was yesterday.

    In this age of trying to keep employees happy, a tolerance for occasional errors is critical.

    1. Allison*

      This is a very good point. You can’t expect honesty or transparency if you blow up over every mistake, no matter how minor. If you’re a manager, you need to be the person who helps people through these mistakes, how to fix and recover, and how to avoid making those mistakes in the future, and you can’t do that crucial part of your job if your knee-jerk reaction is to get angry and yell.

    2. Antilles*

      if you see yourself in a situation like the OP is in, you 100% have a bunch of mistakes being covered up on your team.
      Absolutely and those mistakes being covered up are probably compounding on themselves.
      In many cases, the single most critical piece of information you can get is simply “something is wrong”. If you learn that early, you can usually figure out a way to fix it. But if you don’t learn about the mistakes until much later (e.g., if your employees are so terrified of making mistakes that they cover them up), then it’s often a much bigger mess and potentially too late to actively fix.

    3. Beth*

      I’m very fond of a comment I heard a friend make once: “If you’re not making any mistakes, you’re not trying. If not making any new mistakes, you’re not growing.”

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yep. I work with a lot of folks who are new to the workplace, and we tell them in orientation (and the back it up) that mistakes will happen, we need to know about it so we can fix it, and we’ll likely to do a short debrief once the problem is solved to make sure everyone has the training and information they need. Sometimes, the information that we need is that the process sucks because, if that is the case, we’ll see the mistake over and over until we fix it.

      I had someone who once made a substantial error and did not alert their supervisor – that failure to notify resulted in our misrepresenting what we had done to an outside party with sanction authority. They person responsible, who knew what had happened, played along with the remediation effort and even made phone calls trying to suss out what had happened, even though they knew exactly what the problem was. Their supervisor was upset about the lack of transparency and extra time it took to resolve the issue, and the first thing they asked was, “How could I make you feel more comfortable letting me know when something’s gone wrong?” and then listened.

      What I always ask people is, “What is the point of the feedback? Is it to help someone improve next time or to make them feel bad about the last time?” If your answer is the latter, they’re probably not well-suited to a supervisory role.

  13. Leah K.*

    [quote] The rationale in my head is always “We have one job and one job only, and that’s to get this done! No excuses.”[/quote]

    Unless your employees are literally hired to perform a single task all day ever day, they don’t “only have one job”. They are being pulled in multiple directions, juggling competing priorities, managing several deadlines, and have to multitask/shift attention from topic to topic on a daily basis. In addition, they are human beings who have lives and concerns outside of work. All of which is not conducive to perfection. And speaking of perfection, if you are expecting one, are you paying for it? If you expect that your employees should perform above and beyond what’s considered “average”, are you paying them above and beyond average. Somehow I seriously doubt it.

    1. Raboot*

      Yeah that quote stuck out to me to. “We inly have one job, which is doing our job.” As opposed to people whose job is…. doing 2 jobs?

    2. ecnaseener*

      That stuck out to me too. If this team truly only has ONE task to do all day, then it must be incredibly mind-numbing – which, surprise, can lead to mistakes! (And hey, maybe that’s what caused LW’s issues too, if they were going stir-crazy doing 8 hours a day of the same task.)

      1. magnificat*

        Yeah, parts of my job are incredibly repetitive and those are the things I mess up the most. Working from home is a godsend because I can put the TV on to entertain half of my brain, and the other half suddenly performs much better on the work I’m trying to do.

    3. Gnome*

      Yes. If your one job is to do your job perfectly, then… Well, nobody can do that job because nobody’s perfect. And even if that job is one thing… It’s not. If you are sweeping the floor, you are also putting away the brooms, sweeping different floors, etc. Every job has sub jobs. This one job stuff is way over simplifying. Are people typing? You know all the words are different. Are they answering phones? Did someone just call who only speaks Portuguese?

      It’s a straw man argument.

    4. Saftey*

      as a safety person that quote really sucked; YES we have to get our work done but uh, not at the expense of someone dying because we were in a hurry!

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      I work in a job with a lot of ambiguity and a need to solve problems under tough deadlines. It’s not a checklist that gets performed over and over, it requires novel solutions and trying things out – they don’t always work the first time. If I blew up at people every time they made a mistake, it’d be a lot harder to get them to step outside their comfort zones and even attempt the tougher challenges.

  14. MissDisplaced*

    Wow. Such a low tolerance sounds pretty awful.
    There are two things to think about when it comes to mistakes.

    A. Simple, inconsequential mistakes that don’t significantly alter the outcome of the work, such as a typo, transposed number, misspelled word, etc. Things that could be missed by anyone.

    B. Mistakes where the person clearly didn’t understand the project, didn’t follow directions, or didn’t take the necessary time to follow up or do the project to the required standards.

    I can understand having far less tolerance with the second kind of mistakes. But if you’re beating people up over a small typo it seems a little to harsh.

    Of course there are fields (advertising and accounting come to mind) where a typo may be a legitimate disaster, so that level of perfection may be justified if it leads to lost accounts or costly reprints.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, but in cases where typos are potentially disastrous, someone else will have to proofread the text at some point during the process, preferably at multiple points. This becomes cost effective when the cost of a potential mistake is high enough.

  15. Workfromhome*

    the OP needs to get a different job. One as an individual contributor not managing people. If they are a perfectionist whos never made a mistake in their life I’m sure thee are jobs that would suit them as an individual. Maybe doing tax returns for people? It would be great for a company to offer a premium service where you could send your tax documents and guarantee 100% accuracy or your $ back by having it reviewed by someone whos infallible.

    Unless this person is very young in their career I’d say there is 0%chance you can train this out of them and turn them into an effective manager. Mistakes (as long as they are not expected over and over0 are learning experiences Its how we improve people and processes. anyone who rages over one mistake is under the false assumption that they are always right and that the current way of doing things is perfect and never evolves.
    Seriously management is not for you.

    1. MegaByte*

      Came to say this. Managers like this burn people and teams. Because you are not working with machines, management requires a human touch. It’s great that the OP is aware of the potential issue. Now the question is what will they do moving forward. And in their current role, have they already burned the bridges with people around them? Those are hard to repair.

    2. Threeve*

      Somebody is going to be miserable; odds are it’s going to be the employees, but there’s a chance it’s going to be person trying to bottle up their instinctive anger forever.

    3. GlitsyGus*

      Agreed 100%. At the bare minimum OP need to really think about if they even WANT to be a manager. If overseeing other people’s work causes you this level of aggravation and rage, why do you even want to do it? You sound pretty miserable, honestly, and given how you describe your management style that misery is being passed down to your direct reports.

      While you deal with your anger management and other issues, really ask yourself why you are in management. Good managers actually enjoy working with their teams and want to foster trust, teamwork, and positive growth. If all you care about is punishing, in your own words, “trivial errors” you are not actually managing, you are policing. Policing is not an effective way to run a team. Did you take this job because it was “the next logical step,” or because you were tired of not being in charge and able to make the big decisions? Or did you take it because you really wanted to guide a team to a successful outcome? It’s OK to have high standards, but you really need to be able to be rational and keep them in perspective.

      I think you may find you really are happier in a higher-level individual contributor role, rather than people management.

    4. Batgirl*

      This was my take too. Alison pointed out that an emotionally charged intolerance is a mistake in itself, but I’d go further and say it’s a sign they fundamentally can’t do the role. They only “sort of” know that it’s problematic, they “just cannot” fix it and actually see themselves in the position of “forgiving” mistakes as though that would even be appropriate, rather than fixing or addressing them! I don’t think this is a small oversight type of error, they fundamentally don’t have the skills to manage people, or the awareness of how they themselves have a job to do.

  16. Jean*

    Props to this person for being self-aware enough to realize that their behavior was not good and that they needed to seek some advice. I really hope they read Alison’s response and fully took it on board, because what they described is the absolute polar opposite of good/competent management.

  17. Daffodilly*

    Honestly, I don’t love bosses who do the “what can we do so this won’t happen again?” conversation after every single mistake as well. Sure, for a pattern of similar mistakes it makes sense. But for a typo? Forgetting to BCC someone? And bosses who want to have that conversation need to be open to hearing about *systemic* problems.
    Maybe it’s just because I used to work for a boss who wanted groveling and employee self-blame after every mistake but those conversations were really unhelpful, took lots of time I didn’t have, and very shame filled.
    And frankly, the errors I made were always because I was rushed and overloaded with work. I’m sorry I spelled a word wrong, but it was 11 pm and I was in my 57th hour of work this week trying to meet a midnight deadline that got moved up a week yesterday. But sure, let’s talk for an hour about how I need to be more careful and detail oriented, and I’m a drain on the company.

    1. quill*

      Same. I told you that it was report D162, not B162 because you can’t expect me to keep all those report numbers in my head AND pay attention to my actual job, not because it’s a systematic error. Sucks that you were confused, but maybe asking me verbally which report I submitted some time last week is not a good way to learn which report I submitted last week when I’ve worked on a dozen others since.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Well, I do think there’s a massive difference between “talk for an hour about how I need to be more careful and detail oriented, and I’m a drain on the company” vs “what can we do so this won’t happen again.” And if the first was presenting itself as the second, that’s crap. But I get how once you’ve experienced the first version, the benign version might still get your hackles up.

      1. AnonaLlama*

        I try to start any of these with some version of “listen, if this was just a human mistake and that’s all it was then tell me that and we’ll move on, but if there’s something we can do to tighten things up so none of us have to worry about this ever again, let’s do that”.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Yes, I think that’s great! There’s a happy medium to be found between implementing a new QI process every time someone goofs vs letting genuine opportunities for improvement slip through the cracks. When done well, I do think this future-focused/”just culture” approach is the antithesis to blame/shame culture.

          1. Nesprin*

            Its also worth considering what went right- if Typo X was caught by reviewer B, then Typo X didn’t make it into the wild, and reviewer B deserves kudos.

    3. yogurt*

      Yes! I absolutely agree. In my experience, whatever answer the team provides to the manager never applies to the MANAGER themselves. Who holds the manager to account for their numerous mistakes? Is the manager having their people proof documents and initial a checklist? Please. No (micro)manager I’ve ever had did this.
      I feel this question only works when you have a truly collaborative leadership and team. Otherwise, the only cure is for people who fret over small mistakes at work (in non-essential careers) to get a life.

    4. New Jack Karyn*

      I mean, in your case the question answers itself. “What can we do so this won’t happen again?”
      “Have appropriate staffing levels and realistic deadlines.”

  18. no name this time*

    Oh dear. Alison’s advice is spot on as always. I took over managing a team I did not know well (nor they me) located in a different country than my own during a colleague’s maternity leave. The first thing I said to them is that I do not consider mistakes to be a moral failing, they are just mistakes, we all make them because we are all human, all that needs to happen is to fix them and identify any ramifications. I could see all their shoulders go down. They were (and still are) an awesome team and the fact they knew right away they could be human fueled a determination to do the best job they possibly could. Just food for thought.

    1. Momma Bear*

      One of my best old managers said that they could not fix what we didn’t acknowledge. Maybe it was a really big mistake, but that kind of thing never gets better by ignoring it. It was kind of like telling a kid “I may not be happy about the thing you did, but I will be more unhappy if you lied to me.”

  19. BradC*

    There are certainly times where a more serious conversation about a mistake is warranted: when it is safety-related, for example.
    I can even imagine situations where a raised voice or harsh language might be needed (warning someone about immediate danger, etc.), but those are VERY VERY narrow situations, none of which are obvious from the original letter.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      Yeah I’ve only been yelled at by a boss and had it be warranted when I was working as a line cook–because water was about to drip into the fryer.

  20. Bubbles*

    Totally agree. Anger is almost never warranted at work. If the person really is too careless or mistake prone, they can be coached or fired- but the level of rage in this letter is unsettling.

  21. The voices in my head are very critical today*

    As I say to the kids I interact with, ‘mistakes help us learn.’ There has to be some wiggle room for error, otherwise staff will learn to hide their mistakes so as not to risk the wrath of an angry boss. It will take longer for mistakes to be uncovered, and the team will suffer as a result.

    I’d never want to work for someone like this, but it’s a good first step that there’s at least a little self-awareness here. It may be time to explore why you are unable to tolerate *any* error from your staff. What do you say to yourself when you catch yourself making a mistake?

    1. Batgirl*

      I make this my first statement in a new classroom too, partly because little robots never say or do anything innovative and partly because many of them have parents who have instilled the opposite instinct; do nothing until you’re perfect and certain.

    2. Incessant Owlbears*

      I imagine this person is absolutely filled to overbrimming with self loathing, and has an extremely cruel and exacting inner judge narrating every minute of their life. I used to do that to myself, castigating myself mercilessly for everything I did wrong and also for things I failed to do perfectly. It took a lot of years to stop doing that to myself.

      When you do this to yourself all day long, you begin to grow a thick callus in your heart over being treated so poorly, and it seems normal to give a small fraction of it to the other people around you, because you’re doing so much more to yourself on the inside. It’s really no way to live.

  22. quill*

    One thing that I thought of reading the article: what is the actual impact of these mistakes?
    On a scale of “misspelled a word in a report” to “left the gas on, could have blown up the kitchen” there are a lot of points where a mistake has different consequences, but OP’s wording made it sound like they would have blown up as much, or even more, at a poor speller who made multiple spelling errors than whoever created a safety hazard once, which is NOT the sense of proportion you want to have if you don’t intend to be a nightmare boss.

    (Having had a nightmare boss: another thing is that if you don’t have any room for human error you are probably stretched way too thin as a department to begin with, either in terms of not enough staff, not enough codified guidelines, or not enough money to ever start something over.)

    1. Momma Bear*

      There isn’t anything in the letter (trim as it is) to indicate this is one of those jobs where a typo would give someone the wrong meds and kill them or something. It seems to just be that the LW has no tolerance for anyone making even an admittedly trivial mistake.

      1. quill*

        Yeah, I put the “could have blown something up” as a way to demonstrate that the scale wasn’t between potentially looking a little silly and an accounting mistake that costs money to fix, it’s between the looking silly over a typo and major damage. The OP needs to realize that the worst thing to ever come out of a mistake in their department is likely very close to the typo in scale compared to the entire scale of what could possibly go wrong in any given workplace.

    2. Goldenrod*

      As others have noted in the comments, though, in life-or-death work environments, it’s even MORE important to be tolerant of mistakes, otherwise people hide them out of fear.

      I used to work at a hospital with nurses. There was a HUGE push to create a “just environment” which essentially meant: Please report your near-misses (like if a confusing label on a medication made you almost give the patient the wrong meds, for example). The idea was to create an environment where it felt safe to report near-misses and errors, and the response would be to improve the process, not blame the person.

      In hospitals with cultures of blame, more patients die, because staff members are too fearful to report mistakes. So in cases of life or death, it’s not appropriate to get mad at mistakes – it’s exactly the opposite!!

      1. quill*

        Yeah, whether it’s people covering things up or “glad I caught that, I will tell no one that I almost mixed up these two medicines” making people afraid to say they didn’t do a perfect job gets people killed.

      2. Allison*

        Right, this isn’t an issue of “are mistakes okay?” because we all know there are jobs where mistakes can have dire consequences, but unlike what shows like 9-1-1 and Grey’s Anatomy might lead you to believe, even in those high-stakes environments you’re not supposed to blow up and scream at the people who are responsible, managers need to be able to keep a cool head under pressure.

      3. Heffalump*

        When they were building the Alaska oil pipeline in the 1970s, there was a procedure for handling accidental oil spills, which damaged the environment. If you spilled oil and reported it, no penalty. If you spilled oil and didn’t report it, you were fired.

      4. UKDancer*

        Yes. I’ve worked in aviation (a long while ago) and we definitely wanted people to admit their mistakes and near misses. Because it’s important that people feel safe to say when there’s something potentially going wrong or when they’ve made an error so we could learn from it. Also a lot of aviation disasters occurred when someone made a mistake but their colleagues / copilots were too worried about the consequences or hierarchy to say anything. People need to feel it’s ok to admit small errors or they’ll try and hide big ones.

      5. littlehope (formerly Blue, there were two of us)*

        There’s a known problem in the NHS, in that there is basically no middle ground in a lot of cases between “the doctor never experiences any consequence, or even feedback, for a mistake,” and “the doctor has to go through an incredibly gruelling and punitive process which often results in them losing their entire career.” And of course most mistakes basically come back to “the doctor hasn’t slept in 36 hours and has spent their entire training being mocked and abused if they dare ask for help with a patient,” and an enquiry won’t address that.
        I’m saying this as a patient, not a doctor, although I have worked in healthcare. And it leaves you in a bit of a quandary as a patient, because you have no way of registering feedback about your treatment without potentially destroying someone who probably doesn’t deserve that, but does need to know they screwed up so they can learn from it!

    3. JTP*

      If I recall correctly (and I could just be misremembering a comment sidebar), the job was in programming.

  23. animaniactoo*

    How bad is this? It is extremely bad, and you should not be a manager of things much less PEOPLE until you get it under control.

    If you are removing people from projects over trivial mistakes… you are making a mistake in doing so, and one that is not remotely trivial at all. You are literally damaging other people… their self worth, their confidence and ability to grow within their roles and therefore also future earning potential. That doesn’t even begin to cover the damage you’re doing to projects by removing generally competent people from working on them.

    If you hate mistakes, recognize that you are making quite a lot of them in allowing your hatred to drive your decisions in the face of them. Perfection will not be achieved. Zero mistakes is not an acceptable goal. You need to find a realistic margin of error and figure out how to make peace with it.

    1. londonedit*

      Seriously. I work in book publishing and I know that each one of our books goes through a structural edit, another read by the author, a copy-edit, another read by the author, a proofread, another read by the author, several checks and read-throughs by me as I’m checking that all the corrections have been made properly over several rounds of proofs, and finally one last check by me and the author before press. Are there still tiny typos in every book? Absolutely. Do we occasionally make slightly bigger mistakes like forgetting to swap in an updated graphic? Yes we do. Are authors sometimes angry about these things? Yes they are. But realistically, errors are going to slip through occasionally no matter how many times people check things. And at the end of the day, it’s only a book. Things can be corrected in a reprint, worst case scenario a whole print run can be pulped and we start again. That is mortifying but worse things happen at sea and a culture of blame and recrimination helps no one. If I was taken off a project every time a typo slipped through none of my books would ever get done.

      1. Nea*

        I was thinking the same thing as a technical writer. If I got yanked off of every project for a typo, eventually they’d run out of projects to put me on. Presumably OP would consider the sacrifice of my ego and career appropriate to assuage their anger over trivial mistakes but – to use OP’s wording, my one job is to actually write this stuff! Create it from scratch, make it accessible, understandable, useful, and clear. I’m good at it, and everyone here has read a poorly written, incomprehensible manual.

        That’s my one job. I’m not making excuses. But because I’m human, I do occasionally make typos.

    2. alienor*

      The “removing people from projects if they make a mistake” thing really threw me. How is the OP allocating resources if someone who makes a mistake isn’t allowed to work on a project anymore? What if they put a different person on the project to finish it, and that person makes a mistake too? Can the person who made the first mistake work on another project or are they banned forever? So many questions.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Right? Now the person is gone, who knew all the context of the project and is best positioned to execute, and being replaced by someone who doesn’t have the context and has to get up to speed first. That’s so redundant. Waste of time and money.

        1. Nea*

          And the more people coming in without context means the more potential mistakes will be made.

  24. AnonaLlama*

    I try to view mistakes as tests of processes. If there’s a process that absolutely cannot tolerate a mistake then you scaffold that process with checks, double checks, two sets of eyes, a validation gate, *something* because it should be assumed that a human will make a mistake.

    If a mistake happens and the consequence or potential consequence is a big deal, you need more support for that process. Otherwise, assume mistakes will happen on your mid to low-stakes process and adjust your expectations accordingly.

    And it is absolutely not personal. At all. Even a little bit.

    1. SereneScientist*

      This is an excellent point! Often times, mistake reveal gaps in human-designed systems. It can be helpful information to improve processes. Something OP is missing unfortunately.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Same – if a mistake is made, it’s a people problem or a process problem. If the process is messed up, under/improperly staffed, or not being trained on appropriately, we’re going to keep seeing that mistake, and we need to fix things on our end. Even the best people will mess up if your process is bad. If it’s a people problem, then we look at how big a deal was the mistake and is this an anomaly or part of a larger pattern. Inconsequential typos don’t even warrant pointing out, and someone who’s usually good but had a one-time slip up probably already knows and will be more mindful.

  25. irene adler*

    Wish I could slide this column under the manufacturing manager’s nose. But he’ll just get more angry.

    OP, I’m in another dept from someone who fits your description. And I see how his anger harms his reports. I’ve seen them try to hide things in an attempt to avoid that anger. I don’t blame them because I know what it feels like when you go after them because you’ve taken out your anger on me- many times.

    And, FYI, I have hidden key documents so that this manager is unable to find out who made the error. Because I want to protect them from the anger they will incur.
    (yes, as QC, I counsel the tech on the error and work with them to resolve it and avoid repeating it in the future. )

    Please try to view this as being a coach. Someone who can instruct and support those doing the work on how to do things correctly. Help folks to see how to catch errors and improve performance. Makes a world of difference!

    Thank you, Alison for a brilliant answer.

  26. DireRaven*

    On mistakes:
    They tend to fall under one of the following categories:
    1) conflated information/instructions from one project/part of a project to another or transposed information
    2) information regarding changes does not reach me in time
    3) (“Ask for clarification if you are confused”) I wasn’t confused. I had a very clear idea of what was to be done based on the instruction given, which I executed admirably. It was just my idea of what was to be done was off in left field.

    I’ve developed personal techniques and fail-safes for 1 and 3. For 2, I’m still working on my ESP capabilities to no avail.

    1. anonymous73*

      I’d add a 4th category. We have a life outside of work and sometimes life can be rough, and make us less careful when doing something. So we make mistakes. It happens when you’re human.

      1. Goldenrod*

        I might even add a 5th category! Sometimes things *just go wrong*, and it’s no one’s fault!

        Also: not every mistake requires a big audit, like, “how can we prevent this from happening again?” I was always trying to explain that at my last job that sometimes a mistake is JUST A MISTAKE (like a typo) and not a failure of process or someone not “trying hard enough.”

    2. quill*

      3 is my biggest problem in basically all my jobs. I’m not confused. I’m very confident I’m following the right procedure, even though it’s the wrong one, or the procedure has changed.

      Because I am an anxious bundle of bees in a cardigan, telling me that I have to be SURE I am using the right procedure, are you really sure, do you know WHY there is a difference between this procedure and a nearly identical one, is only going to make me not sure of anything. Which means a round of “I need you to tell me if I have to write up ramen salt status or ramen electrolyte status” with the boss replying “shouldn’t you KNOW?”
      No, because if it’s not in the given, written information, we have a structure problem with telling those two reports apart.

        1. Autumnheart*

          Argh. iOS is ridiculous. I’ve been the person to ask the seemingly dumb and obvious question plenty of times, and luckily the larger team understands that in fact these little details are NOT obvious and actually make a big difference in the outcome! I’m not asking because I need hand-holding to do my job, I’m asking because I’m a “measure twice, cut once” kind of person. I make far fewer errors when I’m 100% clear on what the outcome should be, and 5 minutes of conversation is a lot easier than doing it all over again after it goes live.

          1. quill*

            And then you come upon something that genuinely does not work as intended and you have to go through about 200 items to figure out what broke it. *Sigh*

    3. alienor*

      At least for me, a lot of the time #3 happens because I followed Person A’s direction, but Person B, who wasn’t involved at the input stage, didn’t agree with that direction when the product reached them and now it’s “wrong.” But it’s not wrong, it’s absolutely correct based on the original input.

    4. yala*

      “3) (“Ask for clarification if you are confused”) I wasn’t confused. I had a very clear idea of what was to be done based on the instruction given, which I executed admirably. It was just my idea of what was to be done was off in left field.”

      Oh my lord, are you me?

      I’ve gotten that before, and it’s just…I wasn’t confused? I thought I understood. It’s so frustrating. Right up there with being asked why you made a typo or something.

      1. littlehope (formerly Blue, there were two of us)*

        Oh God yes. I wasn’t confused, I was just wrong!

  27. anonymous73*

    Problem #1 is expecting everyone to be perfect.
    Problem #2 is expressing anger at work. It is NEVER okay to display anger at work*. If someone screws up (even badly) they deserve the respect of having a rational adult conversation, not treated like a child who made a boo boo.

    *an exception being if someone is being harassed or bullied but even in those cases it’s better to not engage, walk away and report them

  28. Heidi*

    If the OP is removing people from their team over every trivial mistake, I’m kind of wondering how they are able to maintain a functioning team. Is there just a ton of turnover? Are there are some mistake-free unicorns that keep everything going? A lot of letters like this give some indication of how well the team is meeting their goals, but the OP doesn’t really say.

    1. Observer*

      I’m betting that this is absolutely getting in the way of their team’s performance.

      My recollection of the original letter, which I can’t find, is that some of the “discussions” are also with THEIR manager.

    2. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex*

      The people who stay on their team will be those who are very good at keeping their mistakes a secret. This is not a good thing.

    3. Anon of Anons*

      OP said that after a mistake they will remove that employee from the project, not from the team.

      1. GlitsyGus*

        Right, but how many team members do you have that you can keep pulling people off projects for minor errors and still have the work get done? How many projects can you move them to?

  29. Ursula*

    One other thing that Alison didn’t address in her response – put systems in place to reduce errors if there are too many errors. Some options:

    Mandatory checklists
    Have everything written reviewed by a second person before sending for content and grammar
    For excel, use formulas and if functions to check totals, check if things that are supposed to be equal are equal, and to check if your total numbers of things match what they’re supposed to be
    If something is super sensitive and HAS to be right, have two people do the whole thing each completely independent of each other, and reconcile their results.
    Measure twice, cut once

    It does no one any good to say “make fewer mistakes” or “be more careful”. What concrete steps can be taken to actually reduce mistakes?

    1. Anon for This*

      Yeah, I can understand anger… if steps are taken to reduce errors and the errors are still happening. In my time training people to work in our department I’ve had several people just… look at the written, step by step instructions for how to process requests, then proceed to completely ignore the instructions, do their own thing, and mess up everything “because reading the process takes time”. After the third or fourth time taking them through the steps and having them continue making the exact same mistakes because they don’t care to follow the process (the most recent one actually scolded me for teaching them when they aren’t mentally prepared to learn… yes, this is because you need to be corrected now, not a few days from now) it starts getting hard not to be angered by the whole thing. Though the part I’m angered by isn’t so much that the mistakes are happening, so much as it’s the complete dismissal of the correct process as something that needs to be followed. “If I only click confirm once the account is created, why do I need to click it twice?” when the documentation clearly states that the button needs to be clicked twice to ensure users can log in to the system, and the like.

      1. allathian*

        Anger would be fully understandable in this situation, even if expressing it is unlikely to lead to a good result. These employees aren’t following the process or your instructions, and IMO they need to be told in no uncertain terms that this amounts to insubordination and has to stop, or there will be consequences. They should be warned and put on a PIP if it happens again. If you don’t have the authority to impose consequences on them, I hope that talking to the manager who does have that authority will help.

  30. Chairman of the Bored*

    Humans make errors regardless of their talent, training, motivation, or level of focus. This applies to everybody all the time, including the letter writer.

    Expecting humans to simply not make errors is like expecting the weather to never turn bad; this represents a level wishful thinking at a level that is injurious to successfully completing a job. A competent team leader plans for how to accomplish their goal even when these sorts of things occur.

    I suggest the LW focus their energy on developing systems, plans, and processes that are:
    -Less prone to error, so it’s easy for people to do things correctly
    -Mistake-tolerant, so that the (predictable and inevitable) occurrence of mistakes will result in at worst minor inconveniences rather than serious problems.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “Humans make errors regardless of their talent, training, motivation, or level of focus. This applies to everybody all the time, including the letter writer.”


    1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

      I don’t know that a movie about the development of a BDSM relationship between a boss and his employee is going to be relevant to the OP.

    2. Autumnheart*

      Um what? Hey, treat enough EAs like dog crap and eventually one of them will like it enough to marry you? Is that what we’re going for?

      Next, quality professional advice on how to be an effective middle manager: just watch Office Space!

  31. Seriously?*

    Wow. Hope the OP doesn’t have kids.

    My guess is they make mistakes but never admit it, instead blaming someone else. I wonder what the turnover is on their team? And why the higher ups have done nothing, if that’s the case. What a miserable person to work for. The only hope I see is that they are asking this question. Clearly someone said something to make them at least wonder about their behavior. Maybe they can see a new perspective and change?

  32. SheLooksFamiliar*

    Someone on my team complained this morning about a vendor’s meeting request for today at 3 pm CST: ‘We just went to Daylight Savings Time! Duh! Don’t people *think* anymore? I’m not sure I want to do business with them if they make stupid mistakes like this…’ and so on.


    1. Heffalump*

      Strictly speaking, it’s Daylight Saving Time, not Daylight Savings Time. Of course, calling it Daylight Savings Time doesn’t warrant a tantrum.

  33. Delta Delta*

    It sort of depends on the mistake, as well. “oops, I put the blue tag on the folder that gets a yellow tag – let me change the tags” is different than “I amputated the wrong limb.”

    1. allathian*

      The response needs to be different, but anger isn’t appropriate in either case. The goal is to prevent similar mistakes from happening in the future, not to make people so afraid of unpleasant consequences that they prefer to hide mistakes when they happen so that they only get worse. In hospitals where the focus is on processes and on improving them, fewer patients die than in hospitals where the most important thing is to find the person who made the mistake and punish them.

  34. Lizzy Lou*

    Wow. Dude, you should absolutely not be managing people. I don’t know why your company has put up with this behavior.

    1. irene adler*

      I know one reason: productivity. The manufacturing manager where I work (see thread above) gets the work of 8 people out of 4. So management turns the other way whenever someone complains about the manufacturing manager’s anger.

      1. Lizzy Lou*

        That’s so not cool. I’m so tired of managers being rewarded for creating toxic work environments.

        1. Chairman of the Bored*

          Managers get rewarded for it because their employers get rewarded for it, or at least they think they do.

          “Bob is a bullying ass, but he gets results” ignores the unseen costs of his behavior; such as employee turnover and missed business opportunities.

      2. yala*

        That’s wild, because I would think this attitude would seriously hinder productivity. Every mistake requires things to be ground to a halt, and a reshuffling of who’s working on what?

        1. Batgirl*

          I think sometimes there’s a difference between short term and long term productivity in these situations. Sometimes having someone ride a team hard can have everyone on hyperfocus and putting in extra time on checks just to save their own hide from a roasting. Long term, the chances of burn out, hidden errors, recruitment issues and high turnover are only going to increase.

      3. Observer*

        I know one reason: productivity

        I doubt it. What the OP describes is not going to improve productivity. To the contrary. Because while shouting at people may increase short term productivity, arbitrarily yanking people off projects over trivialities generally tanks productivity.

  35. Kim*

    I used to manage accountants and most of them made mistakes. (not math mistakes , the computer did the math work) . I could give a tax return to six CPA’s and get six different results because they didn’t all interpret tax law correctly. I like Allison’s advice and if the writer takes her advice I think she can improve. The fact that she is writing to Allison tells me something. Otherwise , maybe firing her will allow her to reflect . I wouldn’t wish this person on a room of individual contributors.

  36. CommanderBanana*

    Wow. Honestly? I think you should remove yourself from any oversight of your personnel, immediately, and delegate it to someone else, and also look into counseling.

    This letter doesn’t say what your job is, but I’m assuming it’s not something like neonatal heart surgery where mistakes are literally fatal, or you would have mentioned that.

  37. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Whoever said, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” had OP in mind.

  38. Cube Diva*

    The longer I’ve been working, the more I realize that the micro-manager who dealt exactly this way with mistakes was wrong. It’s unfortunate that it was my first real boss situation… but the differences are astounding. For example: I uploaded a graphic to our website homepage with a typo on it. I realized it after hours, went back in, fixed it and sent the correct version to our webmaster. It was corrected that night, without any issues. I had emailed micromanager when it happened with my plan and updated when it was taken care of. The next day, I got a SERIOUS TALKING TO about why this happened, and how it wasn’t hard, etc. I didn’t make it very long at that job for similar reasons. Fast forward to literally last week- I’m new, so was using my boss’s corporate credit card to pay for social media ads. It accidentally got attached to another project and a few hundred dollars was mis-charged. I gathered the receipts, canceled that card within the ad system and sent them to my boss with an explanation. She didn’t even bat an eye- “These things happen, and I’ll make sure Accounting knows where to allocate this.” Incredible.

  39. Middle Name Danger*

    “Especially trivial ones” stands out to me in the letter. Sounds like the most answer inducing are not mistakes that are huge or life threatening like some people have speculated to give LW the benefit of the doubt. It’s still not an appropriate response but seeing the exact opposite of what you’d expect when correlating seriousness-to-anger makes me think LW should run, not walk, to therapy.

    1. GlitsyGus*

      This. There is a lot of discussion in here about “what kind of mistake”, but the OP actually stated that they lose it over “trivial mistakes.” That is a problem. They know the mistake isn’t going to scuttle the ship, but they blow their top anyway. That is a big problem.

  40. Lizianna*

    In my experience, most people want to do a good job. If they’re making a mistake, it’s often because they are missing something they need to not make that mistake – maybe it’s training, maybe it’s an unreasonable workload, maybe as a manager I haven’t helped explain the big picture, something going on in their personal life, etc.

    Even if that’s not the case, approaching mistakes through that lens leads to a much more productive conversation, and approaching it that way makes it clear when they just don’t care (which is rare, but I have come across it).

    (And as others have mentioned, it also manages how big of a mistake it is. Some mistakes just warrant a “hey, I noticed a typo in that email that went out,” and leaving it there, some involved more of a “hey, this keeps happening, what can we do to fix it moving forward?”)

  41. jumped all the sharks*

    I make a point to own my mistakes, esp when the discoverer seems to react like LW. I work with a ton of data that must all be correct, thousands upon thousands of data points that I manually enter/edit.
    Yes, there will be mistakes, and in my line of work mistakes are annoying but not fatal, so calm tf down and act like a human.

  42. PNW Zebra*

    Irritability like this can be a sign of untreated depression.

    I used to feel the same way and was kind of a toxic person at work (thankfully I wasn’t a manager).

    I hit a low point in my life and started therapy/anti-depressants. It was like a switch flipped – suddenly I was way better at keeping things in perspective and addressing issues with compassion. Do I still have to have conversations with people about ongoing, repeated, serious mistakes? Yes. But it was much easier to handle those issues appropriately when I wasn’t spending all of my emotional energy on minor stuff.

  43. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex*

    A vendor won a lucrative state contract to provide a very necessary service. They needed to work closely with my team at a state government agency. I definitely suspect their leadership had the LW’s view on mistakes. The service they were providing involved a lot of moving parts, constituent personal information, and had a lot of potential for human error at every step of the process. My team handles the data produced during this process, and investigate if there are issues with the data, so we can determine the source of the error and update our database with accurate information. We’ve worked with a number of different companies at this point. This company was by far the most difficult. The first time I called them about an error, the senior manager monologued at me about how devoted they were to not making errors and tracking which staff were making erros and how many. I could barely get a word in edgewise to clarify that I really just needed to know which of the two conflicting data entries was correct. It got worse from there. Our points of contact were far more interested in deflecting blame for any errors than on working with us to correct the errors and to find ways to improve processes to minimize errors moving forward. We asked that certain data entry errors be immediately reported to my team, not for punitive reasons, but because we had the necessary access to update the records, and when the vendor’s staff tried to correct them, it only caused more confusion. Oh of course, said the vendor, all of our staff are reporting data entry errors immediately, they’re definitely not trying to fix them themselves and causing more of a mess. But of course the staff were still trying to fix the errors without notifying anyone, and I’m positive it’s because they were afraid of being punished by their employer. To be clear, we never had any expectation there would be zero errors! But we couldn’t get anywhere with this vendor to reduce the errors. Their contract was not renewed.

  44. Dinwar*

    I worked for someone like this once. Fortunately for me, I’m used to people who straddle the assertive/aggressive line, and stood my ground. Came to find out they hadn’t trained me properly–I was given incomplete information, and it led me to making a bad call. Once that was clarified and rectified, I’ve never made that mistake again and I’ve been able to coach others on it and similar issues.

    Lest this sound like a happy-feel-good story, this same person is responsible for driving out at least four other people in the office, and losing a major contract. It was bad enough that another office built a support group for this person’s victims.

    This illustrates one of the two business costs associated with temper tantrums of this nature: High turnover. You never build the institutional knowledge that a good team needs, and you’re constantly paying to train new people as junior staff get fed up with your antics and leave. Even if they don’t leave the company you’re hemorrhaging people on your team, and unless your pay is just fantastic or your work is so much of a career boost that six weeks of Hell is worth the price, word will inevitably get out and you’ll be left selecting from the bottom of the barrel in terms of talent. This increases your error rate, increasing your wrath, decreasing your talent pool further.

    The second cost is that people hide errors. You can’t stop errors from occurring, it’s part of human nature. If you react badly to entirely-predictable errors, you end up with people trying to cover up their errors. And that is far, far worse than almost any error itself would be. Cover-ups have legal ramifications in many cases, including jail time and heavy fines. Just as bad, it delays fixing the actual problem, which by itself compounds the problem. It also means you have no idea how many mistakes are actually being made. Think about it–would YOU fess up to a mistake if you knew it would result in immediate removal from a team? Neither would anyone else. You’ve effectively taught your team that you’d rather run the legal risks associated with a cover-up scheme than to deal with the normal stuff that comes with working with people.

    The reality is that any good management team needs QA/QC procedures to correct mistakes and, if necessary, identify root causes. The more critical the work, the more you need thorough and robust QA/QC procedures. The idea that people can be taught not to make mistakes–much less bullied into it!–is outdated, from the era before psychology existed. Management is supposed to start with how people actually are, and work towards getting the most out of them (cynical, yes, but management is loyal to the company first).

  45. Lady_Lessa*

    In a manufacturing company, I once had a good boss who had the motto “It’s not a mistake unless it gets out the door”
    Which was nice, because sometimes chemical blends come in wrong and are fixable.

    And sometimes, we don’t have enough info to make sure something was made right. We lost 3 batches when our supplier messed up. (They paid for the material) and we made sure that we got test results and compared them to the correct standard before allowing the solvent to be used.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      My boss has that motto, too. It’s so positive. It reinforces success when you catch something. “Great job catching that!” Not “wow, you made a mistake three days ago. You are a bad employee. Yes, you caught it now, but what if you hadn’t? What then?”
      Like that question can be answered…which is where I feel OP ends up, particularly because of the word choice, “I find it hard to forgive mistakes.”
      OP is not the priest confessor. OP is overseeing a group of people doing a job. There is no need to forgive.
      It’s adding a punitive and emotional level to a business interaction. OP is not being mistaked at.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        OP’s company is paying OP to forgive mistakes. I don’t think OP has been told that only perfect people can stay on at this company. At some point the company will wonder why OP’s department has such a high turnover.

  46. tessa*

    I have a co-worker like this. One inconsequential mistake (by anyone’s standards, including our boss’s) and she brings it up at a meeting – as though scolding people publicly is going to prevent them from making mistakes. She gets really bent out of shape.

    I’ve reached the conclusion that she simply cannot handle a shared environment; she is just too anxious to accept the fact that people are going to make mistakes. What’s worse is that the boss is a zucchini about it.

    Thankfully I start a new role elsewhere in April. Could happen there, too, but at least I’ll have other value-added advantages that will help absorb the consequences.

  47. Just Me*

    Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard is that you need to operate under the assumption that people will make mistakes and build safeguards into your processes. If you know mistakes will happen (because they always do) but have a system to catch and correct them before it gets out of hand, then it’s not an issue. These can be simple (always having contracts be reviewed by a second set of eyes and getting two sign-offs before sending it to the client) or big (setting up regular internal audits before large-scale corporate/funder/government audits) but they’ll end up making your whole office work better.

    1. Ozzie*

      Part of my job is designing work systems in my current company, and while I try to make everything fool-proof, I always consider where an error could be made, what point it would be caught, and how to best fix it at that point. I’m also considered the wet blanket because I have a tendency to first point out all the issues with a proposal, before saying what I like about it. New hires tend to, uh, not look upon me very favorably as a result… but it has become seen as a hugely valuable skill, and I end up consulted a lot to find issues. I’ve just been working on doing it with a bit more grace, over the years…

      Basically, find the wet blanket, and let them loose on your processes! There’s probably someone who is good at this, but is afraid to speak up.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I am also a problem pointer outer. I try to say positive things first because of that exact reaction but my brain just zeros in on the issues

        1. Ozzie*

          You’re definitely doing it the right way!! I’m really working on it, and am very glad I have colleagues who give me far more grace than I deserve sometimes…

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            I’m of like mind; when I’m called a wet blanket and a pessimist, I point out that “now that we know where these issues will arise, we’re in a position to do something about them.”

        2. Autumnheart*

          I think that’s actually a useful quality as long as you frame it the right way, e.g. “I noticed X, Y and Z in these tables that should be A, B and C. Once we get that cleaned up, we’ll be ready to send it out for approval.” That phrases it like “One more thing and we’re done!” not like “You got this wrong!”

        3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I think that when you “zero in on the issue” you are not berating the employee. Maybe you don’t start out with a general, “it’s ok” type phrasing, and that’s fine. If you are “Not Tom, you sent out an incomplete form and now X team is waiting. You need to A, B, C.” then let me do it and circle back to see how it happened, well that is different than OP treating an employee’s mistake as something s/he needs to forgive…and finding it unforgivable, you know, like a mortal sin.

  48. Gojira*

    Whenever I train people, I make sure to tell them that mistakes are normal and to just come talk to me and we’ll fix it up. There’s about a 50/50 chance that they actually do, because bosses like this just create so much dread.

    I can’t really blame the trainee. They’d be taking a gamble on what kind of person I am, and I rarely know them ahead of time. But it just wastes so much time and effort every year. I don’t think people who manage like this should be managers at all.

  49. Ozzie*

    I’m generally the person who doesn’t make many mistakes – they happen, but are very rare. And when they do happen, someone coming down upon as though I have committed some totally unforgiveable act usually creates a chain of errors after the initial one… as well as making me less fond of working with that person. (and generally not disclosing errors to them, which is bad!) When my boss has has an totally outsized reaction to an error I have made though, I try to remind myself that it prooobably has little to do with me – but that that doesn’t make their reaction ok. I just don’t take it personally, brush them off as quickly as I can (because the interaction is certainly not productive), and get to work fixing the error. Sometimes I address it later, other times not, depending the situation.

    I have, though, had to work on how I react to errors, because I learned that yeah, I was not the norm – and people make mistakes. Part of it was reminding myself of when I made error (often the same error, in my current line of work), and simply giving advice on how to fix it, and ways to avoid it next time (if it’s not something relatively routine). Problem-solving is a much more valuable skill than blaming people, and teaching far more valuable than going backwards on delegation.

    Also, I don’t put too much stock in being liked at work (within reason), but no one wants to be disliked for being the person who has totally unreasonable reactions to relatively minor things. That then becomes a work problem, and not a personal problem – and people are far less likely to see past it in working relationships.

  50. TootsNYC*

    Over on Reddit just today, someone was telling of their household “rules” or “mottos.”

    One of them was this (they have little kids), which I thought was brilliant.
    >> “You might do something on purpose, and you might do someone on accident, but then there’s something in between, and we call that being careless.”

    Careless annoys me more, and deserves more attention in terms of correcting it or making a big deal about it.

    But even then, you need more of a pattern before you react this extremely.

    I wonder how perfect the Letter Writer is….

    and this is the part that I think is most important. As a parent, I really focused on this.

    Third, if you react to mistakes so harshly, you will end up with a team of employees who try to hide their mistakes from you (a much bigger problem than any mistake on its own would be)</blockquote?

    1. Lizianna*

      Carelessness annoys me too, but I’ve found that it’s more often a symptom of someone having an unreasonable work load, distraction, or not understanding the big picture and why attention to detail is important for a particular task, than just not caring. People are rarely careless because they just don’t care.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        ^^ THIS. I’ve been overworked and handling multiple roles for…well, a long time. I’ve made it VERY clear that stuff is going to fall through the cracks as a result of this, and if you want it to improve, my department needs another FTE.

  51. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I removed a bunch of personal sniping and the original conversation that led to it. All, if you have concerns about someone violating the comment rules, please flag the comment for me rather than getting into an argument with them over it. Thank you.

  52. WantonSeedStitch*

    I once had a boss like this. They had previously been an ER surgeon before starting a company that made a product for use in the medical industry. The idea that a tiny error could truly make a life-or-death difference seemed to have carried over from their previous job and into the office. They never actually yelled at me, but they had a cold, withering, contemptuous attitude that brought me to the edge of a breakdown eventually. I finally left, and after getting a new job, realized I WASN’T a horrible employee who would never make it in the “real world,” but a perfectly normal person who made mistakes sometimes and was capable of learning and improving–ESPECIALLY when no one was making me sick with anxiety over those mistakes.

    1. Becky*

      I’m in this situation now – right down to feeling like a horrible employee who can’t make it – and looking forward to the day I can write the verbs in past tense. Thank you for giving me hope it’ll get better!

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        Awww, glad I was able to lift your spirits a bit! It can absolutely get better. I hope you’re able to find a place that’s better for you.

    2. allathian*

      Yeah, but as has been pointed out by others in the medical field, including an ER doctor, hospitals where the focus is on preventing mistakes in the future have fewer deaths than hospitals where the focus is on finding the person to blame for the mistake. Anger doesn’t work as a means of preventing mistakes even in life-and-death situations.

  53. Merrie*

    A lot of mistakes in my workplace show training gaps, and once we inform the person, they don’t make that mistake again. But some of them are bypassing things people don’t want to do but should do. And some of them are bypassing double checks, and in these cases, they do need some stern feedback if it happens frequently. We are in a field where a mistake could injure or kill someone, so we have to be careful and double and triple check where needed, and ask for help if unsure. I’m always very emphatic about this with staff. If there is a problem, I expect them to inform me asap, and then from there we can determine what’s best to do next. If I harangued them for errors, they wouldn’t want to tell me if they make a future error.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Training gaps are a common reason. Burnout, poor time management, overloaded workers, inconsistent standards, poor supervision…all also common reasons. But yes like you said employees need to feel safe owning their mistakes so they can be fixed before it becomes worse. That’s not going to happen if the staff is terrified of the manager.

    2. Observer*

      See this is the difference between you (and your environment) and the OP.

      Yes, there are times when a stern talking to is warranted. And sometimes even firing. But it sounds like you are handling these situation the right way.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Old me used to try to push through this stuff. New me just walks. OP, you’d yell at me once and bye-bye. Up to you to explain to your boss why I left.

  54. George Pig*

    There’s also this question: what type of mistakes are we talking about? OP’s letter reads like he is doing this over a typo or some other minor error. Maybe he is, and if so, holy crap!  But, also, maybe OP is suffering from manager imposter syndrome and is actually having this reaction to people who totally mess up a significant portion of a project. Maybe he has a really inept team and is moving people around to deal with that, and feeling insecure over it.  I think the first is more likely than the second, but the second is not out of the question. Both situations mean he needs some management training (especially about having emotional reactions), but it may be a very different issue than the one identified here.

    1. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

      Still on the manager to have proper reviews / checks set in place. With a very small number of notable exceptions, there’s no mistake so grave that it couldn’t have been noticed and corrected before causing an issue.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      OP fails to understand that troubleshooting IS their job. Find the weak points, bottle necks, broken parts of the work flows and fix them.
      So far all OP has done is drive up company health care costs.

  55. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

    So, OP what you’re saying is that removing anyone who isn’t perfect at their job is more important to you than establishing an efficient and sufficient check-and-balance approach to work review. Got it.

    Alison is much more gracous in her reply than I would have been.

  56. Becky*

    Because I can’t say this to my boss, I’ll say it to OP.

    Don’t manage people until you can get this under control. I don’t even know if you can. The reaction you described in your letter is so visceral, emotional, and punitive that it indicates that something is amiss with how you handle criticism and/or mistakes in your own life and you’re channeling it onto your employees. As respectfully as I can muster, you need to have a major paradigm shift in how you look at the world and treat the people in it. Your employees don’t deserve to be shamed, belittled, and generally made to feel like garbage because they’re humans and make mistakes.

    As for mistakes, put in processes, checklists, and peer review, and plan projects so there’s enough time to get them done without time pressure (where people often overlook things if they’re hurried). But honestly? The only instances in which I could understand having zero tolerance for mistakes would be for professions like surgery, engineering aircraft or missiles or whatever, or anything else where any lack of precision will result in people being hurt or killed.

    Again, though, that doesn’t change that this behavior is counterproductive, inappropriate, and harmful. Major change needs to happen here.

    1. Dinwar*

      One of my hats is field quality management under the US Army Corpse of Engineers framework. On multi-year, multi-million dollar projects mistakes are inevitable, so you need to have procedures in place to check for them and correct them. It takes five years of experience to be a fully-qualified US ACE Field Quality Manager–25% longer than a Bachler’s Degree is supposed to take–plus refresher courses, and believe me, you need every minute of it.

      If I ever raised my voice at someone who’d made a mistake I’d be out of a job that day, because doing so would cause people to hide their mistakes, resulting in someone being killed. There’s no room for error–so the rational response is to put in checks and safeguards and procedures to minimize errors and correct them as they are identified.

      Think of it this way: A design that puts all the stress on one point, and makes failure of that point catastrophic, is just bad engineering. You want fail safes and safeguards and the like. Same thing applies here. If one error results in catastrophe, you make sure that multiple people are involved to catch the errors.

      1. Becky*

        I agree 100%. I’ve practically begged my management for peer review of one particular, infrequently recurring project that’s long been my Achilles heel (and also happens to be poorly documented). All I’ve gotten is subpar annual reviews and “you need to be more careful”. Granted, there’s no raised voices, but an overall culture of fear.

        It’s been eye opening to read some of the QA processes that other industries/other companies have. I’m not in a position to do anything about it, but at least I know I’m not crazy.

  57. Nupalie*

    In all seriousness….I wonder if LW has children or a dog? The task of shaping behavior and correcting inappropriate behavior is a skill set many people don’t have a lot of practice with…unless they’ve raised a child or trained an animal. I say this as someone who entered the teaching profession without ever developing a firm NO tone of voice – and struggled as a result. I would recommend practice in personal life with dog or horse training to become more adept at managing mistakes.

    1. Observer*

      Pity the poor animal…

      I’m not being flippant. Yes, better to make your mistakes on an animal than on a person. But in case like this, where you know that you’re probably going to be abusive (because the OP’s behavior is abusive in the long term), you really, really shouldn’t get a pet. Therapy and coaching is a much better approach.

      1. MeepMeep02*

        Seriously – I wouldn’t recommend a person like this to be inflicted on any innocent lifeform. Though it is true that both dogs and horses are more than happy to deliver appropriate feedback on one’s management technique in a highly physical way.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Haha, yep, nothing like a horseshoe to the face to remind you NOT to do something.

    2. Filosofickle*

      My dad is similar to the LW and at no time while raising us did he develop any tolerance for mistakes. Just saying.

      1. pancakes*

        Right, the problem with people like this is their mindset and lack of self-control, not a lack of opportunities to practice being a decent person.

  58. Girasol*

    You don’t want to tolerate a haphazard attitude to work quality, but if you get too angry at people’s mistakes they’ll be afraid to own up to problems on the job. Vladimir Putin’s people have been afraid to own up to the problems in his army and look where that’s gotten him.

  59. Heffalump*

    I’m reminded of something I once read in a book on psychology: “If nothing happens to justify anger, the troubled person will arrange to misinterpret something innocuous in order to keep his anger released.”

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This brings us back to, “What’s the real reason you are so angry, OP?” Please get help.

  60. Margaretmary*

    I think one thing the LW should take into account (that may have been mentioned as I haven’t read all replies) is that (s)he isn’t immune to mistakes either and if (s)he is throwing people off the project and berating them for a single typo and then she makes a typo at any point, it’s going to undermine her/his authority as they will look like a hypocrite.

  61. Rigamaroll*

    A few years ago, I made a macro to do some excel work that had previously been very manual and time consuming. Basically we needed to give unique ID numbers to each row, which was submitted for reimbursement. We could not have duplicate IDs even on different files because it would reject as a duplicate.
    Unknowingly, part of my code was off and populated many (MANY) duplicates across months of work. We didn’t notice right away, while researching something else the mistake was discovered by my boss’s boss. This took a TON of time to correct (we had to identify all the duplicates, delete all the duplicates, and resubmit all the duplicates). If not corrected, would have easily cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    At no point did any member of my leadership get angry; at no point did they take me off the project; at no point did they ever even tell me to stop using the macro.
    We talked through the issue- I helped to fix it, and I fixed my code. I am beyond thankful I had them as managers at the time!
    OP- please talk to someone about this. I would not tolerate working for someone who acted like this, I can foresee this costing you many good employees.

  62. Nicole P.*

    Having worked with bosses and managers like this, I can gaurantee you that it will make people afraid to make mistakes around you. As a result, they will make EVEN MORE mistakes. This goes for everyone else who ends up on the project afterward, because they HAVE heard the stories.

  63. MeepMeep02*

    Reminds me of my nightmare boss in my second job. Every week, I’d get called on the carpet with a detailed and itemized list of everything I got wrong that week (minor stuff). That startup eventually failed, and I couldn’t be happier to be out of there.

  64. Janie*

    I can’t even imagine doing that to my staff–I WANT them to make mistakes and learn from them. And generally, even for big mistakes, I mostly care about why they made the mistake and how they got there, so that I can show them a better way. As for things like typos and such, well, I’d have to fire myself about 20 times a day for those. Hell, right now I’m redoing a report that I completely messed up yesterday.

  65. I just work here*

    If people aren’t making mistakes, they aren’t learning and growing. Expecting perfection actually encourages mediocracy. People are afraid to stretch themselves and be innovative.

    I hope the LW will get some help for this issue. Sometimes expecting perfection is born from fear or anxiety, or is hiding a generalized anger behind something more justifiable or socially acceptable. As hard as it is to work with someone like this, it’s harder to be someone like this.

  66. Maurynna*

    I think I might have worked for OP at one time…used to have a manager who would go thru anything we presented with a fine toothed comb, which in itself was fine, but nothing was ever good enough. We are talking him sending reports back for fixes 3 or 4 times at a minimum. Not only that, but he would find something in the 4th edit he didn’t like which had been there since the first version. I had one coworker who wouldn’t change anything between edits and the report would pass with flying colors the second time. It’s one thing if things are incorrect, but at least be consistent about it.

    He would do this for presentations, too. Someone would go over a slide and then request feedback and he would start with “well first of all you are missing a period on that second bullet”. And that would be all the feedback he would give. If he did give additional feedback it was always negative, never anything positive. It sucked the life out of all of us.

    1. Heffalump*

      People who reported to Steve Jobs wouldn’t give him their best shot on their first run at a task because he’d tear it to pieces no matter what.

  67. Purple Cat*

    I always tell my team they’ll make mistakes as they’re learning – just try not to make the same mistakes twice.
    Update the documentation with what went wrong the first time so it’s a frame of reference/warning for the next person that comes along. I reassure them that I’ve made most of the basic mistakes myself, that’s how I know what to look for.

    Now if somebody has a strong pattern of being careless and/or clearly not understanding what they’re doing, then you need to act on that. But no need to get angry.

  68. Leenie*

    This is the perfect way to make sure that people try to cover up for mistakes instead of being honest about them. Which is the perfect way to make sure that something that could have been a relatively minor fix spirals out of control.

    In short, this is a perfectly terrible way to manage people and projects.

  69. Scottish Teapot*

    I’ve worked for a manager like the LW in this post. It is exhausting and makes you question your own abilities. The mistakes my team tended to make were either because processes weren’t right or manual changes awere required to automated parts. I’ll be honest, it made me really resent the manager. Thankfully she moved on so I don’t have to deal with that anymore!

  70. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    I am very curious to know the nature, magnitude and consequences of these mistakes. Even if the OP is over-reacting and handling this poorly, the recommended way to handle this depends …

  71. Skl*

    People like OP are the reason they say “people leave managers, not companies”. I would hate to work with someone like the OP and would leave asap.

  72. Esmeralda*

    A couple years ago we were interviewing for a professional position on our department. One of the standard questions was “how do you handle mistakes in your own work?” It’s a question about self checking, getting input from others, taking criticism, reflection, setting up procedures to prevent future mistakes , etc.

    One candidate stated that they never made mistakes. I chuckled, assuming they were making a joke, and said, of course we all make mistakes! How do *you* handle it? I don’t have to handle it because I don’t make mistakes. Everyone on the committee looks at each other, astonished. No,*really-* I said, everyone is human and makes mistakes. How do YOU handle it? Candidate insisted, I just don’t make mistakes

    Our top candidate. We sent the name up to the hiring manager, stating that this had to be probed with their references. Another candidate was offered the position but didn’t take it. We ended up hiring this person, who is in fact very careful, but does make an occasional mistake. I’m afraid I’m just petty enough to always say, a bit too loudly, that’s ok [name], EVERYBODY makes mistakes.

  73. Danish*

    Alison’s point that this doesn’t reduce errors, it just creates an atmosphere of fear and hiding mistakes is so apt. I’m a very no-errors, triple check sort of person, and even I ended up feeling absolutely destroyed by that kind of attitude. I had a job that was almost entirely non-essential, easily-fixed data entry… but the manager was clearly building her entire personality around leading the team, and mandated 100% error-free work.

    You’d have to explain in writing in a weekly report and in person why you made whatever error, and then explain what steps you would be taking to make sure you would Never Ever Do It Again. A good practice for real issues! Absolutely useless and just an exercise in being dressed down when the issue was something like a typo.

    The one time I made an actual, non-typo mistake (one that would have had a minor negative impact – IF I HADN’T IMMEDIATELY CAUGHT IT, WHICH I DID). The first thing I did was fix it, which took maybe five minutes. The second thing I did was walk two miles away, sit down on a park bench, and have a panic attack for the next 30 minutes over the idea of having to document and explain the error which was, again, already fixed. Then I walked back to the office, pulled out my resume, and immediately started applying to other jobs. Job was not worth my mental health.

  74. Pipe Organ Guy*

    Mistakes are part and parcel of the work of music. Proofreading scores can be a nightmare. The Hymnal 1982, the main hymnal of the Episcopal Church, had more than a few typos when it first came out. They’ve been gradually corrected over the years. I’ve had to fix typos in hymns I’ve put into notation software, matching tunes with new text. At most, we get a chuckle out of them. World-class performers make tiny mistakes ALL THE TIME, and that’s after hours and hours of practice to internalize the music. (Not all mistakes are audible, for what it’s worth.) There are those in charge who are like OP; a lot of us learn who they are and avoid them like the plague, if at all possible, because they suck all the joy out of music-making.

  75. Pobody's Nerfect*

    When did we as a society agree to accept and tolerate managers and bosses like this who psychologically abuse and torment their employees over the smallest mistake or transgression? Psychological harassment like this is tantamount to professional-level bullying, and not only should not be allowed, it should be a prosecutable offense. On the same level as extreme nitpicking or blowing one’s top over the smallest mistakes, ignoring an employee’s requests or questions regarding work-related matters – thinking, oh, they should already know this, ignoring them will teach them a lesson or spur them to find the answer on their own, or thinking the question isn’t important enough to warrant their time it would take for a response – is also bullying and psychological torment, not to mention just downright disrespectful and rude. Why are horrible managers allowed to keep being horrible with no consequences?

    1. Tinker*

      If a person like this doesn’t do something sufficiently egregious in front of witnesses who are viewed as credible (particularly: not the employees they’re abusing for making mistakes), they can present themselves as a strong leader with high standards who is resented by lazy people who don’t want to do good work.

      If the management above this person is, for example, themselves run ragged trying to be go-getters with high standards, they’re not necessarily going to pick up on the distinction between “do we care about avoiding mistakes y/n” and “how actually do we most effectively reduce mistakes given the nature of human cognition”. Clearly OP is a star and should be promoted, and their staff should learn personal responsibility and extreme ownership and all that.

      That OP got to be a manager in the first place suggests that their organization has that kind of issue. Ironically, it’s systematic error all the way down.

  76. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

    I love this so much I want to embroider it on a pillow:

    Everyone is allowed to feel whatever emotions they feel. Emotions are always valid.

    However, it’s not ok to express whatever emotions you feel, depending on what emotions they are, and how you are expressing them. Particularly in cases when they are causing harm to others or yourself.
    This is absolutely perfect!

  77. xl*

    I’m an air traffic controller and the reaction described would be inappropriate for management in this career field, to use that as a measuring stick.

    Back in past days, mistakes were indeed treated punitively with penalties for the controller involved. Thankfully over the last decade and a half the culture has shifted away from that and mistakes are now looked from a position of “*what* caused this to happen?” instead of “*who * caused this to happen?”

    When you’re being threatened to have your license and livelihood taken away for making mistakes, the natural reaction is to try to cover up any mistakes. Once we were granted amnesty and felt comfortable filling out reports for situations that went awry, we were able to amass a ton of aggregate data that showed that the most common mistakes came from systemic issues—equipment problems, poorly written or otherwise confusing procedures, misunderstanding of rules, language barriers, etc.

    This had always been the case, but until people felt safe to speak up about a mistake, there was no pattern to notice and hence no chance of fixing the issues.

  78. msk1024*

    It’s important to look at training, workload and timelines when considering errors. Years ago, when I’d been put in a fairly new position (I was not new to the company, only this higher level role) I was overwhelmed with work. So much work was piled on me, and I’d been given only the barest training, possibly because people assumed I knew more than I did. The result of this perfect storm was that I made errors. There was no time to look over my work–I was always running against a ridiculously tight window. SO without review, there were errors. Those errors had to be cleaned up (it was operations, so there was always a cascade of ramifications). That left less time for reviewing work. It was only when I was moved under a different manager that the workload was lessened and I had better support. Miraculously, with more time to check my work, the errors were far, far less. So, the manager who hates errors should make sure he is not setting his employees up for failure. That would be a MISTAKE on his part.

  79. JelloStapler*

    You’re likely a manager that results in people leaving jobs. Sorry, but not good and needs to change, stat.

  80. Sarah*

    There are some jobs where mistakes CAN’T happen. People’s lives are at stake. I use to work for an electric utility company. If a lineman makes a mistake, people die.

    No one was yelled at. My bosses understood that humans make mistakes. So they layered on top multiple safety layers. Protective equipment, visual cues, checks by multiple people, specific standardized procedures, training on where common mistakes occurred and how to prevent them, hiring specific safety focused roles, and a strong safety culture.

    If mistakes are so detrimental to your business, what are you doing to prevent them from a systematic perspective.

    If they aren’t detrimental to your business, why on earth are you making employees feel like crap about them?

  81. Kella*

    I realized earlier this year that I find other people make mistakes that impact me directly or indirectly extremely triggering, because I think I’m going to be responsible for handling the fallout and that I’ll be powerless to avoid it happening again in the future. I have no idea why the OP has the reaction they do to someone making a mistake and regardless of the reason, they need to scale back their reactions. But it really helps me to focus on the fact that most mistakes can be fixed, easily recovered from, or there are straightforward steps to preventing them in the future. It’s hard to believe that when my whole body is screaming at me that this mistake is the end of the world and I’m wondering if OP is experiencing something similar but mistaking their emotional reaction as an indication that the mistakes are just that important.

  82. LaLaLaCuCu*

    OP, you remind me of my ex boyfriend. He fed off my insecurities and never tolerated a mistake on my part, whether it was spilling something on the floor, or saying something in a wrong way when I was speaking his language, which is not my mother language.
    Guess what? He was making mistakes himself, because he was human. Whenever I pointed that out, he would have a meltdown, or treat me like garbage.
    He destroyed my self confidence. If you keep this up, you will destroy your employees’ confidence. Any employee who gets an opportunity will take it and leave the company, which will be noticed by upper management in the long run.
    I grew up, left my boyfriend for good, and now I don’t feel like I need to apologize for trivial mistakes anymore.
    Please, do a 180 NOW while you still can, and understand that anyone can see that your way of treating employees does not show perfectionism, but shows that you have personal issues.
    Please speak to a therapist, it is clear that you need to improve as a manager and as a human being. I say it with concern, not with contempt.

  83. Ebar*

    I worked in a telecom company’s finance office twenty years ago where the manager blew his top at every issue big or small. I was only there as a six month temp and bailed after three. Even in that short time one guy walked out and no one in the office had been there longer than six months.

    Outside the office the manager was perfectly pleasant but there were definitely issues, with him and the company at large.

  84. Rosacolleti*

    Some context here may possibly help. Are they working in a critical care unit? As pilots? On the stock market with millions lost with a simple error?

    1. allathian*

      Regardless of the field, raging at your subordinates for making mistakes is never appropriate. That will only make them more inclined to try and hide their mistakes, rather than coming forward and helping with damage control before things get really bad.

      Instead, try and learn why the mistake happened, how it could happen, and what could be done to prevent it in future, and improve the process in such a way that a similar mistake is less likely in future, is the constructive way to improve things.

    2. Observer*

      Did you even read what the OP writes? They specifically state that they are the most likely to flip over “trivial errors”.

      Even with non-trivial errors their response is wildly inappropriate. When it is something they KNOW is trivial their so called “justification” is simply garbage and excuse making.

  85. Amethystmoon*

    I would not want to work for OP. My mother was a perfectionist and emotionally abusive about it. It was to the point where if I made a small error as a child, think cleaning your room and missing something tiny in a corner, I got threatened with eternal torture in hell about it. There were times she blamed her cancer on me (I was 11 when she was diagnosed and it was breast cancer). To this day, I will look for another job if my manager shows signs of being a perfectionist because it brings all that back for me.

    Know that by berating employees for small mistakes, you may be making them recall abusive childhood experiences.

  86. A Kate*

    There’s a difference between feeling a feeling and ACTING on that feeling. It sounds like OP knows their reaction is outsized. Removing someone from an entire project because they make a mistake is a sure way to promise they’ll never learn how to fix it. If I were OP (and in a less intense way, sometimes I am! I get annoyed about mistakes I see, more than the mistake itself warrants, because I’m a stickler, but I also know that that’s a me thing, and that my initial reaction is not actually commensurate with the actual harm caused by the mistake itself), I’d ask myself what my goals are. Do I want to punish someone for messing up, or do I want the thing done right in the first place? Presumably the latter, and the only way people learn is if they are allowed a certain amount of chances to fail. And then you have to teach them HOW to achieve the level of perfection the work requires (the work, not your preference, mind you). If you can’t redirect your ire to focus on the actual job at hand, you shouldn’t be managing.

Comments are closed.