discuss: times when you recovered from mistakes at work

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question — and it’s an appropriate one for Mortification Week. A reader writes:

I’m one of those people who tends to catastrophize internally when I realize I’ve made a mistake at work. I’d love an ask-the-readers post where people are invited to share times that they’ve made mistakes at work that they panicked about in the moment, but have since made it through to the other side okay (whether that be by it not being as big of a deal as they thought, successfully weathering disciplinary action, or otherwise).

Consider it done. Readers, please share in the comments!

{ 287 comments… read them below }

  1. Robert Smith's Hair*

    I work for a science organization that has a very recognizable icon that represents the science. There is absolutely a correct way to display it, and I put it on the cover of a publication backwards. 9 years ago. I’m now in charge of the largest revenue driver in our org.

  2. The Catastrophizer*

    This was mine! I sent it in the midst of a mess-up. Guess what, I was WAY too worried about it.

    I had accidentally not followed a policy for something that involved money. I hadn’t done anything illegal or broken any rules, but I had missed a level of approval by not realizing I needed it.

    I was so stressed and panicked, but after gathering myself, I ended up needing to do three only mildly stressful calls to internal help desks where the CSRs walked me through the hoops I needed to jump through to get, basically, retroactive approval.

    At the end, after literally losing sleep over it, practicing mea culpas in the shower, imaginary begging for my job, etc., I submitted the package of justification and reasoning and it was approved without anyone even calling me to explain or ask follow ups. It was extremely anti-climatic.

    The age-old advice rings true: If you fess up early and often, whoever it is will usually work with you to make it right.

    1. Silver Robin*

      So glad it turned out okay! And I am finding that with money policies, folks are understanding that they can be confusing or non-obvious. Yes, money is serious and should be handled carefully, but that also means there are systems in place to handle mistakes (those may be irritating and complicated, but they exist!).

      1. The Catastrophizer*

        You summed it up perfectly! No one I called was even close to having a “HOW COULD YOU HAVE DONE THIS” reaction. It was all another day at the office for them : “Well it’s not ideal, but really, it’s just more paperwork for you. Ready to take notes?”

    2. Serin*

      Wow — I was going to comment with almost exactly the same mistake! I was sitting here trying to figure out whether there needed to be more detail, or whether it would be enough to say, “I made the biggest financial misstep that someone in my job can make without being intentionally dishonest.”

      We have a set of prescribed steps when something like this happens (which I guess tells you that I wasn’t uniquely awful or anything) and the first step is that you’re supposed to have a meeting with your immediate manager and explain yourself. I got in touch with my manager and told him we needed to do that, and a few minutes later a meeting invite appeared in my email with the title, “Give Serin a STERN talking-to.” I have a great boss.

      And it’s BECAUSE I have a great boss that I’m able to take that critical first step each time of getting in touch and saying, “Hey, I screwed up, and you’re sure to hear it from somebody so I’d rather you heard it from me,” which gets us to the much easier next steps of “This is how I propose to fix the damage” and “This is how I propose to keep it from happening next time.”

      1. Buni*

        This is always my method – 1) make sure they hear it first from YOU, not anyone else, but 2) don’t fess up without being able to say in the same sentence what you’ve already done / immediately plan to do about it.

      2. Clem fandango*

        I did something on an equivalent level in my financial role. Essentially, I made a VERY basic mathematical error that resulted in an account being severely in the red. I’ll never forget my heart nearly stopping when I saw the negative number, followed by running into my manager’s office to tell her what happened (followed by tears in the bathroom). As you note, that was the key – I wasn’t afraid to tell my amazing manager what happened, even for a second. I was able to recover all the funds with a series of VERY apologetic phone calls and e-mails, and I learned a lot from the process. The mistake was serious enough to get reported to the Board even when the funds were recovered, and I was very worried about my manager herself facing consequences, but I was so confident in her (and upper management in general) that I wasn’t even worried for my own sake. I later helped devise a procedure to prevent similar errors in the future department-wide.

    3. Grumpf*

      I am so happy it turned out ok! I don’t have a lot of experience with money, but whenever I noticed it helps when you notice it, flag it and reach out to people who can help me fix it (exactly the way you did it).

      In case someone else notices and brings it to my attention, I thank them for doing this and skip the apologies if the mistake is not super serious.

    4. Quoth the Raven*

      I put together quotes, and on one for a big important customer who is very picky about the quote matching the invoice, I just… forgot an item. Completely left it off somehow. Very unlike me and very stressful. Higher ups on the customer care side got involved, people were scrambling to see what else they could reduce the price of to make it work, and all I had the ability to do was sit and watch. I was HORRIFIED, but the customer care folks worked everything out and we only lost the like $200 of the missing item. I didn’t even get talked to, much less formally disciplined. I’d be surprised if anyone besides me even remembers it.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        I always review invoices line by line, and probably about 50-60% of them have some type of mistake!

    5. your genderqueer dad*

      +1 to fessing up early and often.

      I was traveling for work in a rental car. I was pulling out of a tight parking spot in a parking garage and the side mirror hit a column and got VERY busted. I was so embarrassed and felt terrible. I thought about lying, or moving on without changing anything; but ultimately I called the office and explained what happened. Our admin team moved fast and arranged for me to just exchange it for another rental. I thanked everyone who helped profusely. Despite my fears, it never came up again; I worked there for two more years and left of my own accord on good terms.

      1. Bruce*

        That’s why our company says “ALWAYS get the damage waiver!” They’d rather pay for it up front than deal with the mess when there is a minor bump

    6. lost academic*

      I think it also helps to step back and consider how likely it is that your mistake has been made before and the world didn’t end, and everything can get fixed!

    7. Aitch Arr*

      I used to run payroll and learned quickly to admit my mistake to my manager quickly, bring a solution and implement it even before meeting with my manager if possible, and communicate and apologize to any affected employees.

      1. Gondorff*

        Exactly this. My worst mistake when running payroll was that I got so caught up in a task one time that I just…completely forgot to hit ‘submit’. On a nearly million dollar payroll for over one thousand employees. Woke up at 3am the next morning in a blind panic, submitted, called our payroll company as soon as they opened (dry-heaved a few times in between, panic-scheduled several sessions with my therapist, and pulled up our latest info on COBRA since I was certain I was about to be fired).

        We got charged a $200 express processing fee. Not $200 per person/check, just $200 total. Everyone’s paychecks arrived on time, though a few employees were peeved because the checks didn’t process in time for their banks’ promotional “get your paycheck a day early!” thing (and like you said, apologized and no harm, no foul, since they were still paid on the pay date). No one besides me knew (though I filled our CFO in just in case).

        As a whole, there are very, very few mistakes that can’t be fixed, and owning the mistakes, apologizing, and ultimately fixing them goes a long way!

        1. The Catastrophizer*

          My soul would have left my body and watched my COBRA research from the sky – every ounce of kudos to you for pulling it together to successfully triage the situation!!

        2. But what to call me?*

          I work in education, and my coordinator always liked to emphasize, in an effort to make sure we actually *told* her when something went wrong while there was still time to fix it, that pretty much any mistake we could possibly make could be fixed… except social media.

          And it was true. Billing mistakes (my profession bills medicaid), incorrect or missing paperwork, being out of compliance with special education law… all of it was fixable. It might be inconvenient, it might be embarrassing, but as long as you owned up to it and cooperated with whatever needed to be done to fix it, everything was always fine. Unless a parent discovered that you’d posted something you shouldn’t have on social media. Then you were done for.

    8. AnotherOne*

      I pay people for my job. My sup and I realized the other day that we’d somehow managed to pay someone twice.

      We have absolutely no clue how. Neither of us have any idea. We can’t find any documentation. We’re totally flummoxed.

      We sorta decided to just not tell anyone. I have to pay the same person again. So we spoke with her. Explained the situation. And she agreed that we could just deduct the duplicate payment from this one.

      We figure our boss never needs to know. So, shhhh! Don’t tell him.

    9. Meghan*

      I work in the sales department in hotels and I do this ALL THE TIME. So many groups book last minute, especially F&B events, sign the contract, don’t indicate how they are paying, won’t fill out a CC authorization form and then 2 days before the event are all “oh we pay after the event” (aka direct bill, which they have not been approved for). Depending on the group we usually let it slide, but must have the CC auth on file and they have to fill out the DB forms for actual approval for future events.

      My last hotel had gotten a new, very strict, GM when this happened to me and I was freaking out and losing sleep over it, I finally just told my Director and she approved the direct bill because it was a division of a company that has direct bill approved already and as long as they paid in full before the next event, we were good.

      And now I am at a much better place where we have a whole, competent, Accounting department to deal with such nonsense. Tis glorious.

      1. Silver Robin*

        okay, but as somebody on the other side who is *making* the bookings with a corporate card on behalf of other employees, I have yet to be proactively asked for a credit card authorization. I did this for the first time 9 months ago: booked the hotel rooms for guests at our conference (!), used the corporate card, got the confirmation and thought it was settled. Then got emails from the guests confused about why the hotel asked them to put down their own personal cards for the rooms. Rushed to do the authorization that day and it was all settled.

        But I reviewed all the communications from the hotel – nowhere did it mention a credit card authorization form or that it might be necessary. The name on the card did not match the name of the guest, so in theory they could have flagged that on their end, no? This happened to me once more before I realized it was a thing *I* had to initiate and not something the hotel does. Which leaves me with the question: how is a newbie like me supposed to know? If the hotels need the authorization, why are they not asking for it? Or have I just had really bad luck with mid-quality hotels (very possible!).

  3. Justin*

    I got put on a PIP in 2020 for a variety of reasons. The very short version was that they had us doing busy work (editing old documents) because the classes we usually taught were in-person, and our students (city workers) hadn’t been sent computers yet.

    At the same time, my academic research on racism was getting attention (I would gather you can guess why, timing-wise) so I was…. distracted. I kept trying harder, but kept making small mistakes in the busy work. (I also complained about racism for an unrelated reason which, uh, I don’t think helped my cause. Fun situation.)

    Ultimately, when I almost lost my job, I basically had to find ways to sequester myself from my wife and son (who was an infant) when editing documents and I created an excessive checklist process for myself that reduced the errors to where they left me alone.

    After a few months, they started trusting me again, and then I realized I’d figured out how to motivate myself (spite!) for things I didn’t really care about to get to the things I enjoyed (teaching what eventually became virtual classes).

    I get the whole hell out of there once I finished my degree though. And I was very very clear what I needed from a manager/team when I was searching, as well as finally getting my ADHD diagnosis (which was why I couldn’t motivate myself to focus on things I didn’t care about).

    1. Justin*

      The moral is really, find whatever system you can to push yourself if you have no immediate options, and if they are not completely absurd, you can probably get through it.

      1. Anon Y Mouse*

        Oh heavens, Justin, I’ve been there. Last year, in fact. My busy work is important to the individuals that it impacts but it is fairly routine and I managed to organise myself poorly enough to miss some deadlines. Which I couldn’t catch up because more kept coming in.
        I did get out on a PIP but successfully completed it and am still in the role, with massive support from my boss. I haven’t managed to get my diagnosis yet because I’m in the UK and waiting lists are long, but I’m hoping. I’m looking for something less stressful but few jobs come up in my field so we’ll see. I am awesome if you want me to do something right away, less good if you want it in six weeks.

        I’ve come to the conclusion that summers are awful for me because of the lack of routine and structure – I need people around me to help me focus and if I take a vacation I need to factor in some time to refocus when I return. This is a work in progress.

      1. Grudge Exam*

        I got my PMP certification last month 90% out of spite because someone told me I couldn’t possibly pass the test, lol. My favorite was when someone congratulated me and asked me how my “grudge exam” went and now that’s what I refer to it as :) spite is very motivational for me!

        1. Bruce*

          Yesterday my adult child was taking an exam to get credit for high school algebra for a teaching certificate, an aspect of their identity offended the proctor who tried to throw them out. My child said they’d paid hundreds of dollars and refused to leave, when the manager came the proctor was ordered to give the exam and dressed down to boot. The icing was my child aced the exam and got the credit. SPITE!!!

          1. Irish Teacher*

            I did this spite thing on behalf of somebody else once. I’m a learning support teacher and had a student after the class where I knew he was doing a major project. I asked the student, “so, did you finish that project?” and the teacher he was doing the project for, overheard and said something like, “him? He’s not going to get it done.”

            As soon as our class started, I was like, “right, get out your project for that class! We are getting it done in this learning support period.” And yup, it was done by the deadline.

            I was just so annoyed at the dismissive tone the teacher took to a student that was genuinely doing his best but was really struggling academically.

            Good for your child, by the way!

          2. adorkable*

            congrats to your child but also …I am deeply angry on their behalf. who is letting bigots proctor high-stakes professional exams?

      2. NeedRain47*

        Spite story time: I’m currently subtitling some video interviews with folks that were around Topeka when Brown v Board happened and the schools were desegregated. Apparently there was one particular counselor at the high school who would always tell Black women to go to secretarial school ’cause she didnt’ think they were capable of professional jobs. My favorite quote to date is something like “Of course this just pushed us to do more. I did go to secretarial school, and my typing skills came in real handy when I had to type up my dissertation”.

    2. Brit Bratwurst*

      Getting fired after a PIP for small mistakes is also what motivated me to get treatment for ADHD. When I finally landed a job I was really excited about and noticed the pattern happening again I finally started medication. I’ve now gotten 2 promotion in 2 years in that job. 100% the right choice.

    3. Gorgeous Skirt*

      This doesn’t sound like you made ‘real’ mistakes though… I mean, the odds were stacked against you. Pandemic; racist event which traumatised many; undiagnosed ADHD; working with your partner and infant around… No wonder you were making repeated, small mistakes.
      In my industry, during that summer a lot of people ‘pivoted’ to doing online versions of their usual work, and we now tactitly accept that 80% of it was…not good work at all. Which makes perfect sense.

  4. Up and Away*

    I’ve been fortunate – I’ve had some really excellent bosses. Here’s what I’ve found work well –
    * Immediately take responsibility for the error. Don’t try to cover it up.
    * Explain why you think the error occurred – i.e. I was going too fast, I was distracted by XYZ project, etc. (This may be case dependent – you don’t want it to sound like you are making excuses)
    * Don’t get defensive.
    * Explain how you are going to ensure that the error doesn’t happen again
    * Follow through, and put systems in place to help prevent future errors

    1. ceiswyn*

      Definitely this.

      In fact, it’s not a bad set of principles for making mistakes socially or in relationships, as well.

    2. NewJobNewGal*

      Along with the second point, I make sure I express that I understand how serious the error was.

    3. Mike*

      Yes to all of this. The only thing I would add is that once you’ve internalized that final step, allow yourself to let go of the initial guilt/shame/remorse. You can’t change history, so there’s no sense beating yourself up. To quote Pumbaa: “Sometimes you have to put your behind in the past.”

    4. Bug*

      This is my process too. Own the error, explain why it happened, and what you’ll do to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And, most importantly, move on from it.

    5. Butterfly Counter*

      My mistake basically ended up like this. I’m so unhappy I made the mistake in the first place, but this is essentially how I could make up for it.

      I was teaching a graduate class 10 years ago and showing a video with a trans person in it. I didn’t hear exactly what was said, but the back of the class started laughing and I knew it was something derogatory about the person in the video. I used my ignorance as to what exactly was said to just push on with the class without addressing it because the instigators were the “cool,” vocal students and I wanted them on my side.

      Afterward, a student emailed me to call me out, saying my non-reaction made them feel my class wasn’t safe. Ooof.

      I emailed back, apologized, and set up a meeting. I also sent out a class-wide email taking responsibility for my non-action, the harm it caused, and a promise that any further anti-LGBT+ commentary would be grounds for disciplinary action in my class.

      I then met with the student, let them express their feelings about that class and I listened to all of their legitimate complaints. I said that I had no defense and that I wish I would have handled it differently, but since I couldn’t, I would be handling things much differently going forward. I needed to do better. I again apologized to the student’s face and asked what else I could do to help them feel safe in my class if there WAS anything I could do.

      Obviously, the harm had been done, but it has changed how I handle my classes going forward. That student finished the class fine and even took another of my classes and we ended up on pretty good terms. I think they appreciated that I wasn’t defensive, was actively contrite, and that I did change my teaching and expectations of classroom behavior. I didn’t just say the right things, I followed up with action that they could see.

    6. Sometimes you’re the bug*

      I forgot about an experiment that was in progress and left the lab for twenty minutes, long enough for the experiment to be ruined. It was close to completion at that point so it was a big deal. I was a senior person (in years of experience, not in level) and I should have remembered to check on it before I left.

      I did not take the brunt of the crap that hit the fan. I apologized to management and the senior engineering team I let down. The engineering team forgave the lapse and I never heard about it from them again. My direct manager was another thing altogether.

      He brought it up every time we had a 1:1. For six months after the incident. I finally asked him if he was going to keep up the attacks when I had acknowledged the error and explained what I would do in the future. He was taken aback, but kept it up.

      I took a leave of absence, three other people in the lab moved to other locations because I was not the only one he treated this way.

      While I was gone, he was removed from management because too many people were decamping.

      Sometimes, all the apologies and introspection and plans to do better won’t appease a manager who treats staff like kindergarten kids.

      1. Catabouda*

        Ugh. I feel this one.

        Accounting department. My direct report processed a journal entry backwards. The stupid system that company used didn’t require approval before posting entries so it caused all sorts of havoc on a regular basis.

        We realized what employee did fairly quickly. She submitted a new one, fixing it within about 3 hours.

        My director harped on that error for MONTHS. Every time employee’s name was mentioned in any context, director said something about that entry. An entry that had no consequences. No one outside of the department had any idea, it wasn’t like it was part of public financial reports. Like, it’s just an internal error that was fixed by the end of the day.

        I have no idea why he had such a stick up his ass about it. Especially when journal entry errors were so common because of how the software worked.

    7. Ray B Purchase*

      All of this is excellent. I’ve also found that coming to your managers with a proposed solution when you tell them about the error can be really helpful in moving past the mistake. Even if they want to go a different route for the solution, bringing one to them can show your problem-solving skills and commitment to moving forward and seeing the project through to the end.

      Mistakes are bound to happen and good bosses are aware of and ready to work with you to resolve it. A good boss doesn’t want to dwell on a one-time error any more than you do.

  5. ZSD*

    Showing that you take the error seriously and are committed to not repeating it helps. At a previous job, I made an error that cost the department $13k because I misunderstood a policy. When my colleague came to talk to me about it, she could tell from my face that I was, well, freaking out, and thus taking the situation seriously. I apologize profusely, and she said she appreciated my response. In contrast, she said one of my predecessors made a *$100k* mistake and just kind of shrugged it off. My response went over better! (And I didn’t repeat the mistake, of course.) That colleague and I had a good relationship for the remaining four years I worked there.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, but that can be taken to extremes as well. Sure, you need to acknowledge your error in a way that others understand that you’re taking it seriously, so shrugging it off isn’t appropriate, but neither is freaking out.

      It’s also important to learn not to cover yourself in figurative sackcloth and ashes when you mess up, at some point you’re going to have to acknowledge you need to move on. Apologizing profusely in the moment is obviously appropriate, as is expressing relief that whatever mess you made has been fixed up. But continuing to apologize for an old error when everyone else’s thinking “why is X still harping on about that old issue?” doesn’t help anyone.

      But a manager who refuses to let an employee who messed up, apologized, did what they could to fix the mess, and learned from it to ensure that the same mistake doesn’t happen again move on isn’t great, either.

  6. ThatGirl*

    Two companies ago, I worked for a large wholesaler who managed tens of thousands of SKUs; I did product descriptions and content management and regularly uploaded data to a notoriously finicky database.

    At some point during my tenure there I screwed an upload up and somehow managed to wipe out data for a few thousand SKUs. It was a real problem.

    Nobody got mad at me, nobody yelled, it was all handled very calmly; thankfully we could roll back to a previous version without a ton of issues. I’m sure I wasn’t IT’s favorite person that week, but I learned what I had done wrong and how not to do it again, and everyone moved on!

    1. ThatGirl*

      And I also agree with the advice that once you realize you’ve made a mistake, it’s way better to get in front of it and be proactive than it is to hope nobody notices.

      1. The Catastrophizer*

        As the OP of this open thread request, I totally agree. I always have a huge instinctual impulse to hide what I did because of shame / anxiety / bad feelings. I realized that I was growing as a professional when my first non-emotional reaction to mistakes became “who can help me fix this” instead of “how can I can hide this” even when my anxiety levels were spiked.

        1. SJ*

          I love that specific switch from “how can i hide this?” to “who can help me fix this?”

          This is something I will keep in my back pocket for the future as I also struggle with an instinct to hide things. :)

      2. Ama*

        Also, as in your example when it’s this kind of error (accidentally deleting data from a database) owning up to it quickly means you might be able to rollback, where waiting a few days might make that much more difficult.

        I also once accidentally deleted a bunch of files from a server (they weren’t active but did have some important historical information we didn’t have anywhere else — I was trying to reorganize them and somehow deleted them instead). And like you, because I instantly brought IT in they were able to rollback to a previous version and restore everything.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Yes – and that’s often true of any kind of mistake; the faster you realize something happened, the more likely it is it can be reversed or otherwise fixed. Like The Catastrophizer said, shifting to “who can help me fix this” is a great step in the right direction.

  7. Legally_Brunette*

    As a very young professional, I was new to a job in an office with a “sink-or-swim” mentality. I was on duty one weekend and took a call for an incredibly time-sensitive matter that I didn’t have nearly the experience to handle. I called all the supervisors in my office (at least 10 of them!), and only one answered. With the advice I got, I ended up not only bungling the task, but taking forever on top of it.

    The fall out was pretty immediate on Monday, as the disgruntled recipients of my work complained to the top boss about it. the #3 in the office called me in for counseling, was professional enough to listen to what I’d done to try to do the job right, and provided the MOST important professional advice I ever received: “Call XYZ top person and apologize sincerely for this, and ask them how you can repair the relationship going forward, because it’s important to you so you can work better with them in the future.”

    I swallowed any remaining pride and did as directed (which was honestly easier than expected), and it all worked out incredibly well on both sides, as they realized I was handcuffed by inexperience. It’s been 10 years since I left that job, but I still occasionally get social media messages from some of those guys who tell me they wish I was still there to work with :)

    1. Generic Name*

      Yes, you were inexperienced, but you were also set up to fail. This kind of thing is inevitable at places with a sink or swim mentality.

      1. Boof*

        Yes. But. Short of getting a new job, doing your best to seem… I don’t know if “contrite” is the right word, but basically seem like you’re taking ownship of it being your responsibility while also making it clear it’s a bit redic (by pointing out what you tried etc) and asking for help is basically the best way to handle it, as outlined above.

      2. Legally_Brunette*

        I really appreciate this comment – it took me altogether too many years to appreciate that I was set up for failure there, as opposed to failure being entirely of my own making!

    2. Up and Away*

      When I first started at my current company we had a sink or swim mentality (it’s changed dramatically since then). I had finally had enough of it and told the owner (who was not aware this was the mentality that was being pushed) that if I were to sink, my poor training would drag down our customers as well, which would not bode well for the company’s success. Things changed pretty quickly after that.

  8. Joyce to the World*

    I agree with the comments. Per my instructions, one of my team made a very large financial error. I took 100% responsibility and went directly to my manager. Fortunately it was caught before it went out the door in a final state. So I was able to follow through until it was complete and correct. I believe that my manager was actually impressed by my integrity by owning up to it and following through.

  9. PieforBreakfast*

    I was managing social media for a company that sold rather pricey products. A customer asked on social media how much a certain product cost, and I misquoted the amount by $50. I realized my mistake and wrote back that we would honor the incorrect price that I quoted, but FYI, the real price is $XX. Well, customer decides to be a massive jerk about the whole thing, threatens to sue (?) if we don’t give him the cheaper price (which we did? so, ummm?) and then forwarded screenshots of the mistake to his all his social media channels claiming we HAD to offer everyone the cheaper price.

    I high-tailed it over to my boss to explain I had somehow just given the entire Internet a discount on our product. He was like, cool, flash sale, here’ s a promo code. Set it to expire in a week. By then everyone will forget.

    It did come up under my annual review as a part of a general “attention to detail” action item for me to work on, so it wasn’t a full “alls well that ends well” but nobody really cared about our accidental flash sale.

  10. Tio*

    My first office job out of college, I booked something incorrectly. (In truth, the booking company and I both messed up – think I booked on a route to Texas and they put it in as Tennessee, but I didn’t catch it when I approved.) When it was discovered, the redirection fees were going to be $900. I thought this was the end of the world. I had to excuse myself from my desk because I was crying. I was certain that I was going to be fired. My lovely boss, however, got them to negotiate down to $450 for shared responsibility, and just… wrote it off. Turns out $450 (and honestly even $900) of loss is just… not that big of a deal for an occasional mistake in this industry. Once I progressed into a management role, I’ve now written off five figure mistakes that did not get anyone fired. Sometimes they just… happen.

    1. Generic Name*

      Yes, while $900 is a lot of money to most people, for most businesses, it’s just not that much. I had a boss who freaked out at me that some copying/large format scanning cost $500. The client was a major oil and gas company that is a household name. Fortunately although my boss was a doofus, one of the project managers convinced him it was fine because 1) the EPA had requested the materials as part of a consent decree, and 2) $500 is not even a drop in the bucket for a multibillion dollar company.

      1. Toaster Oven*

        When I was 18 and working my very first non-babysitting/non-waitressing job, I freaked out over a mistake of mine costing the company $10.

        My boss reassured me multiple times that it was fine. I didn’t believe her. (I now understand that, while I shouldn’t have made that mistake, nobody freakin’ cared about that small of an amount of money.) I eventually assuaged my guilt by sliding a $10 bill into the petty cash envelope, which…what was I thinking???

  11. Al*

    When I was a brand new developer many, many moons ago, I made a mistake that ended up truncating huge chunks of data off the master file for the whole company. It was one of those things that I couldn’t have possibly known given my experience. We were 1 week away from deleting the last backup of the good data. It took a team of people a week to fix the issue. I was too new to even be able to help fix it.

    I was very lucky to have a supportive and knowledgeable team. I owned up to it and took other people’s tasks while they fixed it. And I definitely cried in the bathroom.

    Now, whenever I train someone new and they make a mistake, I tell them this story and congratulate them for joining the club.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      Yeah, I don’t know if you can even call yourself an experienced software developer unless you’ve taken a major service offline or deleted the production database. One of my CS professors had his class write an email client and accidentally created a Distributed Denial of Service attack on the college email servers.

    2. Alpaca Bag*

      Confess, Repair, Repent, Prevent! In my first job in IT software development, we used floppy disks to transfer code and data to each other’s machines. At 11:00 pm on my second day there, I thought I was clearing my A: drive (floppy disk) to prepare for copying test scripts to the I: drive (on the network), and ended up deleting everything from the I: drive instead. It was all the project code that my new co-workers had been writing for months. There was one other person there with me, and she said the I: drive was backed up daily and was able to call somebody who would restore it in the morning. Causing my new co-workers to lose a day’s work was better than losing everything, and because I reported what happened right away, it wasn’t the disaster it could have been. My boss’s reaction was to ask how I was going to make sure it didn’t happen again, after saying he could tell I was beating myself up about it enough that he didn’t have to. I still use it as a “time I learned from making a mistake” story in interviews. How apt that it came up during Mortification Week!

    3. Love to WFH*

      One of the lovely things that periodically happens on (the soon-to-be late, lamented) Twitter is when experienced IT people share stories of the time that each of them deleted a production database, or otherwise caused a catastrophic failure.

      The good companies take these things in stride, it gets fixed (and hopefully some safeguards put in place to prevent that particular thing from happening again), and another new professional has learned two very valuable lessons:

      1. Be very careful.
      2. Be very kind.

  12. Anon for this*

    I put this story in the comments yesterday. I did something truly terrible about two years ago — during the depths of covid, I was a bit burnt out and I texted something quite scathing about a client to my colleague. My other colleague (on the same text thread) screen shared his whole desktop to the client team by accident, and they all saw me say something truly terrible. My screen-sharing colleague did NOT see that he was sharing his desktop and kept presenting while the whole team read my comments and the CEO messaged me silently. I had to tell my colleague to STOP SHARING and we escaped from that meeting as soon as possible and then had to immediately meet with the CEO.

    It was truly the worst thing I ever did at work — and it made me really examine my own sense of burnout, why I was saying yes to a project I didn’t want to do, and how to manage my own worst impulse.

    We ended up getting fired from the project, but before that, I took it head on and met with the team again the next day and apologized. I was so upset with myself I couldn’t help crying, but I tried to be super direct about apologizing and sharing appropriate amounts of what was at play. (Can’t be more explicit without doxxing myself, but I had agreed to do something that sort of triggered my values, and i tried to be honest about that without being a jerk).

    The team was actually really kind about it, partly I think because I was honest and owned my huge problem. I got fired from the work but I had to encounter some of the folks on other projects and they continued to be super kind.

    So I — owned it; was honest and apologetic; looked at what the hell was going on for me that made me so dumb and reckless. And got way more intentional about how I wanted to engage with projects that might be a challenge for me.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      Yeah, I did something similar to this once — my only defense is that I didn’t actually KNOW my comments were visible to the client; I thought this was a purely-internal review process.

      I ended up leaving that job because there was a lot about their ops that I couldn’t get along with, and a lot I didn’t like about the product and had no feasible route to changing.

    2. Screen Sharing*

      Several years ago, I also had a colleague who did something similar–opened a group chat and was messaging another person on the team about our client when she was sharing her desktop (instead of only sharing the application containing the meeting agenda). It went on for so long that the client actually said, “[Colleague name], can you close out of other applications?”
      As far as I know, she faced no repercussions. But I tell EVERYONE WITH WHOM I WORK never to share their entire screen (only the specific application). It’s not worth the risk.

  13. Snow Globe*

    I spent a number of years working in a quality control/ compliance type role. My job was to find mistakes—with a goal of identifying gaps in processes, training, policies, etc. usually, even if the primary cause of a mistake is human error, if you dig, you can also figure out ways that processes can be tweaked to reduce the opportunities for these errors.

    So my advice is, of course own up to the mistake and fix it, but also, try to figure out how to improve the systems to make it less likely that you or someone else might make a similar mistake in the future. Talk to your boss about solutions, so they aren’t just focused on what you did wrong.

  14. Stoney Lonesome*

    Oh, I have one! I also tend to catastrophize when I make a mistake (thanks childhood trauma!). I decided recently to just try out admitting to mistakes immediately when I make them. I have been working with a therapist on this for a while. For me, curiosity is a great antidote to fear. So instead of worrying what my boss’s reaction will be, I try to consciously be curious about what my boss’s reaction will be.

    Anywho, recently I made a mistake at work. There was a big piece of equipment that I had only used once before. My boss turned it on for me, but I was supposed to turn it off when I was done. I couldn’t quite remember how to do it. I filled the wrong switch and part of it broke before i managed to find the right switch and turn it off. It was a pretty easy thing to fix, but not something I could fix on my own. My initial instinct was to just walk away and pretend like I did not cause the problem and didn’t know what happened. Instead, I took a picture of the problem and texted my boss immediately. My boss came up to my work site and asked what happened. I completely owned that it was my mistake, but didn’t over apologize. My boss was totally cool. She basically just said, “well, now you’ll definitely remember how to do it correctly next time.”

    The part that broke had been a little finnicky anyway. We got the right person to fix it better than it was before. It was very much not a big deal and definitely way less of a big deal than what I assumed it was going to be.

    Despite what I experienced as a child, I have found that generally as an adult, if you promptly admit your mistakes and show willingness to fix them, people will be cool about it.

    1. WheresMyPen*

      Interesting, I wonder if I hate making mistakes so much because I was a teacher’s pet, over-achiever type as a kid. Even back then, I hated being told off or punished, and now if I make a mistake I stress and overthink it constantly until it’s resolved. It always makes me wonder how people can knowingly commit fraud or other crimes – I couldn’t live with the stress!

    2. lost academic*

      I destroyed a $1000 pH probe as a freshman chemistry work study student in college. I was devastated. The PI, with whom I had almost no interaction ever, very kindly walked me through the cost to replace it in the grand scheme of things.

    3. NeedRain47*

      Similarly, I have discovered that my fear of a persons potential wrath, is way harder on me than their actual reaction, almost every time. (hardly anyone is channeling my angry mother.) There are people who will get irrational at small mistakes, but actually most adults don’t, especially in the workplace.

      1. OxfordBlue*

        Snap! I also try very hard to be very matter of fact about other people’s mistakes and help them sort them out calmly because I tend to imagine they’re experiencing the same sort of fear that I would be in their situation.

  15. Dramatic Squirrel*

    Perfectionist here, I’ve made lots of small mistakes that I’m lucky enough to have mostly caught before anybody noticed or they affected anything. But 2 jobs back a senior leader of the organisation, a notorious bully who I had only briefly interacted with and worked in a different country, handed down an immediate edict that was ridiculous.

    My boss was on vacation, I was in charge in her absence, and this was going to have a terrible impact on the teams workload and our clients experience. I fired off an email explaining how terrible this was and what the impact was and suggesting that it be postponed. It was obvious I was angry and thought he was an idiot. A little while later my grandboss ambles by to ask me (very kindly) what had I thought that would achieve. I realised that I had majorly messed up. The bully went to my great grandboss to complain about my attitude. I felt terrible, not about saying what was true but about how much hassle it caused for my next 3 levels of boss who were mostly wonderful. I wrote a grovelling apology to all involved, cried for 3 days because I HATE messing up.

    A month or so later I get asked to join a really prestigious project and when I thanked the person I thought had put my name forward, she she said it wasn’t her, it was the bully! When he got over the shock of somebody talking back he appreciated that I wasn’t afraid to tell him the truth. Still didn’t change the ridiculous edict though. In the end it didn’t harm my career there and everybody got over it!

  16. The Prettiest Curse*

    I once accidentally gouged a big hole in a poster mounted on foam core that was due to be used in a statewide press conference. I would’ve owned up to it anyway, but there were witnesses, so I couldn’t deny it was me.

    I managed to save the situation by pointing out that, even though the poster was damaged, it also had a giant typo which would have looked really bad on screen. (I also offered to personally pay for a replacement since the damage was my fault, but they decided to re-print on account of the typo so they didn’t take me up on the offer.)

    Since I was the only person who spotted the typo, I was also given the responsibility for proofing press releases and anything else released to the public. This set me on a path where communications is now a formal part of my job duties in my current role, in addition to the events duties which make up the majority of my work.

  17. WheresMyPen*

    I posted about this exact thing last year in an open thread! I was a few months into a new role in the same company and had briefed a freelancer about work, but made a mistake on the fee I told her. I was panicking as it would take us over budget by a couple of hundred pounds. After I realised, I had the horrible nervous tummy, worry, going over and over in my head how I’d explain it all night. In the morning, I knew I had to explain rather than cover it up or quit my job and retrain as a goat keeper in the forest. I asked my manager for a quick call to explain and she was so nice about it. She said it was easily done and that we’d shuffle things around to make the budget work this time, and just make sure it was fixed the next time. I was instantly so relieved.

    Incidentally I’ve made another, different mistake recently (nothing catastrophic, but inconvenient) and am yet to speak to her about it because we’ve been in the middle of a very busy project, but this post seems appropriately timed as a reminder to me to be a grown up and admit my mistakes. The tummy ache and bad sleep really isn’t worth it!

  18. Kwebbel*

    I have one that may feel a little different to some others that are coming, but I think it’s worth sharing my experience here because I think many people probably go through what I did.

    At my last job, I went through a period of underperformance that lasted around 4 months. I was working in a Strategy & Program Management team as an Analyst, and I was asked to create a 3-year turnover, revenue and cost model to help us plan our strategy to 2020.

    Some of my underperformance was due to incomplete training (all other Analysts in our Strategy & Program Management team went through rigorous training, and I didn’t receive any, even after asking for it), but some of it was very much because I didn’t take initiative. I didn’t raise BI requests until asked to, I didn’t get information from stakeholders to shape my analysis in good time, and I wasn’t really pushy with teams when they weren’t giving me feedback when I needed it.

    My manager & program manager definitely noticed, and they had a number of feedback meetings with me to tell me I needed to improve. I didn’t get much in the way of support from them, so I really did need to pull myself up by the bootstraps.

    And I did!! I really did. I really picked up my performance within about 4 months, and created a stellar model that even our toughest stakeholders were happy with. And I took my learnings into my next project, which was a huge customer migration project. That one went really well! I caught the eye of another manager who needed a Program Management function within his department, and I moved over to join his team about 4 months after my performance picked up.

    But my reputation followed me. My manager from the first team just never saw me as a good performer. He even went so far as to sit me down and, no kidding, “fire” me after I had already moved to the new team. He told me “your performance hasn’t improved and you haven’t met my expectations, and we don’t have a place for you in our team.” I said “well…I’m actually reporting to someone else now, which is…why I’m not on your payroll anymore?” But he seemed weirdly unmoved by this and just kept going with what was clearly a very well rehearsed speech. With this little half-smile on his face, too, which still irritates me when I think about it. Not only that, but he insisted on doing a performance review 2 months later where he once again reiterated all the points of my underperformance, some of which were 10 months old by that point.

    And I had to work with him in the new role, and it was very clear that he still saw me as an underperformer who couldn’t run an analysis correctly. He critiqued everything I created, set unrealistic deadlines for anything we were working on, and gave me incorrect information when I needed his input for my work (which, of course, were always my fault for not being “proactive” enough to catch his mistakes. Even when I did. Apparently I wasn’t catching them “the right way”, or something).

    This followed me in other ways, too: I couldn’t get a raise, was working 60 hours a week, and wasn’t seeing any real increase in responsibility in my role (just an increase in workload). By this point, people were coming in at junior levels to me and getting paid more than me. They even planned to hire an assistant for me who – for real! – was going to be offered at least €2000 and at most €12000 more than what I was making.

    Up until that point, which was after a year of high performance and a year and a half since I had been having my issues, I always felt that it was fair to pay me lower because I was still doing penance for my old role. And my old and new manager were always quick to remind me of this when I asked for more challenging work, a reduction in my workload to 40 hours a week, or fair compensation. But I started to realize that, “hey, wait a minute, I already have proven myself. If they don’t see it, it’s time to check the market and see if other employers feel the same way.”

    It took about 6 weeks before I found a job that paid me 35% more. I’ve been in much more complex roles than the ones I did at my old company. I now get paid 3x what I got paid in my old company, and it’s only been 4.5 years since I left.

    So, I guess what I learned from all of this is that recovering from underperformance isn’t just about improving in other people’s eyes. It’s about being self aware of how much progress you’ve made, and having the confidence to stand up and say “heck, I am good, and now that I’ve learned and recovered, I’m worth more!”

    1. allathian*

      I’m glad you recovered so well, but really, they were setting you up to fail by not sending you to the training that everyone else got. Living well really is the best revenge.

      But it has to be said that sometimes things and especially personal relationships just can’t be fixed. In my case it was a very friendly manager who wanted to be liked to the point that she couldn’t always manage effectively. But my mistake was in allowing her to become my friend and confidante (undoubtedly I was compensating for another former manager who’d been task-oriented to the point that getting her to acknowledge human needs and frailties was sometimes difficult). We’d go to lunch together and she’d talk about personal issues like her son’s infidelity and divorce that really were none of my business, and I was too naive even at 40+ to gently disengage. I was on the point of burning out on a project that ended up requiring a lot more work than we estimated (I was working 55+ hour weeks when I normally work less than 40). That big project had to be done, but I was overly invested in holding on to all the other work I was doing as well, and when she told me I needed to focus on the project and hand over the rest of the work to someone else, I lost it and yelled at her.

      There really is no excuse for yelling at work in anger. I had to do an early intervention & reconciliation with our EAP, and for some of it my manager was also present. In therapy I realized that I didn’t respect my manager’s managerial authority because she’d treated me like a friend.

      The following six months or so were very awkward for both of us. Certainly the lunches and friendly talks were at an end, and we spoke only about matters directly related to my work, and handled most of that by email/IM. She went on job rotation to a sister organization and one of my peers was promoted to interim manager. Afterwards she returned to do a special project, but she wasn’t on our team where her manager would’ve been a former report.

      I hardly saw her while she did the project. I acknowledged her presence by greeting her if we ran into each other at the office, but we didn’t stop to chat. This was in late 2019. I’m very glad that her project ended and she retired during mandatory WFH so that I didn’t have to think of an excuse to avoid attending her retirement party. There was a virtual party but I just didn’t go and I don’t think I was missed.

      I saw her once last year at another coworker’s retirement party, but thankfully there were so many guests that I could pretend that I didn’t see her and I suspect she felt the same way.

      I’m also very glad that there are no expectations of contacting retirees for references here…

      The whole incident was horrible, and I’m deeply ashamed of myself for basically bullying my former manager out of management. The timeline was such that it wasn’t a coincidence, it takes so long for things to happen in government. I also really appreciate how lucky I was to keep my job. Sure, I had to attend the early intervention program to keep my job, but I wasn’t fired outright for insubordination or for yelling at my manager.

      If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that I really can’t be friends with my manager. Thankfully the two managers I’ve had since then have been friendly and professional, and I’ve always accepted their authority without question.

  19. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    Many many moons ago, I was in charge of ambulance rebilling. (If you’re inpatient at hospital A and have to go by ambulance to hospital B for a specialized treatment, your insurance won’t pay for anything outside of hospital A, so the ambulance and hospital B will bill hospital A and hospital A will rebill you.) Our contract people were renegotiating the ambulance contract, so they told me “Don’t submit any ambulance bills for payment until we finish this up.” So I tossed them into a box on my desk until they told me they were ready. Only they didn’t tell me they were done, and I never bothered to ask them, because I dunno how long negotiating these contracts takes. So I just kept tossing them into the box.

    Until one day I got an email from the CFO, with every one of the six levels of management between me and her cc’ed, asking why we hadn’t paid the ambulance company in almost a year and now owed them over a million dollars. When my boss came to find me I was literally curled up in a bawling heap under my desk (in a cube farm, no private office for me), positive I was about to get perp-walked out.

    She talked me down, I explained what happened and copped that yeah, I should’ve followed up on it much sooner, and she said “Okay. How fast can we get this resolved?” I looked at my watch and said “Before I leave today?” And she said “Do it.” And I did it.

    I never heard anything about it again, and I have been promoted several times both there and at other organizations since.

    1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

      I love this story, because it’s so relatable to me that I might accidentally drop a critical task after being told to delay it for an indeterminate amount of time. (Lack of professional object permanence is my biggest fear).

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        That’s exactly what it was — I’m terrible with “out of sight out of mind” and my biggest takeaway was that I need to make sure that things that need follow-up don’t go out of sight.

        I inbox-zero, but I really wish that Outlook had a way that I could hide or file a particular email and then have it pop back into my inbox at a certain date/time. As it is, I have a “follow-up” folder and a daily reminder every afternoon to review the follow-up folder and see what I need to follow up on. But if I just leave all of these things in my regular inbox they’ll become just visual noise and I won’t be able to keep track of ANYTHING.

        1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

          Outlook does have a “Snooze” function that lets you hide something from your inbox until a certain date. I only use it for things that I need to check up on within the next 1-2 weeks, but I imagine it would be effective at longer stretches.

          I also have a folder called “Waiting for Someone” (which I believe I learned from one of Alison’s posts here!) where I file things that I need to follow up on periodically. I put a weekly reminder on my computer to go through that folder and follow up on anything that needs someone else’s action. Neither of these have been perfect solutions, but it’s definitely a tighter ship now.

        2. Ginger Baker*

          I use “delay send” for this! I literally will forward myself the email and set “delay send” option to whatever time frame makes sense (a month, three months, etc.)

        3. SJ*

          You can snooze emails in Outlook using the web version!! I normally work from the desktop version but keep a tab open with the web version just for this purpose. :)

          1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

            It’s also available in “New Outlook” if you have the option to upgrade to the new interface!

            1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

              Whaaaaaaat okay I’ve been avoiding New Outlook like the plague for a couple months now but I might have to suck it up.

              1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

                And now the help desk guy has moved, modified and customized my ribbon at least four times in his attempt to find the “Try the new Outlook” option, which has disappeared after yelling at me every time I logged on for the last two months. Figures. :)

              2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                I went to New Outlook and lost several features I have used daily for 19 years, so I reverted. YMMV.

        4. Mom of Boys*

          You can do this in Outlook! You can set reminders on specific emails to “remind you” on certain days/times and even include yourself notes about what it was you needed to do. It’s a little red flag. I do this all the time for projects that have waiting periods between tasks.

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            I know how the red flag works, but I actually want the whole email to GO AWAY AND NOT BE VISIBLE until I need it to come back :) but it sounds like that might be an option if I *gulp* “upgrade” !!

            1. Silver Robin*

              You can make the email go away by archiving it or moving it into a folder somewhere. The task will still be there. But I do not know how to pull the email back into the inbox on a schedule…

        5. ShroomTaDa*

          you can set a flag and customized reminders on emails in Outlook. And they will pop up at the time and date you set.

        6. Silver Robin*

          Outlook has Tasks! You can hover over the top right of the email in your inbox and a little red flag will pop up. Right click on that and it will let you choose the deadline for this task. Then, in your View menu, hover over “To-Do Bar” in the Layout group and choose “Tasks”. That will now be on the right of your Outlook screen. The emails you flagged will now show in that list, sorted by due date. Double clicking on that task will pull up the email (it will pull the specific email, so if more emails show up in the chain, you will not see them unless you re-flag with the most recent email). Tasks that are overdue turn red, as will the email in the inbox.

          You can add tasks as well, make them reoccurring, etc. This is how I keep track of everything I need to do.

          1. Silver Robin*

            Aaand I was deeply repetitive, apologies! Things did not load correctly and I missed the other comments.

        7. Scarletb*

          It kind of can – you can drag emails into your calendar in Outlook and it generates an appointment with it (defaults to now iirc, so put it where you need it), has the email as an attachment (you can add multiple similar or smaller ones to the same appointment, to chunk your time), and then you delete or archive the one in your inbox. That way it goes away from cluttering up your inbox, and you’ll get the calendar reminder and have the email available in it.

  20. Correlation is not causation*

    I was in charge of submitting a multi-million dollar grant proposal and uploaded the budget incorrectly which got us disqualified from consideration for the grant.
    It had been months of work for several people on the team, and at the last minute my boss kept changing her mind about whether we wanted to apply or not. At the 11th hour, she agreed to submit the application, we went over every detail and made sure it was right, I submitted and didn’t realize that the budget was submitted with the wrong file format. (It was there, just in the wrong format).
    After all was said and done, my boss confided that she was grateful that we didn’t get the grant because we really didn’t have the staff or infrastructure to support it (she had exaggerated our abilities in the narrative, but realistically, we would have needed about 6 more staff to do the work required).
    I still felt awful, because it was my mistake – but it did help to know that the narrative was mostly fiction and it would have caused bigger trouble if we’d gotten the grant.

  21. ExcelError*

    My first job out of college was at a food bank and I was a coordinator for their summer meals program. This was run though a government-funded reimbursed program, so we would purchase qualifying meals from a vendor, serve them to kids in qualifying areas, and be reimbursed for the meals we served. It was my responsibility to enter the total number of meals served every month into the government website so that we could be reimbursed.

    The mistake was an error in our spreadsheet which totaled the meals for each month. The formula didn’t cover all the cells it was supposed to, and our totals were not correct. I had already submitted the reimbursement claim when I realized it and ended up crying in my boss’s office because our claim for that month would be short by more than my annual salary. I’d never made such a huge mistake before and was sure I was going to get fired.

    He was completely unfazed, calmed me down, and told me who to call to file an amendment to our claim. He had years of experience running these types of programs and knew way more about the process than I did. The agency was very understanding and assured me it happened all the time and the amendment process was fairly easy. I learned my lesson though and thoroughly proofread all my spreadsheets.

  22. a.p.*

    I’ve found that the quicker I deal with it, the less of a problem it becomes.

    One time, very early in my career, a restaurant had messed up my order for an event. I’d scheduled the delivery time well before the event start, so there was no need to panic, but I got super flustered. So flustered, in fact, that I loudly complained to about 10 people before I actually called the restaurant to fix the order. It was so unprofessional of me to be going around to everyone, ranting about this restaurant, when I’d done nothing to fix it! I recovered a few ways: 1) I made sure I stayed extra calm and collected in every single situation that followed, 2) I addressed it head-on with my boss, sitting down with her and saying “I realize I got flustered! I had A, B & C going on, but that was all the more reason to stay collected. I’ll prioritize this going forward” and she was very understanding. Finally, 3) I felt like I needed to recover quickly with the colleagues who saw me get flustered, so I made it into a joke. It brought a sense of lightheartedness to the situation, which I think showed that I was still in control of the event.

  23. Kellogg*

    I bought a small business from another couple and was working through their software system. Long story short, I accidentally sent “Order Confirmation” emails to every. single. customer. who had ever bought from them.

    As you can imagine, that went over like a ton of bricks.

    I got hundreds of emails accusing me of fraud and credit card theft, some of them VERY intense. After having a full-blown panic attack, I set up an auto-response explaining the situation and assuring them I did NOT have their credit card data and they would NOT be charged.

    I then also went on social media and posted, taking full responsibility for being dumb. That actually was the best thing I could have done (if only for my mental health), because I got a lot of comments commending me for my honesty and assuring me that we are all human! Much better to read than my inbox :) The flurry of emails eventually died and I moved on, but it was a very stressful week!

    1. Sloanicota*

      You just reminded me of all the years I spent at a foundation (a literal funding org) where we had a temperamental database … it would not have been at all difficult to accidentally send an acceptance email to all applicants, or switch up the “decline” and “award” emails the system auto-generated. Thank goodness it never happened to me, but I guarantee it did happen somewhere to someone.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Good lord. I’m shaking my head at the customers. Whatever happened to checking your CC to verify that no charge was made, then if you (generic customer you) are still losing sleep over it, report your card as lost or stolen and get a new number, boom, done. But even from my limited direct experience with customers, I totally get that this is something people do. I really like the way you handled it!

    3. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

      I can think of half a dozen businesses that have done this to me- in fact, a couple years ago I was congratulated on my acceptance to a university I don’t think I’d even applied to…. more than a decade before, when I was actually applying to colleges.

  24. SS*

    I’m a software engineer, and one time I released some code that locked up our database and made our product unusable for a few hours. It was an oversight on my part. I should have asked our database expert to review what I was doing before I released the code.

    I immediately notified my boss and our database expert of what had happened, and I worked through lunch and stayed late to help mitigate the fallout. When it was all over, I wrote an internal blog post about what had happened, why it had happened, and how we can prevent it in the future. I was promoted a few months later, and my boss said that the way I handled this mishap was one of the reasons why!

  25. Dolphin Girl*

    Many years ago at a different organization, I stopped a process to make a production change and forgot to restart it for 9 hours. When I figured out what I’d done, I told my boss what I had done, we put some protections in place and never heard anything else about it. Being honest and taking ownership has always served me well.

  26. Elle*

    I was promoted to director around the same time my non profit expanded its mission and began growing rapidly. My job tasks changed to grant management and became more numbers based, which I had no training in and is not a strength of mine. I messed up a lot. I ended up leaving that job, even though it was a place I loved. Now I’m more aware of my strengths and am more up front with my boss about where I need support.

  27. Sloanicota*

    Ugh, I have the worst one ever. We had a program logo that we put on everything for a conference. One of our funders was finicky and we had to make a last-minute change to the branding. Sent the request to our comms department (the only ones who could edit logos) got it back last minute, and slapped it on everything – everything. The folders, the powerpoints, the agendas. It was everywhere. I did not notice until we were actually at the conference watching a powerpoint and someone mentioned that our state’s name was misspelled. So instead of “Oklahoma Citizens Group” for example it said “Oklohoma.” I just about died. It was 100% the comms team’s error but I should have seen it, being the OK rep. My boss was soooo nice about it though. We changed it where we could and just laughed it off otherwise, as there was nothing we can do. She did not hold it against me later.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      One of the interesting things I’ve discovered from working big events is that, much of the time, nobody will notice a mistake unless you actually point it out. So unless there’s a major issue during an event, I don’t mention it unless someone mentions it to me first. Logos are a massive pain anyway because they have to go on so many different things and people are always changing their minds! So you have my sympathy on this one.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          I don’t blame you, the stress level of coordinating events can be way too high if it’s not something that you enjoy doing!

  28. Cards fan*

    I was new to a job that had been using an interim provider for my position. I called the interim provider to get insight into my clients. It was a long conversation. In a couple weeks, the entire organization received a scathing email from the director (known for screaming at underlings for various reasons) for a long distance phone charge that should have taken place on our 800 line. I was unaware of that line, and pretty horrified. But I went to the director at my earliest opportunity, confessed the call was mine, and that I didn’t know about the toll free line, offered to pay for the call, and explained who I had called and why. There was no screaming and he thanked me for explaining. I did not have to pay for the call.
    I was never the recipient of a screaming session, but he was still a jerk.

  29. Anon (because I want to keep a job*

    I’m in commissions for a multinational software company – this is just one of many: a couple of years ago, we had opened a new subsidiary, but the information didn’t make it down to us that there would be a change in how we were submitting payroll. (Think previous being all North America and the sub was Latin America). I followed the old commission process from Jan-November and an entire country’s worth of reps didn’t get their commission payments for almost a year.

    When a question finally came in about why these people hadn’t received payment, I reviewed my process with my manager. It turns out, I never added the new payroll/HR contacts to my monthly email (erroneously believing that the NA contacts would pay, as they always had previously). As others have said – I apologized a lot and didn’t try to hide or blame anyone else. (Although, my boss & I did question why it took nearly a year for the affected to question the lack of payment) Luckily, that was a small handful (under 10) people, but people like getting paid.

    Our processes were reviewed by our auditing team, and we ended up completely overhauling our submissions to the payroll team because of it. Very, very few mistakes have been made since – at least due to this type of thing. As a side note…check your paystubs regularly and let the appropriate people know if there’s an issue! We want to make things right!

  30. zinzarin*

    I remembered a specific example!

    My first job in a medical device career, I prepared a validation report for the inspection equipment required for a component, the production of which was being transferred to our facility. Having a long career in automotive manufacturing–and not really being fully trained on GDP (Good Documentation Practices)–I handled the raw data the same way I had always done: I threw it away (technically, I put it in the shredder bin). As anyone who’s worked in pharma or medical device will know, you *can’t* do that! All original data must be retained, even if it’s on scratch paper or whatever.

    I spent an afternoon sorting through that shredder bin with both the Director of Operations and the Director of Quality to recover the original records, or we would have had to repeat all the testing.

    This was in my first couple weeks of work; we all just had a good laugh about it in the end. In the moment, though, I was terrified! Nothing impresses the importance of a work rule like sitting on the floor with two of the top three people in the company to fix your mistake! Needless to say, I never mis-handled original records again.

  31. Mostly Managing*

    Eons ago, back in the dark ages when everything was on paper, I was meant to be the one sending out requests for proposals and also keeping track of the filing – both paper and digital.

    I was new to the industry, new to the workforce, and had no idea we had to keep a copy of everything! I thought that once we’d sent out the RFPs we could just wait for responses. No. We were meant to have copies of everything on file so that the boss could check what had been sent vs what came back vs just take a peek because something similar was coming down the pipe.

    Not only did I not keep a hard copy of a lengthy RFP, I managed to delete the digital copy too.

    My boss said, somewhat sarcastically, “That’s rather impressive, to lose both the hard copy AND the saved copy.” Then told me which contractor to ask (very politely!) for a copy of the original please and thank you.

    In retrospect, some training in that job would have saved a lot of mistakes!!

  32. ErinWV*

    Early on in my assistant career, my boss asked me to book travel for her for a conference. Not being super familiar with any travel-booking in work or my own life, I thought I might as well go for the super-saver option – which turned out to be non-refundable, which became a problem when the conference was cancelled. I tried desperately to handle it without her finding out, though I had to come clean when cancelling the booking didn’t happen immediately. I explained that I messed up and was working on it. She was very cool and just said to let her know if/when she needed to step in.

    I ended up on the phone with a representative and half-lying half-truthing that I had made a huge mistake with the booking and if they didn’t let me cancel for a refund I was going to get fired and please help a girl out! They refunded me. I told my boss that’s how I played it, and she was like, “Good idea.” We had a very good working relationship until she retired.

  33. Isben Takes Tea*

    My first week into my first “Real Job” in an Actual Publishing Office, I was charged with uploading a final book file to the printer. I followed the instructions and clicked through the portal correctly, feeling the thrill of my first Real Bit of Publishing! Only to have my heart plummet to my stomach half an hour later when I realized I had sent the wrong file. Calamity! Shame! I knew I had to go tell my boss, who was just a walk down the hall, and I had to make three entire attempts over almost twenty minutes because I turned back twice to go pace up and down the hall to try and get my heart rate in check. I finally managed to knock on her door, sit down across from her, and say, “I think I made a big mistake. I just sent the wrong file to the printer. How do you want me to proceed?”

    She looked a bit startled and said, “Oh, it’s no big deal, it happens a lot, just re-upload the right one and send our rep an email.”

    It turns out printing books is not some instantaneous automated process that starts the minute you upload a file! She probably laughed about my overreactive seriousness privately, but I think I made a good impression that I owned up to a mistake and tried to find a solution instead of hiding it.

    It was such good practice in proactively taking responsibility, even when all you want to do is run away and scream “IT WASN’T ME!!!” It also was a good lesson in not elevating a mistake to a crisis level without going through a fact-finding period first.

  34. Ann Onymous*

    I once worked on a project with some pretty strict data protections where everyone working the project had to sign an agreement to abide by the data protections and we couldn’t share any project-specific info with anyone who hadn’t signed. I needed help with an issue from somebody who was doing similar work on a different project. I carefully deleted all the project-specific content from my document and sent it over. Unfortunately I had change tracking turned on in Word so all the deleted content was still there. I was pretty early in my career at this point and was absolutely terrified I was going to be fired or worse. I went to my manager nearly in tears to tell her what I’d done. She thanked me for telling her right away and arranged for the person I’d sent it to to sign the data sharing agreement. She told me that everybody makes mistakes and as long as you’re not intentionally mishandling data and you disclose right away if you accidentally share something, you don’t generally get in trouble for that.

  35. CzechMate*

    I do work related to immigration, so the stakes are pretty high (as in, people can lose their immigration status if mistakes are made). About six months ago, I thought someone’s immigration record was all good and I gave the all-clear, and after two months I discovered they actually had overstayed a previous short-term entry and had actually been in the country without lawful status for several months. This could have been a relatively easy fix a few months earlier, but at this point the only option was for the individual to leave the country immediately and try to return later (provided the border patrol allowed it). Yikes.

    First–I immediately contacted my boss to see if there was any possible way it could be resolved. There wasn’t. So, second, I talked to the individual right away. I think explaining something calmly and thoroughly is helpful, and if the mistake is mine, explaining why I made the mistake is helpful (in this instance, the individual should have known they had overstayed. The conversation was something like, “I did not catch it at the time, and that is my fault. As you know, this is a very busy time and because it was last-minute, I did not allow enough time to review the documentation as thoroughly as I should have. At the same time, you were notified in these instances that you should have left the country by xyz date.”). I also lay out limitations up front (i.e. “You and I know this is a misunderstanding, but the Immigration Service will not make an exception for you to stay because of this.”) I follow up immediately by laying out what the solutions are–a boss once told me that it’s good to give people options, so I actually will sometimes throw in options I think someone will never pick so that a) they feel like they are making a choice, rather than being forced to do something, and b) sometimes they actually prefer the option I personally would never pick (ex. “One option is to return to your home country right now and to wait six months. Another is to remain here and to file a motion to have this corrected, but that may end up being more expensive and will require you to have sufficient evidence that a mistake was made when you first lost your immigration status or that there was an extreme extenuating circumstance that prevented you from leaving. It’s up to you, but the easiest may be to just leave the country and return later.”)

    In this case, the individual ended up being pretty understanding (although obviously not happy, but he ultimately had made the biggest mistake) and we quickly worked out a rough solution in the office. I sent them a follow up email detailing everything we’d discussed. The person ended up going to his home country, waiting a bit, and then was able to reenter lawfully a few months later. I now am extra careful when screening documents and have caught some of these issues for my coworkers before they escalate that far.

  36. ChaoticNeutral*

    I was not in a good place mentally or emotionally (things going on at home AND at work: fun) and found myself making lots of dumb mistakes. The one that sticks out to me was one where my grand boss treated me with real grace. I sent the wrong contract to a client and my boss got really upset with me. In my flurry to fix the problem, I sent an updated contract and slapped my grand boss’s e-signature on it without actually asking him to review it first. That contract was, of course, also wrong. I began to panic, thinking our client would reach out to my grand boss about it and he would have no clue what the client was talking about because he, of course, had not reviewed it. As I’m having this internal struggle who walks past my office but—you guessed it—grand boss! He leaned in and was like hey how’s it going and I just BURST into tears lol. He was probably like do I smell?? But he just quietly was like, I’m going to give you a moment, come find me when you’re ready. Of course having no clue I was crying because I thought HE would be upset with me. I worked up the courage to go in his office and explain the situation, still crying a little. And he very calmly was like, this is not a problem, let’s fix the contract together and I will send it over myself. I will never forget how kindly he treated me while also explaining how to fix the issue and how to not make that mistake again. He treated me as competent even when I didn’t feel that way myself. that incident taught me that when you assume the worst of the situation—that you royally messed up, that everyone is going to be mad, etc—that people can surprise you with their understanding and empathy if you quickly own up to the mistake. It also taught me that sometimes issues feel bigger than they are when we’re already spiraling, and sometimes it takes a little vulnerability to ask a trusted partner to pull you out of that spiral. Wish you well letter writer!

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      “He treated me as competent even when I didn’t feel that way myself”

      Gosh I love this so much. What a healing experience.

  37. Mother of Corgis*

    I was running our payroll for the week, not paying as much attention as usual, and accidently ran it to be deposited the week following, not the current week. To make it worse, I didn’t notice the wrong dates until I had completed the whole process and could no longer undo or correct it. I went to my boss immediately, told her what I’d done, and we contacted tech support for the payroll program to figure out what all we needed to do to fix it. It took the better part of that day, but we got it fixed. Super stressful, and I was beating myself up over it, but we finally got it fixed. My boss didn’t even write me up or anything. She just said “that’s one mistake I know I never have to worry about you making again!” She was right lol. I triple check my dates every time now before moving on to the next step.

  38. Grumpus*

    First job out of college, I sent the wrong sales presentation to be duplicated (VHS!), costing the company about $3000.00. I was convinced I was going to get fired when I got up the nerve to tell my boss. He said “fix it.” So I called the vendor and explained, but they would not give us a discount to essentially redo their work when it was our (my) mistake. Understandable. So, then I researched other vendors and found one to duplicate the VHS presentation for a lot less money. I did not get fired. It’s been decades since then, and I have a successful career in another industry.

  39. Elle Woods*

    I was once a teaching assistant for a class of 300 students and responsible for maintaining the spreadsheet with student grades. In an effort to make things “neat,” I reformatted spreadsheet cells which, in turn, messed up the final grade calculation function for about 70% of the students. The professor and I were just about to submit final grades when he noticed an error. We met and figured out what was causing the problem. I fixed the error, sent him the updated spreadsheet, and submitted the correct final grades. In the long run nothing was harmed but my pride. Fortunately, the professor was nice about it and presented it as an learning opportunity for me. I took some online tutorials about using Excel and am now far more careful about changes I make when updating spreadsheets.

    1. Sloanicota*

      It is waaay too easy to make a seemingly small tweak to a spreadsheet that is actually a really big deal. This was not my mistake, but I realized pretty far into a coworker’s new hire that they were not using “insert row” correctly, so they were over-writing rows every time instead of adding new rows. God knows how many problems this caused. They also kept over-writing what they thought were numbers, which were actually formulas, which caused no end of grief. Even basic excel is actually surprisingly complicated and the dunning-kruger is strong there!!

    2. Alisaurus*

      I totally did something similar with a spreadsheet! It was a relief down the road now that I’ve discovered just how easy it is to make these mistakes, even if you think you know Excel.

      Early on in my career, I made a mistake in the exported list of names/addresses I was supposed to send to a printer for my org’s Christmas card. Thanks to an entry with no name listed, I accidentally bumped all names from about M-Z down to the next address. So about half our mailing list got cards all right… but with someone else’s name on the envelope. We didn’t realize until a few days later when people started posting on social and tagging us. My boss came and asked me about it, and I was mortified but had to ‘fess up because it was pretty obvious what happened once we opened the spreadsheet to check. I wrote an apology email to my grandboss, who ran the org and had to make a public apology (some people were MAD), but he was super gracious, and I now am super careful with every spreadsheet I handle.

      (We did get returned cards for a while though. They were all the same inside, but some people returned to sender because it wasn’t their name.)

  40. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    Oh my gosh. I did this recently. I oversee a program in 13 states. I had a budget of, say, $100k. I was looking at a spreadsheet that said my states had spent $750k, leaving me $25k to distribute as I saw fit. One of my states wanted to organize a huge $20k event that I approved. Our budget person (who normally coordinates with the finance department to send money) was away so I emailed the finance department directly. I had a good relationship with them so they trusted me. They transferred the $20k immediately and I was proud of myself for handling the situation and managing my money well. I had $5k left to manage for local travel and other smaller tasks. Perfect.

    The budget person comes back a few days later and I ask her for more money for something else. She said she couldn’t because she only has $5k left in the account and needs to process that for a different region who was at risk of having their travel not be reimbursed.

    Reader, I had been looking at the funds available for my entire Division, not just my region!! I had sent away the majority of the money we had left for the entire nation for the year.

    I got my heart out of my throat and my stomach off the floor and told my boss. I was mortified but somehow dragged myself over there and was profusely apologetic. My old boss would have reamed for for this and rightfully so (but he would also have been mean about it). My old instinctive response would have been to find a way to hide it. I have been working very hard to leap forward and take responsibility for mistakes in order to set the kind of tone that I want others to be able to take, and feel safe to do that via my example.

    My new boss said “no problem, we will ask for more” and that was that. I apologized to the budget person and she said no problem. It was a non issue.

    I am still in happy shock about it and that was months ago.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      They had spent $75k, not $750k. Tried to put in round number to make it simple and made it more confusing :)

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      If it’s any consolation, UK central government did a worse variation on this theme back in 2008. Newcastle upon Tyne council had queried why their budget allocation from central government seemed to be less than it should be….it eventually came out that £2.8 million had been allocated to Newcastle under Lyme by mistake.

  41. Rich*

    I completely forgot to include overtime on a batch of payments to about 20 freelancers. The union rep came to see me on site and asked me for a list of all the people on a project a month prior. I said I would when I was back at my desk, but reminded him that the personnel list was sent out in advance and he should have it in his emails, but he said he needed all their email addresses. I said I couldn’t really hand out a load of email addresses without knowing why, and he said he was following up to see who had been paid overtime. ‘Ah,’ I said, as the penny dropped, ‘No-one has.’ ‘Why?’ he asked (perfectly reasonably). ‘Because I forgot to add it,’ I said, ‘leave it with me.’ And we paid all the overtime. He was astonished to find that not a single person had raised it with me or my manager (who signed off the payments), and was all geared up to go ballistic with us for refusing to pay overtime owed. Nope, error not deliberate or malicious avoidance of payment.

    I set up a better system for ensuring overtime was paid (wrote OVERTIME on the day’s personnel sheet when it happened), and also made a point from then on to tell all new freelancers that contacting me if they thought I’d made a mistake in their payment would have no implications for future work, and that they were 100% welcome to flag with me without consequences. And people did! Usually expenses queries (which were really complicated) and probably 95% of the time someone checked with me I hadn’t made a mistake, but occasionally of course I had.

  42. Not myself today*

    I was managing someone who made a fairly major financial mistake. Thankfully, she came to me immediately, explained what happed and was willing to work out a solution.

    We were able to go to the client and explain the problem, correct the invoice (we overcharged by about $1000 on a $5000 job) and I was able to help the employee see what went wrong, we got her into training on the software she needed to do this work (I thought she’d been trained, but it turns out, she wasn’t) and now she is the financial director of that agency. (I’ve since moved on, but I’m very happy for her)

  43. OrigCassandra*

    Not long after being hired into a higher-ed instructional position, I wrote an op-ed for a trade publication in my field yelling at an initiative…

    … that the campus CIO was supporting with all his heart. I got an email asking pretty peremptorily for a meeting with the said campus CIO. Cue George Takei “oh my” moment.

    I immediately went to the department chair and explained the situation. She looked at me a moment, then said “Cassandra, we didn’t hire you to be quiet.”

    I don’t actually know what-all happened after that. I agreed to the meeting but it was somehow or other never actually scheduled. I never heard a single word about it after that. (The ultimate outcome was that I was right, the CIO wrong; the initiative in question never got much traction on my campus.)

  44. BigOversight*

    We stopped offering a particular type of consulting work, and we had a few customers who had ‘set it and forget it’ annual, renewable contracts for whom the work came up at different times of year. We talked with the ones who were close to renewal and let them know we wouldn’t offer the work moving forward.

    I completely forgot to reach out to another client whose work was months later. I didn’t even realize I’d forgotten until they emailed us their data at which point I had to go to my boss and explain that I’d forgotten to contact this client, they were ready to do the next year’s work, and now we had to tell them we didn’t do it anymore. I had no idea what to do.

    Our CEO had to get involved and he handled all the apology and relationship-mending. I felt incredibly stupid.

    The biggest lesson I learned here was that there was some action to be taken – because the CEO took it. I felt completely paralyzed and couldn’t figure out what to do, but he knew it was ‘tell it straight, deal with the consequences’. I like to think that next time around, I could do the big-girl part and not hide behind leadership.

  45. PotteryYarn*

    One of the things our team does is collect little quotes from employees’ bosses and colleagues when they have a big work anniversary and then share the finished collection with the entire (mid-sized) company. We asked the CEO (along with several other people) to provide a quote for a certain employee, and then my coworker and I accidentally forgot to include the CEO’s quote in the final collection. Within the hour, I got a very ugly nastygram from the CEO about forgetting the quote and wasting his time. I apologized profusely in the moment and my coworker and I quickly updated the collection to include his missing quote. We also developed a new process for organizing the quotes so that we wouldn’t lose one again later on. I followed up with the CEO and apologized again and let him know about the changes we’d made. My boss was a relatively new hire and didn’t have much insight to offer, so I reached out to my old boss who had recently left the company after 15ish years. She gave me some valuable feedback about how to manage working with the CEO and assured me that it would blow over even though I felt like my working relationship with the CEO was in shambles in the moment (which was definitely Not Great for my position). But over the course of a few months, it’s gotten back to normal again, possibly even slightly warmer than before. So my advice is: A) Fix the mistake to the best of your ability as quickly as possible, B) Apologize and identify the corrective actions and preventative actions you’re taking, and C) Reach out to a trusted advisor for any additional feedback or insight you need.

  46. K.E.*

    I was asked to reorder a part when it hit the reorder point. But, I got it confused with another part that is similar, and we placed an order for it the week prior. So I thought we were all set. Even when someone checked with me later to see if it was ordered, I said “Oh yeah, we ordered it a couple of weeks ago.” I was so confident it was on order.

    Then we ran out of that part, so I checked on the order because I thought it came in. It did come in – but that’s when I realize I got the two parts confused and we didn’t order those parts after all. And they normally have a 4-6 week lead time.

    I immediately owned up to the mistake (which sucked, but had to be done), and contacted the vendor about getting more ASAP. Luckily they had a bunch on hand, so we got those a few days later and placed an order for the rest to be made.

    I came up with a plan to prevent this from happening in the future. Basically the way we order this part is not typical, but we’re going to change it (and a few other parts like it) to become typical. I presented this idea to my boss, and she liked it. It’s going to be a little bit more work for me, but will pay off when stuff like this doesn’t happen again. We haven’t put in the change yet, but that will be happening in the next month or so.

  47. unnecessary internet historian*

    Wanted to add an example from the AAM archives – look up “I racked up $20,000 in personal charges on my company credit card”
    The LW came clean, his manager was super understanding, and the company worked with him to let him pay the money back. I wouldn’t expect every workplace to be this nice about a similar mistake, but it’s still nice to see management being compassionate.

  48. Dona Florinda*

    I once got my own termination revogued.
    My boss caught some (admittedly mean) Slack messages between me and a coworker talking about another employee, and we were both fired. So they wouldn’t have to pay severance, the company offered for me to stay on for another four weeks, by which then I would be officially terminated. (Sort of like a backwards notice period)
    Just to clarify, the messages were more like “ugh, Jane screwed up the project again and I’ll have to work overtime to fix it, I hate her”, not “Jane is ugly and must die”.
    During these four weeks, I didn’t drop the ball once and continued to work hard, and came clean to my boss that, while I recognized the Slack conversations were unacceptable, they came from a place of frustration and exhaustion, not meanness.
    By the end of the fourth week, my boss and HR asked me if I would like to stay, with the understanding that the messages were cause for warnings, but jumping right to termination when I was a great employee was excessive.
    Since I had nothing else lined up, I accepted. I was worried that the warning on my file would keep me from advancing, but I kept working hard and behaving well, and eventually got promoted to a leadership role. I left three years after the whole kerfuffle, but in good terms.

    So own up to your mistakes, work hard to fix them, and don’t use the company’s Slack to talk negative things about coworkers.

  49. gingersnap*

    The summer before my senior year of college, I was asked to take on a professional role at my college’s conference center. The woman who held the actual role left suddenly, most likely to avoid a PIP and termination after the summer conference season. I discovered quickly why she felt like she had to get out fast.

    One weekend, we had a huge day conference and I got a call from my friends at the front desk asking what facility were the nearly one thousand children on campus using for their lunch. I pull up the reservation and realize lunch had not been ordered for that day- my predecessor had put two weekends worth of meals on one day and I hadn’t noticed. We had only a few hours to find food for all these kids. I called my boss, explained my mistake, and he calmly goes “Oh it’ll be fine.” Meanwhile I hear his wife in the background go, “honey, maybe it won’t be fine! Don’t tell her it’ll be fine if it might not be!”

    For some reason, the catering manager was on site that day. I begged him for his mercy and help and he rounded up enough bread and lunchmeat from other area colleges to make salads and sandwiches. I got chewed out by the client because they had paid for hot meals, but kids had food and we survived.

    I learned two valuable lessons that day: first, admitting a mistake right away is always the best response. I needed to get help asap and that was critical in fixing the problem. Second, convincing a student (at student’s wages I might add) to do a not entry level professional job was manipulative and that kind of stress was not what I signed up for that summer – I signed up to work the front desk and have fun with my friends. Boundaries are important.

  50. Bored Lawyer*

    I screwed up a legal document dealing with a decedent’s estate at one point. I sent out an email to the other lawyers involved and just kind of waited for the shitstorm. The first response from a senior lawyer:

    “She’s already dead. Nothing worse than that can happen.”

    I have thought about that every day whenever I or anyone makes a mistake. “Is someone going to die? Then it isn’t that bad.”

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I feel that. I worked on a suicide hotline for almost a year once. I am mostly unflappable at work (my above story aside :P ) and my current boss asked me about it once. I said “I have literally answered the phone and had someone say, I have a gun and a bottle of pills and I need someone to help me figure out why I shouldn’t use them, and I did it.. NOTHING you’re going to hand me is going to be harder or higher stakes than that. NOTHING.”

    2. CzechMate*

      I love that. Similarly, my husband works in tech. He had this fantastic boss once and whenever people would get intense/angry in meetings she would go, “Is someone on an operating table here? No? Okay, so let’s rethink how we’re talking to each other.”

  51. Oopsie*

    I was brand new to the treasury team on a stretch assignment, and they were teaching me how to wire money between inter-company accounts. Instead of wiring $30k, I wired $30,000,000. And then I couldn’t figure out which account had received it to fix the error by wiring it back. The CFO had to get involved (and this was a NOT small company).

    After I cried in the bathroom for ten minutes and flapped my hands aggressively, I went back out to my desk, apologized profusely to the treasurer and CFO, and asked for additional training. Then I copiously documented procedures with the senior treasury analyst, and we created systems to prevent this from happening again, like acquiring release approval for transactions over a certain amount.

    That mistake was 6 years ago, and I still work for the same company, just not in finance anymore. The CFO still waves hello to me every time I see him. I think the key for making this less tragic was that I acknowledged my problem, apologized, and sought a solution to prevent it from ever happening again.

  52. Zap R.*

    I once mixed up the shipping labels on two parcels I was sending out. (One parcel was going to Nova Scotia and the other was going to Alberta so yeah, not great.) Thankfully, I realized my mistake pretty quickly. I told my boss immediately so she could make a contingency plan and then called the courier company. The dispatcher was able to reach out to the driver and he switched the labels before he dropped the packages off at the airport.

    I was mortified, but you know what everyone kept saying? “Don’t worry. This happens all the time.” TL;DR: I guarantee that you are not the first person to make whatever mistake you’ve made. If you ask for help ASAP, you’ll be surprised by how many people have been in the same situation.

  53. Ruth*

    I literally put the wrong figure in one box, as I misunderstood what was required.

    the eventual loss on my mistake was £1million. literally I lost them a million.

    I went straight to the manager. cried a lot.

    It flagged up a massive hole on our procedures.

    in my appraisal 3 months later if was mentioned, but in the context of me working to close the gaps. I still got praise for other work I did that year and a sizable bonus.

    I still feel sick whenever I think about it though! I work in a completely different field now.

    1. Oui oui oui all the way home*

      What do you mean by the “wrong figure”? Was it a financial document typo or was it a physical box containing a sculpture by a famous artist that disappeared and needed to be rescued a la “Mission Impossible”? (I’m secretly hoping it was the latter.)

  54. Peachy keen*

    For my current job, I had to do a full-day academic interview, so they flew me in Thursday for an interview Friday. Cue me leaving work late, getting stuck in traffic on the way to the airport, and arriving just in time for the world’s longest TSA line.

    I missed my flight, and was convinced I wouldn’t get the job I desperately wanted. It was exactly the work I wanted to be doing, with great benefits, and close to family. Basically everything I wanted in a job.

    I emailed my contact person, who told me not to worry and just change the flight. My new flight got in late at night, and my dad met me at the airport with a burrito.

    The interview went great, I got an offer, and 5 years later I have a funny story to tell. (And ever since then, I’ve arrived at the airport three hours before my flight.)

  55. Aitch Arr*

    When I was a very green HR Assistant (2nd year in HR), I was asked by a Very Senior Manager for some information for an internal comp/equity analysis. I thought it would be OK to provide VSM with comp information as long as I had redacted names, because if it wasn’t OK, why would VSM ask?

    So I provided him with something like:
    – Name Redacted, Sr. Teapot Analyst, Teapot R&D Department, $73,450
    – Name Redacted, Sr. Teapot Analyst, Teapot R&D Department, $79,245
    – Name Redacted, Sr. Teapot Analyst, Giant Teapot Department, $84,602
    – Name Redacted, Sr. Teapot Analyst, Giant Teapot Department, $90,296

    I sent this via email and cc’ed my ‘stepboss’, the HR Generalist who supported the Teapot Departments. (There were 2 HR Generalists and 2 HR Admins. I technically reported to the HR Generalist who supported the Teacup Departments and the other HR Admin reported to the HR Generalist supporting the Teapot Departments, but we all worked together in one office.)

    Stepboss immediately told me that even with redacted names, HR would never ever share comp information of employees not on a manager’s immediate team. She absolutely could have raked me over the coals, fired me, written me up, whatever, completely torpedoed my burgeoning HR career. Ordinarily she was not very nice to me, preferring instead ‘her’ HR Admin.

    But in this case, she saw exactly what happened. Namely, that Very Senior Manager took advantage of Newbie Aitch Arr and acted like his request was normal and expected.

    She took me aside and counselled me, both to escalate whenever questions about comp come through and always to be aware that people don’t always have the best intentions with interacting with HR.

    She also called out VSM and told VSM’s Boss and Grandboss what took place.
    “I don’t blame Aitch Arr, she didn’t know any better. But VSM sure did.”

    Stepboss ended up being a reference for me 2 jobs later.

    And 25 years later, I’m still in HR. :)

    1. Jenzebel*

      I create corporate training and have written almost exactly this scenario, and the teaching point is, “Don’t do it just because a senior person asked you to.” It’s so common! And people really don’t know, especially newbies.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        It’s not just in HR… I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had to tell peers “Stop. Think about this. Do you really want your name on the consequences this could bring?” (e.g. They’re going to get you fired as collateral damage pursuing their own agenda).

  56. Juicebox Hero*

    The job before my current one was horribly toxic, where management wouldn’t hesitate to make you look like crap in front of a customer, which of course only makes you fear and distrust management, and that fear stuck with me into my new job (municipal government).

    One time a customer’s bank called me to find out the amount due on her account so they could pay it. I goofed and gave them the information for another customer with the same name, whose account was paid up, and said the customer didn’t owe anything. Unfortunately the actual customer’s bill wasn’t paid, and it ended up going to collections, which I found out when both the customer and her bank started calling and emailing demanding an explanation. Obviously she had good reason to be pissed off at me, but she was ready to go scorched earth on me.

    It took me a couple of days to work up the courage to go to my boss, and I was convinced I was going to get fired, screamed at, belittled, made to pay the bill off myself, or all of the above. But I explained the situation to him and he took it very calmly, said he knew I did good work and that screw-ups happen. He proposed that the customer be allowed to pay the bill without any penalties and the town would take care of the late charges. The customer agreed and the whole mess was straightened out the next day.

    Since then I’ve been extra careful when giving out information, making sure to confirm account numbers instead of just going by name. The biggest lesson I learned was that toxic management messes with your head and that a reasonable manager will consider your work history and the occasional major eff-up isn’t the end of the world.

  57. Social Media Minimizer*

    When I was a junior developer at the start of my career, I used to turn up at my desk very punctually in the morning, but then start my day verrrrry slowly with a good 1-2 hours of checking the tech news, my personal email, social media etc etc.

    I did get my work done over the day, often finishing late or working over lunch, but it was not a good look and I didn’t realise how obvious it was to others. After a few weeks of starting the day like this, a coworker (who was not technically my manager, but was senior to me and worked with me quite closely) pulled me aside and said “I know your output is good, but you need to understand that when people walk by your desk in the mornings and see you checking all that personal stuff, they’re going to wonder whether you’re actually doing your work or not.”

    He actually sounded quite frustrated and cross about it, which in hindsight probably meant that multiple other people had mentioned it to him and he couldn’t understand how I could be so clueless as to the signs I was giving off.

    I was mortified and promptly resolved never to check anything personal like that at work ever again. I can’t say (decades later in my career) that I have strictly stuck to that resolution, but I don’t do it first thing in the morning, I don’t overdo it anywhere near as much as I did, and I always make sure to make it otherwise obvious to anyone who happens to spot me that I’m on a break – eg reading AAM while I eat my lunch at my desk :)

  58. Looper*

    I was once managing a medical clinic and misread a physician’s vacation schedule and accidentally cancelled/rescheduled all of his patients for the wrong week, basically doubling the load the week he was out and leaving him with zero patients the week before he was leaving, and this was not discovered until the Monday of the “empty” week. The upper management of the practice (non-physicians) was dysfunctional af and knew I was not only going to catch hell for my mistake from them, but they would also pile on and find a bus to throw me under in the process. So I beat them to the punch.
    I went directly to the physician affected, explained what happened and sincerely apologized, outlined what I was going to do to get patients back on the schedule, and the steps I was taking to prevent something like that from happening again. He was frustrated of course, but despite being the most irascible and short tempered doctor on staff, he THANKED ME for addressing the issue directly and reached out to upper leadership and commended me for my handling of the error! I was absolutely floored, as I’m sure upper management was by his message, but it definitely softened the blowback on me. And since everyone was “happy” with my approach, it was actually much easier to fix the schedule because everyone stayed positive and pitched in, instead of feeling nervous and “in trouble” and avoiding dealing with it. It also showed my staff that despite being constantly undermined by the higher upside, I was capable of dealing with problems and handling issues with a level head.

  59. gentlespirit*

    A couple of years ago, I made a mistake when I was processing payroll that resulted in one of our employees getting double the pay that she should have gotten. I didn’t know about it until our CFO, who does an audit after payroll goes through, came to me to let me know. I was so embarrassed and felt terrible that I had made a mistake like that! I had to call the employee and let her know what happened, ask her to write us a check for the entire direct deposit, and then our fiscal department cut her a check for the true amount she should have received. I still cringe when I think about it but it got corrected, the employee and I remain friendly, and I have managed to increase my attention to detail! :)

  60. merula*

    8 years ago I was new in a role and put in charge of a fairly large project. I made two errors that, due to byzantine regulatory reasons, are still impacting the end product of this project today, and cannot be fixed within the next 3 years. We’re talking over a million individual deliverables have gone out to something like 200k customers.

    My first response when I found them was to call my boss, and then we called legal. Legal assured us that Error 1 is messy but ultimately not harmful and for Error 2 we can create a bandaid solution (which is still in place).

    Ultimately, I cared way more about the errors than literally anyone else did, largely because I was brand new and thought I was the only one who made those kinds of errors. As I would later learn, 2 is a very low number of errors for a project of that size, and that neither one required a more severe/costly intervention is viewed as a win.

    Especially if you’re new, try to find an experienced person who can help you calibrate what kinds of errors are expected in your work. (Mine was my boss, but that’s not going to work for everyone.) I was acting like these errors made me a terrible hire, and that response itself ended up being a problem. You don’t want to underreact to your own errors, but you also don’t want to overreact.

  61. Jiminy Cricket*

    Here’s a different way to look at mistakes:

    I was once in a role that involved a lot of mail merge and regular preparation of mail merged documents for the top top top top top boss to sign. I couldn’t figure it out. Several times I sent stacks of letters for signature that were not perfect, which (rightfully) pissed him off. I apologized. I redid them. And, most importantly, I started looking for other jobs, getting out of that detail-oriented line of work entirely. Once I said to myself, “I don’t want to get better at this. I want to never have to do it again,” my goals and my path became much clearer.

    1. Zap R.*

      “Once I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to get better at this. I want to never have to do it again,’ my goals and my path became much clearer.”

      I love this.

  62. Sindirella*

    I forgot to upload PAYROLL to the bank!!!! Nobody got paid one day!!!! I thought I was going to die and then be fired, in that order. But, some of my amazing co-workers propped me up, helped me call every. single. bank in our town (about 15 of them), and email and/or fax documents to them all to make a sort of temporary deposit to all 300 employees bank accounts. Only one person ended up with over-draft fees and the bank waived them and called us to apologize!!
    It was a nightmare and I can’t believe it all worked out. I didn’t lose my job, and I helped to implement new processes to ensure it never happened again.

  63. learnedthehardway*

    When I was a baby recruiter for a very senior executive search firm, I had a very important project and the partner I worked with went on vacation for 3 weeks, at late stages in the project. They left me instructions for the offer. (In hindsight, the partner should have made themselves available for the offer negotiations, or should have had another partner take over while they were away, because I was entirely too junior to deal with client management or candidate negotiations at that stage of my career.)

    Naturally, I screwed up the offer process – the candidate asked for things that were unreasonable, I didn’t know enough to push back, and then the client yanked the offer over the candidate’s unreasonable demands. Total panic on my part. Client was upset but reasonable when I promised I would find them someone else.

    Instead of asking for help, I scrambled to put together a new slate of candidates, interviewed them all, and got interviews scheduled with the client. By the time the partner came back, I had basically done a whole new search, and an offer was going out to an entirely different person. It was successful, and the client was happy.

    In retrospect, I SHOULD have informed the managing partner about the situation, and asked for his help. It worked out because I was successful in finding another hire for the client, but if I hadn’t been able to find a replacement candidate, it would have been a big issue – for both me and for the partner (as they would have been responsible for not managing the search correctly.) The partner was grateful that I had covered for her.

    Not the ideal way to deal with a mistake, but it worked out.

  64. Weaponized Pumpkin*

    I had just started a new graphic design job and it was very early in my career. Right out of the gate I had to update their letterhead etc. I prepped all the files and sent out to the printer and while my layout / logo files had all the correct Pantone color codes, I wrote the wrong code down on the paperwork. The printer went by what I wrote, not what the files showed, and printed the logo in mint green instead of teal. My company had to reprint everything, which back then was no joke when you’re talking about offset printing cards, envelopes, and letterhead. Ugh. I was so panicked! Was I responsible to pay for the reprint? Would I lose my job?

    Nothing happened. My company got everything reprinted and it was literally never mentioned. (I always did think the printer had some responsibility here — they printed stuff for us all the time and the files were correct, it’s a little surprising they didn’t ask.)

  65. Social Media Minimizer*

    Another one from me (put it in a separate comment because it’s a completely separate incident).

    Midway through my career I was technical lead and main developer on some software for a medical alert system. The system got to the trial phase where it was rolled out in a hospital and was supposed to alert nurses etc if a patient in their ward had a particular kind of issue. Because it was a trial, it was running side-by-side with their older / existing alert system.

    Anyway, a patient had one of these issues and my system failed, the nurses were not alerted, and the patient died. There obviously had to be a big investigation, it was a real bug in my system that had caused the alert not to trigger and we had to change the design of the system so that that type of failure would not occur. The only thing that consoled me after that – feeling like someone had literally died due to my mistake – was that the original existing alert system hadn’t triggered either (it was working properly, but wasn’t as sensitive at picking up this issue as my new system was).

    So I reminded myself repeatedly that really, this was no different from any of the other patients who had died when issues weren’t picked up by the older system, and my new system was still a net benefit even though it didn’t save this particular patient. It still bothers me though; I’m in therapy at the moment for something unrelated, and I discussed the ongoing guilt I feel about this incident with my therapist not long ago.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Oh, that’s tough. I’m sorry that happened. At least it was caught during a test, and I’m glad you’ve talked about it in therapy. BUT I’m also glad you developed a new, more sensitive alert overall! I bet it helps a lot of people now

  66. Anon for this*

    Over 20+ years and six programmer/dev/SE jobs, I lost count. My very first job, they trained me to do support and prod releases (don’t know why they thought it was a good idea to have an entry-level new hire do prod releases for their biggest client), then let me do one on my own on a Friday afternoon. I immediately did it in the wrong folder and tried to overwrite the exe while it was running, crashing the client’s software. My boss helped me take care of that and said not to worry “we have all done it.”

    I once deleted all transaction records (from a dev database thankfully) because I forgot the where clause.

    We were in the process of buying full rights to a 3rd party company’s software, with the end plan being to rewrite it and become their competitor. I made an unflattering comment about the 3rd party company over IM to a teammate. As he was presenting. To that company. While physically in the office of that company.

    I am sure there were more. I did shop floor applications support for six years, there HAD to be more. IME, like others said, fessing up and working on getting the issue fixed right away goes a long way.

  67. Lab Boss*

    I was staying late in the lab to run some tests, and I forgot that the equipment I was using had an upper limit on how many results it could export to an Excel sheet at once. After hours of work (when I should have been taking a break every ~45 minutes to export my results and clear the equipment’s memory) and generating over 1,000 data points, I uploaded it to the system… and got an excel sheet with only my most recent data points on it. Thousands of dollars in sample had been used up, for nothing.

    This was in the midst of COVID limitations, I was fighting to keep my department’s workload under control and at this point it was after 10 pm. I sat down on the floor of the lab in absolute shock, shed a few rage tears while I contemplated what an absolutely useless person I was, and then got up and kicked the wall. After calming down I remembered that nothing was ever REALLY gone from the equipment’s memory, it just limited how much it could spit out into Excel. So I sat back down and started individually viewing every single result I’d generated and manually typing them into a spreadsheet- it took me until past midnight but I got everything into the sheet and nobody was ever the wiser.

    The moral of the story is that a lot of the time there’s a workaround or failsafe out there, but in the moment you realize the mistake you often can’t think clearly enough to figure out what it is. Try to give yourself time to think.

  68. Stuckinacrazyjob*

    Man I forgot to turn in some paperwork and a lot of assumptions were made about someone else. I got the paperwork filled in, an nothing bad happened. I had to smooth it over with some people, but everything is fine now except for my stomach lol

  69. Tiny fish in a small pond*

    I am a technical writer. years ago in a new job I picked up a project from someone else. There were significant changes so the engineer resent the text he had edited in Word. We were in an Adobe product. Neither of us knew that MSWord ‘insert symbol’ did that by applying a style/character combo. When I reformatted, the font change made a key value appear in milliamps (mA) instead of microamps (µA).
    This got through 5 reviewers and was in production before it was caught.

    Several lessons. Technical: Check units separately after formatting. Managerial: My boss said “Oh, yep well fix that right away. But we fix it and move on. Don’t beat yourself up.”
    Risk evaluation & scale: No one died, at worst the error might have shorted a fuse if the customer didn’t recognizethe difference on another document, and the solution was implemented inside a day. Also? It’s why my manager started me on short documents…less scrap while I learn.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Micro amps to milli amps!! Oh noooo! But you’re far from the first person to be betrayed by Microsoft Word. Glad the consequences were trivial

  70. Code monkey manager*

    I was checking my work calendar on my phone while going to lunch, and saw a suggestion for an all staff meeting. Figuring I’d missed the invite, I clicked what I thought was the accept button, put my phone in my pocket, and went to lunch.

    An hour later when I checked my phone again, I had a hundred emails responding to my INVITE to an all staff meeting. Apparently my phone had “helpfully” suggested a similar meeting to meetings I’d had in the past, complete with the same invite list. I was HORRIFIED. It went to literally hundreds of people including the c-suite.

    I canceled the invite with an apologetic message. Literally no one ever mentioned it, except my boss who gently teased me, once, by saying he’d thought it was funny the all staff meeting invite came from me.

    1. hydrangea macduff*

      I’ve had this happen too! On a smaller scale. In outlook, If you create an appointment *for yourself* from an email that went to multiple people, it will also invite all the other people who got the email. Thanks Bill Gates

  71. The Happy Graduate*

    When I was conducting my first big independent research project, it wasn’t until several months and several trials later that I realized that my training hadn’t been clear and I had been creating my samples entirely wrong, meaning all that time and money had gone to complete waste.

    Dreading the call with my supervisor they ended up being entirely chill about it with essentially “That’s how research goes, what do you need to fix it?” (they were an unusually kind supervisor to be fair). The data ended up being useful in other ways but overall the thing I had sobbed about and lost sleep over ended up being no big deal in the end and the project ended up a success with multiple papers published! And at conferences/presentations, I told the story of how the sample process evolved as a way to show how we arrived to other outcomes and to remind those in the audience that to err is human and it’s okay to fail. :)

  72. ecnaseener*

    Ugh, I recently missed something that was very much my job to catch and inconvenienced a lot of people. Without getting into the nitty-gritty, the main purpose of my job is to review proposals and get them in compliance with regulations. I kept a proposal going on the wrong track for weeks because I didn’t think through the criteria for that track. It only got caught when I sent it on to the next stage, and then we had to rush to squeeze it onto the right track in time :(

    Embarrassing, because I’m normally very good at my job. I thought I knew the regs like the back of my hand and just….didn’t read them. Like, there is a checklist, and I checked the box without reading the whole thing.

    I owned up right away, said I goofed and missed this, and did as much of the fixing work as I could before handing it off (I’m not trained for the other track). And then I drafted a revision to the checklist to break each criterion out into its own item. I lived, no one was (outwardly) upset with me! I think it helped that I have capital built up as someone who’s generally very reliable and takes ownership of all my mistakes.

  73. Pop Gate 2003*

    Maybe not the best example but I think its a tad humorous looking back. When I was 18, I got a job at a concert venue at the concession stands. I was put on a certain stand, that basically just sold bottles of pop and water. For some reason they did not provide registers. There was no way to add up the sale unless you did it in your head. Same for the change. For some reason (probably me being cocky) I volunteered to run the register. I am not the greatest at mental math. Give me a paper and pencil, and I am pretty good. The lines got super long and started getting really flustered and somehow lost all ability to do mental math. I was giving too much change, not enough and people were getting upset. Then I realized I was under charging everyone all night. Pop was $4.50 a bottle and I was charging $4.00. When it was time to turn in our bank for the night, I pretended to go to the bathroom and LEFT! I was too scared to face the management. I never went back again.

    However in my professional era, I have gotten way better at navigating mistakes. Its best to own up right away and ask for help fixing it. 95% of the time, its an easy fix and just takes some tweaking. Be apologetic and develop a strategy for not doing it again.

  74. Mileage Mistake*

    I had been working at a company that reimbursed mileage for PRN and part-time employees for our work travel because we weren’t given company vehicles to drive. They switched to a new computer system which made the PRN and part-time employees have to calculate our own mileage and do the math to submit the amount owed every two weeks with our hours worked.

    What I didn’t realize the first two months, is that the reimbursement rate was six cents lower per mile then what I thought it was. (I was using my state’s rate and the company was based in another state and used a different rate). No one in HR or anywhere else in the process caught it. I realized it at a meeting when the manager was explaining calculating mileage to a new employee and felt sick to my stomach.

    I went to manager and explained the mistake. She had me call corporate HR and I ended up submitting a check for the extra mileage I had been paid. I felt physically ill throughout the whole process and for weeks afterward…but everyone involved was very understanding.

    I’m glad I talked to my manager as soon as it happened. And if managers or bosses are reasonable people, they won’t blow a gasket. I actually feel I’m able to gauge if a manager or boss is a reasonable human being by their response to mistakes. So I try to think about it as a litmus test-to not let a mistake completely derail me.

    1. Mileage Mistake*

      *To add a piece of info-I drove hundreds sometimes up to a thousand miles each month. So it wasn’t a few nickels and dimes. It was hundreds of dollars off of what I should have been paid.

      1. Kara*

        Are you sure you weren’t right the first time? If you were driving in your state, wouldn’t your state’s milage laws apply regardless of where your company was located?

        1. Mileage Mistake*

          No, reimbursement for mileage is not a legally required thing for employers. At least, not in my state. Maybe it is for state employees? But I worked in the private sector.

  75. Suzie*

    I was pretty new to work travel and had a 6:00 flight to catch, with he travel being arranged by the company. As the work meeting I was travelling to wasn’t until 9am the next day, I assumed the flight was at 6pm. So on the day of my flight I went in to work as usual and planned to head home around 2pm to pack and head to the airport. Around noon I got a bad feeling…remembering that airlines use a 24 hour clock and realizing that I had missed my flight! I panicked, picturing the CEO striding to my desk to ream me out and telling me I’d have to pay the change fee to rebook my flight. So I meekly went to my boss and explained what an idiot I’d been, feeling like I was going to be sick. I was so relieved when he laughed and told me about the time he had arrived at the airport with an expired passport, causing him to miss a week’s worth of international meetings! I ended up rebooking my flight for later that evening and luckily no one ever mentioned it again.

    1. Baby Yoda*

      First supervisory role, we were setting up a new branch in a different state for an established company. I was to fly to corporate with 4 other new team members, but were told the flight was delayed an hour. The 5 of us go to the bar and when we return, you guessed it, the flight was gone. One of my team members started yelling for them to call the tower and turn the plane around, I was so embarrassed. So I ended up having to call my brand new grand boss and report all 5 of us had missed the flight. Turned out okay though, was a great company.

  76. Whoopsie-Doodles*

    I follow the rule of 1. Admit mistake and apologize for it 2. Say how you’ll fix it and do that 3. Say how you’ll ensure never making that mistake again.

    I somehow accidentally sent a client an email saying they didn’t owe us any money, when in reality they owed us $25,000. I immediately confirmed with IT that “recall” was not an option. Went to tell the person whose client it is what I’d done (I’m his assistant) and proposed a solution, he basically saw how freaked out I was and told me to just email them an apology and the invoice with the correct amount, and assured me they’d be cool about it. They were. I go slower when sending those emails now.

  77. ChixPie*

    One of my direct reports impressed me with this.

    She had made a big, careless, customer-facing mistake for the second time in the span of a few weeks. I told her how serious it was and that her job was in danger if it happened again. In the moment, she was visibly shaken and emotional, but agreed that she understood and left my office somewhat abruptly. A few hours later she came back and asked if I had a few minutes. She was now much more composed and told me she understood how serious the mistake was and outlined the steps she was going to take to avoid making it in the future.

    The second chat completely turned it around for me. After the first convo, I was willing to wait and see, but I was worried it would happen again. After the second one, I was much more confident. Starting with the steps she had outlined for herself, we worked together to put safeguards in place for the whole team. And it never happened again.

    I guess the lesson is that it can be really hard to address a big mistake in the moment when adrenaline and emotions are turned up to 11, so if you don’t think you nailed it, figure out how you wish you would have handled it and try again. Her approach showed a lot of maturity and made me more confident in her work overall, so in the end that big mistake became a net positive.

  78. silly little public health worker*

    i work for an organizatoin with HIPAA-protected data during COVID when we were all working from home. I went through a really tough divorce and ended up having to move out relatively quickly. My ex went through my former desk and cleared it out…and we found that there was a notebook in the pile of things brought to me with information protected by HIPAA. it was pretty minor (chicken-scratch partial names of people who I needed to call back, a couple of phone numbers, no context at all) and my ex hadn’t opened the notebook (they didn’t even know it was a work notebook), but because there was HIPAA info in it I panicked and assumed I would be fired. I was thinking about quitting over it, even though I know logically that our policies don’t punish first-time issues and that the circumstances do matter. I am not much of a catastrophizer, but given *how bad* the circumstances of the divorce were, I was incredibly freaked out.

    I called our privacy officer immediately who was literally not concerned. the information turned out to be a bottom-of-the-pile non-issue, and when I explained what had happened, my coworkers were way more concerned about *me* than they were about *the mistake.*

    tl;dr – even when there’s potential legal issues, sometimes Shit Just Happens and it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.

  79. I am the Reason For Outage*

    One time I cut the internet to 10,000 – 20,000 people :)

    Me, about four years out of undergrad, recently promoted to a new role at the company that has the goal of 99.995% uptime. Excited to Be In Charge of a config change on the live system. I had about 20 minutes to do testing on the live system as we did a rollover between servers. Our system was such that when we did a rollover, another couldn’t be done for half an hour because hardware needed to boot up from cold, etc. (Details changed to provide obfuscation).

    So I do my testing, it goes well, get good results, I’m very pleased… and that server rolls over from “testing” to “live.” And immediately things start failing. Network team comes over to me, what the heck, why is everything at this one node failing. I’d left the server in the test configuration! Well, we can boot up the other server, but it’ll take 20 minutes to switch over. So we go ahead and do that. My boss is trying not to scowl at me. I later estimated based on the region we were serving that 10-20 thousand people lost internet for half an hour.

    My response: immediately realized and said it was my fault. We had a very good operational culture that focused on solving the immediate problem and preventing it from happening again. Did I want to melt into the floor? Yes. Did I write out everything that happened so we could evaluate it? Also yes.

    My boss’s response: during the event, joked that now I’m a real [New Role] because I’ve caused my own outage. Afterwards, made sure to emphasize that I was responsible for making sure this didn’t happen again.

    Team response: added steps to the testing procedure of “make sure you clean up from testing” and “did you for real make sure you cleaned up from testing??”

    I worked there another two years and in some ways really miss it. That mistake was never held against me, and it was a really good learning experience. But also if you were one of those people who lost internet for half an hour… my bad

    1. Sloanicota*

      Kind of obsessed with the whole “butterfly flaps its wings” potential here … maybe that half-hour outage averted delivery of a hastily-written email that would have caused disaster … maybe children born nine months later owe their lives to you for that 30 minute break their bored parents got mid-day … maybe someone missed a window to apply to something that would have changed the whole trajectory of their lives … :D

      1. I am the Reason For Outage*

        Ahhhh I actually try not to think about that! We hadn’t started doing telemedicine through our service yet but that could’ve been quite bad if I’d caused an outage through that. And any time you work with a Government customer they’re all “your service is saving lives!” which implies you’re putting people at risk if it goes down. The idea of my outage causing babies is cute to think about though.

        1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

          From a Government customer, lol. lmao. Your service makes saving lives a lot easier, but we all have backup processes and honestly having a random brief outage that forces us to remember them occasionally is actually a really helpful way to prep for larger outages (ie in the event of hurricane or wildfire or something).

          I’m not saying you should intentionally cause outages, but they are actually helpful and any resulting harm would be the responsibility of people who didn’t build any emergency procedures or back up options to their processes.

  80. Jane Bingley*

    At my first Big Job, about six months in, I was packing up my desk for an office move and found a box of over a thousand items that were supposed to be mailed to clients 4 months prior. I’d stored them away in a safe place one day to make sure I got to them… And then put something else on top of it and totally forgot about it. The chaos built up in those first few months so quickly that it was hard to keep up and something crucial got missed.

    I was not mature enough to handle it appropriately and simply went to my manager in tears. Thankfully, she was a kind and understanding person. Her confidence made a world of difference – she assured me it was solvable and we sat down together to come up with a plan. In the end, it was a simple as printing an apology and ensuring that was included with each mailout.

    More importantly for me, it changed the way I approach organization at work. I became the most organized person in the office. No more boxes or files for storing anything that still needed any kind of work – boxes and files are only for records/archives. I got a four-part desk organizer that was open and labeled each shelf for a specific use. As I got new work in, I put it on the organizer at the bottom, so I could work through each pile in order and nothing would get forgotten. Within a year, the boss who had to help me salvage a horrible mistake was having me teach my colleagues how I stayed organized because I had the fewest mistakes of anyone on our team. That was when I knew my reputation was salvaged.

  81. Computer Lab Worker*

    I was at my first job ever, a computer lab at my university. I had been working there over the school year for a couple of years and was working there in the summer for the first time since I’d started the job. Most of my work was checking people in and out and helping them if they had computer questions, but in the summer time I was also supposed to be working on projects (creating a database for resources we offered, etc.).

    Well, one of my friends was in the area, possibly taking summer classes (I don’t remember at this point), and he would drop by every day to hang out for an extended period of time. He did not have good boundaries, neither did I, and while I felt uncomfortable with him being there all the time while I was in the clock I didn’t know how to say anything (having been raised to be extremely conflict-avoidant in all areas). One day my boss called me into her office and said that the visits needed to stop, and very kindly gave me a short lecture on professionalism. I was utterly mortified; it was the first time I’d ever been in trouble with a boss (since it was my first job), and as a good straight-A student I hadn’t been in trouble with any teachers or anything for years, so this was big for me. I was also a bit mad at myself for not having told my friend to go away, and mad at him for not respecting the fact that I was working (which he should have known).

    Ultimately it worked out. I told him what had happened, he was a bit defensive but understood, and after that he would drop by once a day at my break time, we’d leave for 15 min to hang out on my break, and then he’d go away. And my boss had no more issues with me at that job that I can remember, so things were okay after that. But I do remember going home afterwards and hiding under my bed for awhile because I was so mortified.

  82. MigraineMonth*

    I was traveling for work, and after three 12-hour days I slept through my alarm and missed my flight home. I was completely mortified, but when I called the travel department they treated it like an ordinary Tuesday and just asked what time they should reschedule the flight for. No one even followed up with me about it.

    A lot of things that would be personal disasters (having to pay for a replacement ticket) are just the cost of doing business for a reasonable-sized company.

  83. Anonymous This Time*

    I work in manufacturing. I ignored information disclosed to me from a supplier about a serious mistake they’d made on parts we had already delivered to customers.

    I was brand new to the company, and didn’t really know what the procedure was for dealing with these kinds of disclosures, and it was presented by them in a kind of ‘oh by the way’ format, and I just didn’t really think to do anything with it because it wasn’t relevant to the actual question I had reached out to them about. And then I forgot all about it.
    About a month later, I woke up in a panic with a pit in my stomach as the realization hit me “I am required to report this, and its going to be a big deal.” So, I did… and no one even questioned why it took me so long to escalate it. We all just jumped into problem solving mode.

    But then it turned into an even bigger deal, because the problem was bad enough it resulted in a recall. Suddenly, I was on the phone with plural company lawyers explaining the timeline of events. And was informed that we had missed the mandated reporting time by a LOT.
    Then I thought the jig was up, and I’d be the fall guy, and everyone would know what an idiot I was. But it didn’t go that way at all. Instead, many people reached out to me about what was wrong with our processes, why I didn’t know the escalation path, what training gaps are there, etc. Instead of being treated like a bad kid who needed to be punished, I was treated like the Subject Matter Expert of why our systems failed us.

    I still cringe with shame and regret constantly over the way it just never clicked in my brain that I had to DO something about the information… but I am really grateful to my company for the way they handled it, and they did make some improvements to processes to prevent it from happening to the next new guy. In a roundabout way, I even ended up being the go-to person about this issue because I was the only one with the complete beginning-to-end story, and that actually gave me some positive exposure?

  84. aqua*

    As an intern at a Large Smartphone Manufacturer, for internal software they inexplicably did not have integration testing, code reviews, or any quality control at all before code was pushed to production. The process I was told to follow was test my code a bit, see if it seemed fine, then push it directly to production. I was working on an internal tool that was used by about 100 or so developers to run overnight tests on their work. I made a very small change to the logging as part of trying to track down a bug, checked that everything seemed fine, and pushed it to production for the overnight test run. I came in the next morning and one of the senior developers waved me over and said that every overnight test had failed, and they’d worked out that it was my change to the logging that had done it. So the ~100 or so developers using the tool I worked on didn’t have any results from the overnight tests to use that day. I immediately apologised and then went and hid in the toilet and cried for about five minutes, splashed my face with water, and then went back to my desk and asked the very nice graduate developer who sat next to me to help me revert the change. Once we’d fixed it I think my manager sent out an email explaining that there had been a problem with the overnight tests that had now been fixed, but I’m pretty sure nobody outside my immediate team knew it was me because they realised it would be extremely unreasonable to blame the intern for what was basically a process problem. Nobody was mad at me and when I left my manager said I was the best intern he’d ever had. I think they still weren’t doing code reviews when I left though.

  85. Iridescent Periwinkle*

    I have a really hard time staying focused and have been making “attention to detail” kind of mistakes. I am pretty sure I have ADHD – Inattentive Type, where I am not hyper (information from Cleveland Clinic: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15253-attention-deficit-disorder-without-hyperactivity-add-in-adults). The descriptions fit me to a “T”.

    Recently I had issued an incorrect recipe for a production run of one of our products that caused all sorts of issues. There were background issues that I was unaware of and I kind of feel like the blame is being unfairly put all on me at this point but honestly I should have slowed down and caught the issue, so it is definitely a learning lesson.

    I am considering getting some supportive Coaching and working on some cognitive-behavioral therapy to help. I need to reach out to my PCP for that though – I’ve had a tough time getting through to the therapist they recommended. (Imagine that, in this day and age.) I definitely value this job so much so I want to put in the effort to keep it.

  86. Former Red and Khaki*

    I work for a financial company that is comprised of a group of financial advisors; I support two advisors, and this is my first job in this field. In my first couple of months, I got a task to take money out of an IRA and deposit it into the client’s checking account. In the app that we use to maintain IRA accounts, there is an action to “initiate deposit request” or “initiate withdrawal request”. My brain saw the “initiate deposit request” line and said, yes of course, that is the correct one, so I set it up and sent it through. Only after I got an angry phone call from the client did I realize my mistake. See, the language in the app always starts with the IRA – so it’s deposit INTO the IRA or withdraw OUT OF the IRA, not the other way around as I’d interpreted it, which means instead of depositing several thousand dollars into the client’s account I’d actually taken several thousand dollars OUT of their account and contributed to their IRA.

    After several calls to the advisor, the client, and the company that holds the accounts (and a few miscommunications on the client’s part involving their bank stopping payment), it finally took me being in the COO’s office on a conference call with the holding company and the client to figure it all out (without going into too much detail, all was well that ended well). I spent that entire call CERTAIN I was about to be fired, so when we hung up, I said “oh my god I am so sorry, I am NEVER going to make this mistake again.” My COO gently let me know that yes, the language IS confusing if you’re not used to it, and that I was nowhere near the first person to make this mistake, nor would I be the last person to make it.

    It made me feel better, and to my credit, I made sure every person I trained after that incident KNEW the language of the app and what it actually meant. That mistake train was gonna end with me if I had anything to do with it!

  87. orchivist*

    my current job includes facilitating a monthly meeting between disabled people who are part of local government (I am also disabled, which is relevant later). The meetings had always been on conference call, but in the early fall of 2020, we moved it to zoom so it would be much more accessible for me, as well as others (with hearing impairments, speech difficulties, etc).

    Convincing everyone of this decision took several months. three days before the first meeting where we’d use zoom, a “legacy member” (who didn’t come to meetings anymore but was an important part of the group 7 years ago) asked me about a specific access need he had. I was having a flareup and didn’t get back to him…

    the day of the meeting (2 hours before) he did a reply-all to the whole group and wrote in 36 point font that I was discriminating against him on the basis of his disability, and he would sue me personally, the org I worked for, and the branch of the government that attendees worked for.

    I had a panic attack and then was so scared that I didn’t even think of contacting my supervisor. I wrote a groveling email to him, figured out a temporary solution, and then we spent most of the meeting talking about his issue rather than the topic of the meeting. I spent the rest of the day alternating between crying, laying on the floor dwelling on my sins, and trying to figure out what I’d do if I got fired and then sued.

    When I told my supervisor about it I framed it as entirely my fault and lateral ableism and how I did this reprehensible thing etc etc. She stressed that this was my first serious mistake so I definitely wouldn’t be fired, and then asked some more questions. I showed her the email exchange and her first response was literally “he’s not allowed to talk to you like that, what the hell.”

    A week or two later we did wind up talking about how I could have handled it better but the primary response was “you didn’t mess up nearly as bad as he did by going nuclear” and I eventually got over it. I’m still jumpy and solicitous around the guy in question but I’m not sure he even remembers.

  88. Irish Teacher*

    I have to be fairly vague about this, but basically, I had to send off certain documents that were extremely important. Once I had posted them, I found that one document had fallen out and gotten caught up with my own papers. I panicked. This was a big deal as these documents were extremely confidential and needed to be kept together.

    Then I calmed down and simply sent the document in question off separately with a note saying exactly where it belonged, eg “this is the accounts sheet for batch 27 of the llamas processed in the 3rd week of this year.”

    Never heard a word about it. Presumably somebody in the admin department had added it to the other documents it was supposed to accompany and all was sorted out fairly easily. They’d have arrived in the same post anyway.

  89. TiffIf*

    I work in software with API/web service functions and providing documentation and credentials to clients for those services. Part of our process is sending the proof of delivery of the credentials to the finance team so they can start billing. One day when I was sending the email to the finance team I included the wrong Linda – sending it not to our finance team but to a different client entirely – exposing credentials for client A to client B. Linda at Client B was kind enough to notify me that she was not the intended recipient–otherwise I am not sure I would have realized.

    I immediately reported my error to my boss and our business team. The business team gave me some great wording to tell Client A there was a security issue because their credentials had been exposed. Client A had to coordinate with 2 other vendors they work with so that when I changed the credentials it got implemented into all 3 systems simultaneously so nothing broke. I ended up on two long conference calls (once on our UAT environment, once for Production) where I made the credential change in our system and then they updated their systems and tested to make sure everything was running right.

    The Production update conference call was the same night I had tickets to a play and so I ended up in the parking lot of a nearby Starbucks using the wifi (of course with VPN on) so that as soon as they verified everything was working I could get to my show (ended up getting into the show about 5 minutes before it started).

    No one ever made a comment on the original error – it was all handled very practically “this is how we move forward”. IF I had tried to hide any of it and it came out later, I likely would have been fired, but being up front about it made it easy to handle.

    And I created a custom group in outlook for the Finance team that I send these notifications to so I can’t pick the wrong Linda again.

  90. former academic*

    I do research that involves data from human participants. There are specific ethical and legal review processes and assurances for this, as you might imagine. One of those is data storage and confidentiality, and making sure that only authorized personnel can access participant data.

    Over the summer, when we weren’t having participants come into the lab, we asked IT to come set up a local network for all of the workstations that participants use. This was supposed to just allow us to access the data on one computer from any of the others located in the same lab space. Somehow, what IT *actually* did was put all the lab computers onto the full departmental network, so anyone logged in to any computer in the entire building could access the data. After a panicked “TAKE IT DOWN OMG” email to our IT tech (and finding out that thankfully, because we’d done this at 3 pm in the summer, basically no one was online in the building anyway– I in fact was monitoring all of this via email from my back porch– and definitely none of the files had been accessed), I had to reach out to the campus ethics chair/vice president for compliance and report the “incident”. His response was that he worries way, way more about people who try to hide issues in their lab, and the fact that I took it seriously, fixed it, and reported it right away meant that he wasn’t at all concerned and didn’t need to take further action.

  91. BoratVoiceMyWife*

    I worked for 11 years in a specific field, my first career industry, before making the switch to another very different industry utilizing some of the same skills.

    A few months into the role, something went wrong on the technical end on a Friday afternoon and, after a Saturday morning product launch, a prior iteration of our e-commerce store emerged online. This mistake iteration displayed a very popular product that we had sold out of more than a year prior, so displaying it as ostensibly available was not a good look for the business and a bad experience for customers.

    I wasn’t reachable at the time and someone else had to take it down. My boss was rightfully pissed, and I owned it in response to their email asking how it had happened. She put a 9am Monday meeting on my calendar and I stewed over it all weekend, assuming I was going to be fired.

    I arrived early, steeling myself for what was to come, and almost cried from relief when she said “this isn’t an opportunity for discipline, it’s an opportunity to figure out how we can avoid this happening again.” Sure enough, we worked through a strategy to avoid a repeat occurrence and there was no repercussions. A few months later I nervously mentioned it in a semi-related meeting and she said “still thinking about that huh?” I said I probably would never forget it, and she said “I have. We all make mistakes, you recovered and learned from it. Case closed.”

    After 11 years in an industry full of “those who can’t do, manage” supervisors who loved an excuse to chew you out or write you up for the smallest of errors, it was refreshing to be treated like an adult and a professional.

  92. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I’ve taken two jobs I ended up not being able to handle long-term. One, I basically put in open-ended notice and let them replace me when a viable candidate could be found. The other, I abandoned the modus operandi that I had been trained on and built a new one from scratch, one that focused on quality instead of efficiency (less euphemistically, I’d been taught to cut every corner possible and rely on intuition built upon a decade of experience that I didn’t have to know which corners shan’t be cut on a given project).

    In the probationary period for the second job, I had push myself unrealistically hard (months of 90+ hour weeks) to meet deadlines–which I did, but with quality issues. My supervisor’s addressing of it–“I can explain late, but I can’t explain wrong”– has stuck with me since. All the timeliness in the world is moot if the answer is wrong. It’s something I wish I could pass along to others as she passed it along to me.

    Over the years, my coding has become extremely defensive; as I have seen mistakes happen or make them, I’ll either write confirmation that the results are correct into what I do or make sure that half-right, which is more dangerous than completely wrong in my experience, cannot come to pass.

  93. Cinnamon*

    While I was newer in my industry I was in a hybrid out in the field/assistant to the promotions team of the company. I once accidentally gave away sports tickets to the general public that were meant for clients (uh oh!). This was part my boss’s mistake who gave me the wrong instructions on which tickets to take and giveaway and part I should have caught that mistake or questioned it based on my previous handling of the tickets.

    When my boss realized what happened, she called me on my day off, got mad and hung up on me. I was so panicked and felt like I was a kid again in trouble with my parents and spent the whole day with anxiety about it. I thought about emailing her to apologize but just sat with it for the day and tried to distract myself as it was my day off. Later in the day, Boss emailed me and apologized for her reaction and told me that if something seemed off before a field shift it’s ok to give her a call to confirm (on what would have been her day off). I had calmed down after that and sent her an email saying that is what I would do next time and apologized for my part.

    This mistake did end up escalating to our higher up managers where one wanted me fired over it and two had my back. Nobody in management actually brought that to me but a someone else on the team let me know the gossip. I was very happy that my boss’s stood up for me to the other manager and I think the reason was that in general I was a great employee and mistakes happen, and sometimes managers make mistakes too.

    Overall what I took from it was that next time I’d make any mistakes to take a beat, calm down, be rational, think about what you can do better next time or how you can fix it but also know what value you bring and that if you have a reasonable manager they will hopefully have your back. And if they aren’t reasonable, maybe you don’t want to work for them.

  94. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Changing some of the details for anon reasons but: one time I sent out a change that I hadn’t tested thoroughly because I didn’t have the time/couldn’t be bothered.

    It locked out over 20,000 computers.

    When I realised what had happened I had a major panic attack, convinced I was about to be fired. I hid in the bogs for a good hour.

    Then I went back to my desk, admitted the whole thing to my boss and got stuck into reverting the change as soon as possible. I was lucky that it was easily sent out and just required a reboot to implement.

    The biggest mistake of my career and a stern warning on why you TEST stuff thoroughly before setting it off in Production. I stayed employed at the firm and while I was panicked for several days I eventually got a talking to by the boss who essentially said “had you not owned up to it and worked to fix it then you’d be on a written warning. But you did and it got fixed. So send a ‘sorry’ card to the IT Helpdesk who had to field thousands of calls and move on. And TEST your ***”

  95. Anonymous media person*

    I was about a year into a high pressure, high visibility job as a company spokesperson and external PR person. Myself, my boss and my grand bosses were at the biggest conference of the year for my industry. All of the C Suite was there, and the company is a major Fortune 500. During the conference we organized interviews with the C Suite and influential media. My job was to stand in the hallway outside the interview room to intercept the next journalist and make small talk with them. The C Suite were in the midst of an interview with a very influential team of reporters when another equally influential editor showed up for his interview. He has a reputation for being kind of a jerk. The interview before his was running late, and he asked me, “Who’s interviewing them right now?” I answered honestly and reader, this man turned on his heels and left. I RAN behind him to the elevators where I literally begged him to stay. He declined.

    The interview ended just as the elevator doors closed, and I was left with my grandboss asking me where the editor was. I told her, and she said how did he even know we were with them? I answered honestly, and she advised me next time to maybe feign ignorance. The C Suite were incensed, and she took the brunt of it. I tried my hardest to blend into hotel carpeting and begged the gods to strike me down. In her stress, she left some confidential documents in a public area. Someone turned them in and I was able to get them back for her without getting her in to trouble. I think that helped redeem myself, but I also was immensely grateful that she didn’t subject me to the angry C Suite and took on the responsibility. It could not have been easy. I ended up getting an award at that job.

  96. Huckleberry*

    I gave a caterer the wrong dates for an event I was coordinating and they delivered breakfast and lunch for 60 people that was never touched. The event was being held in a building that wasn’t frequented often so no one but me knew when it happened. My initial instinct was to try to cover up what happened but 1) the invoice would eventually come to my boss for payment and she’d have questions because it wasn’t a cheap catering bill and 2) my boss had told me, the first day I had started about a year prior, that “I’m going to fuck up and you’re going to fuck up. Mistakes are going to happen. I won’t be mad at the mistake but I will be mad if you don’t tell me what happened so that we can work together to fix it.” (We had a fantastic relationship overall for the 6 years I worked with her)

    So after I had contacted the caterer to figure out what our options were, I dragged my anxiety-riddled self into my boss’s office, where she immediately knew something was wrong based on my face. I explained what happened, briefly reviewed why I thought it happened, and then offered the solution the caterer had posed (she’d bill for half the invoice since the food was untouched and donate the lot to the city’s homeless shelter, which she had an established agreement with). She took a beat and then asked, “so we just have to pay $XXX and the caterer will clean up and donate the food? …. Sounds like you solved the mistake to me, good job.” And that was that.

    Ultimately it’s a minor mistake in the grand scheme of things that could be screwed up in the role I had, and compared to what I’m sure others will post as examples, but it was the first time I had made a mistake that I couldn’t fix immediately myself and also cost the organization money. So I was panicked initially. But it’s served as a great reminder anecdote to myself about how to approach rectifying mistakes.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      All bosses should say something like that on their employees’ first day, what a great boss!

  97. AnotherOne*

    I worked at a patent law firm fresh out of college. For anyone who doesn’t know that is the kind of field where- with the exception of a partial list of clients who approved being publicly known- who our clients were was closely guarded. Clients were known to move dockets around from firm to firm in a quest to keep anyone from knowing how many patents they were filing and in what areas. It was crazy.

    And this was explained early on in your time there. (A partner explained it to a new batch of employees as- he didn’t care if you were a party high on E, you couldn’t tell people what you were working on and who our clients were.)

    And I emailed one client a letter meant for another client.

    And didn’t catch it myself. The client I emailed noticed and flagged it for me. It was a very long walk to the partner’s office because I had to tell him. The clients were called. Apologies were made. I was told to be more careful.

    It could have been bad but I hadn’t screwed up like that before and I told immediately when I learned about the mistake.

    And anytime I trained new people, I told this story. Mistakes happen. If you own up to them, you’ll be forgiven. It can be mitigated. Not telling is a much bigger problem than the initial mistake.

  98. Fairytale Ending?*

    This isn’t my story, but my friend’s: When he was working a campus job settling new students into their dorms and helping them set up their wifi, he accidentally deleted one student’s entire hard drive in a way that it couldn’t ever be recovered. She (the student) lost everything.

    Reader, she married him.

    1. allathian*

      I do hope she had good backups somewhere…

      When I wrote my master’s thesis in the late 1990s there was no such thing as cloud storage and there weren’t even any flash drives yet. All I had was the hard drive on my computer and a set of 3.5 in 1.44 KB floppy disks. I saved a backup of my thesis at least once a day, and I’m very glad I did because right in the middle of it my hard drive went kaput and I lost less than a day’s work.

  99. Toolate12*

    It’s tough to figure out how to sufficiently anonymize this kind of thing. I once had to review a document we were reporting to the federal government on our organization – it took me ages to get my feet under me and understand what it was asking for precisely in order to review it, and by the time it was sent it was about a day late. The program are responsible for the submission informed me that late submissions might result in the federal government withholding aid for about 20% of our population – they were rightfully angry with me and I committed to come clean to my boss. So I swallowed my fear, called my boss at like 4:50 pm, explained to her what had happened, what I had done and laid out potential consequences of my actions (and the probability of different consequences). Oddly, as we had a strained relationship at the time, I think this caused her to actually respect me a little. The horrible consequence did not come to pass.

  100. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    I’m loving that all of these are not just stories of commenters making good choices in recovering from mistakes, but also a lot of really awesome managers knowing how to foster growth and trust in their reports by offering grace and support in moving forward. It’s all really encouraging stuff.

  101. Garblesnark*

    When I started my current job, I was terrified.

    At my last job, I was severely reprimanded for everything, and eventually fired explicitly because my cancer treatment was inconvenient to the company. (Yes it was illegal, no that’s not what we’re talking about – I’m sharing to express my emotional context.) Once I was written up because I said “no” in a meeting in response to a yes or no question. My job was quality control, and I was written up repeatedly for not joking enough when telling someone they were missing crucial documentation.

    So at my current job, early on, when my manager gave me a package to give to someone else and I instantly forgot who that person was… I was completely petrified. I emailed her, and she said “No problem. It goes to [coworker].”

    I could have passed out from the sheer relief.

  102. Regular Human Accountant*

    I had a boss early in my career who would respond to my mistakes with one of two phrases: either “No one dies in accounting” or “Anything can be fixed with a journal entry.” I live by those two rules to this day, and his calm response to my errors (which are too numerous to recount here) taught me that owning up to one’s mistakes quickly AND having a solution already outlined is the best route.

  103. urguncle*

    Without getting too in-the-weeds, an API at a vendor we integrate with was sunset and I didn’t realize it, even though I owned the integration. This was my first run-in with the issue, but we’d had this kind of oversight several times within the organization that year already. I felt so terrible and I was scrambling trying to get someone who could fix it relatively quickly.
    Then the CEO Slacked me and I swear I could feel my blood pressure drop to nothing.
    I owned everything as much as I could and communicated everything in the incident Slack channel and then worked on what I could do to make sure that NEVER happened again. So far it’s been almost a year without any more of those incidents, or any (with my name on them)!

  104. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    Decades ago, I worked for a printing company that mainly printed short-to-medium-run magazines (3k – 9k qty). My job was graphic designer, with some customer service, but I picked up on things quickly and was willing to learn, so I sometimes helped out in pre-press or bindery too — just about anything except running the actual press and driving the forklift (not certified). The Production Manager was going on vacation for a week and this was a small business so no assistant manger existed. They asked me to fill in — just keep the presses running — and I thought “no problem” these are magazines that we print monthly/quarterly/etc., everyone knows their job, and I hardly need to do anything but make sure everyone works on the next job on the on schedule. Everything did NOT go well.

    One particular magazine came through production that was, I swear, cursed. The plates got scratched putting them on the press, I had to remake them with an idle press waiting; then there was a hickey on the press (term for a splotch of ink, blank spot, or smear when printing) that the Pressperson didn’t notice while it was running; then it went to cutting…and for some reason the Cutter got confused and trimmed ALL of the signatures wrong — it was workable but it meant that in the bindery, the Stitcher needed to pre-gather so instead of a regular 2-staple saddle stitch, there was a section with 3 staples; by then we were off schedule on everything, the Mail Clerk had to come in on a Saturday (overtime) to get it and other magazines mailed… it finally went out late just as the Production Manager returned.

    There wasn’t really a big reaction. It was a series of compounding failures, and once things started to spiral out of control, I really didn’t have any experience or confidence to get it back under control. I needed to NOT assume everyone knows/does their job, and I wasn’t asked to fill in again.

  105. A Person*

    I was working on software configuration fairly early in my career. There was a tricky change that needed to go out because the old configuration was going to eventually stop working – it was really unfortunate because the trainers moving llamas around the zoo were going to have some changes to their workflow.

    These changes only went out once a month, and this technical configuration had already been tried once (not by me) and broke things and had to be rolled back so I was really nervous about it. I was so excited when it looked like everything went through, and went to bed happy.

    In the morning I was informed the trainers were having trouble moving all the llamas across all our zoos. I spent all sorts of time checking up on the technical work, making sure the configuration was fine – and it was! The problem is no one had communicated the new workflow to the trainers . *headdesk* I worked with my boss to write up an emergency training doc and as far as I know all the trainers learned the new process.

    The whole thing scared me so much at the time but since I owned up to “I didn’t double check that the change was communicated” and also this wasn’t just my job to catch as the person doing configuration it wasn’t a problem.

  106. Allison K*

    I’m an author, and my book came out a couple years ago, after being copy-edited, indexed, designed, and read by two proofreaders and myself.

    There’s no chapter 9.

    The material is all there, but the numbering (large, elaborate numbers) skips from 8 to 10.

    1) It took 18 months before a reader noticed and let me know (and the book was actually selling lol)

    2) The book is about editing.

    But now when I tell authors in workshops “your book will have typos it is unavoidable no editing process is perfect” I have a GREAT example!

    1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      I can’t explain why but this mistake story feels so wholesome. Thanks for sharing!

  107. ratherbedancing*

    I just joined a new team that was moving very quickly towards an impending deadline. I left a very expensive battery connected to the piece of hardware I was in charge of over a long lunch break. It drained the battery. I swapped the batteries after lunch and left that one plugged in too, except this time overnight. I was not aware that draining batteries to zero is incredibly damaging and basically destroyed those batteries ability to ever hold a charge again. Further complications, is this battery could only be ordered from over seas. It was backordered for a whole month. I felt so embarrassed that I didn’t know basic battery handling. I was the only non-PhD on the team. I definitely catastrophized and was really hard on myself once one of the PhD’s figured out why the batteries were not charging. I was worried I would be fired from the team, instead, the lead hardware engineer pulled me aside and said, of course I was staying on the team, it was an expensive mistake but the project had already paid for it, so I was an investment to them now. I clearly was taking this seriously, and wouldn’t repeat my mistake. From his perspective it’s better to keep that person after they have learned from their mistake. The batteries arrived, I was able to accomplish the technical goals and we met our deadline! Framing the learning process as an investment is something I think about occasionally when things are not going well. Also I like to remind myself that my view of what a big deal is can differ based on where you are in the leadership chain. Good teams help everyone out and that experience turned out to be one of the best teams I’ve ever been a part of!

    1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      That was handled wonderfully by the team. Thanks for sharing the perspective they gave you! Definitely keeping that in my back pocket.

  108. YaySpace!*

    At my last job, I was responsible for the holiday cards. The first two years we sent physical cards, but we switched to virtual cards the 3rd year. We used a card sending system that had many features, including one where I could send off a group of cards from a specific email address. I used this to send cards from my Managing Director’s email address to their contacts, and also did it for all of the other MDs in our office location as well as the company CEO, who was based in our office.
    The first year we did this, it went off without a hitch. I learned the system, triple-checked the receiving emails, sent a bunch of practice emails, and on the day, I sent out several groups of emails from each of the MDs and the CEO. I sent about 500 emails and there were no bounce backs, the client base enjoyed the card and the MDs got a lot of direct responses in their inboxes from the card.
    The next year, we used the same system, and I repeated the process: renegaged with the system, triple-checked the recipient list, sent practice emails. On the big day I got up early to send off the 500+ virtual holiday cards from our system. I did my MD’s cards first and then moved over to another MD.
    Right as I finished the second MD’s cards, I noticed that my email inbox was blowing up. I stopped what I was doing to see what was going on. It was auto-replies/out of office messages from clients. I had forgotten to switch the “sent from” email address, so the 250+ holiday cards that had gone out came from my email address instead of the two MDs.
    I was absolutely horrified. The majority of our contacts would not recognize my name. And now clients couldn’t respond to the MDs directly on the card email chain. Fortunately, I caught it before I sent the CEO’s cards and the remaining cards went out under the appropriate email address.
    I remember sitting at my desk with my head in hands. I knew I had to tell my MD immediately, so I did, apologizing profusely. They were very kind and basically said there was no need to have a conversation about it because I clearly felt terribly and knew where I went wrong and that it would be okay. The other MD was similar – she told me that the cards weren’t even personalized so it really wasn’t that big of a misstep and other companies sent virtual cards from their admin’s emails or a generic email all the time. I got a generous bonus that year and pay raise. Not because of that, but in spite of it.
    But I will never forget the sinking pit in my stomach whe I realized why my email inbox was blowing up.
    I did end up leaving the following year for another opportunity. I met up with my old MD for coffee about 10 months into my new job and they told me I was still the best admin they ever had. So that one mistake didn’t define my career. And it never, ever hurts to double check.

  109. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    This was many moons ago in a customer service role, but it still haunts me on the bad brain days.

    I was working in a unique customer service role where we would have no customers for a long stretch and then there would be a very high volume of customers paying cash to enter an activity. The physical layout of the building made it very easy for people to breeze past and not pay at all, so we were trained by our coworkers to just take their cash and enter the transaction in our antiquated software later.

    I have ADHD which had not been diagnosed at the time, so you can imagine what kind of cash-handling hell my service desk was when things got busy. My coworker who trained me told me it was pretty normal to have discrepancies at the end of the night and to just enter in whatever I needed to for the numbers to match.

    Well, one night I came up $50 short. I’d had around $30 in discrepancy before so the number was surprising but not impossible; it was unusual that it was short instead of over, though. I assumed I’d entered a batch of transactions twice (we would make ticks on receipt tape to track them and enter them after the rush) and just cancelled $50 in transactions.

    At my next shift, my supervisor pulled me into their office and they were like “This person says they got a notification that they owe us $50. Your reports show that they paid no dollars, but they said they handed you $50. What’s up with that?”

    Reader, I was investigated for theft. I was too embarrassed to admit I had just been careless with money and that my normal practice was to have up to $30 in transactions to correct at the end of the night, so I just played dumb through the whole thing and when they said I would have to pay the $50 back I agreed.

    In retrospect, it was their processes, tools, and training that led up to that and if I had it to do differently I would immediately explain what went wrong and I would not pay a dime. Of course, if I had it to do differently I would have done the process correctly to begin with, regardless of how long the customers had to wait. It was a bad set up and it wasn’t my job to shield the org or my boss from the consequences of their own decisions.

    Alas, these are the follies of youth and an undiagnosed condition that makes it difficult to regulate emotions like shame.

  110. Young Business*

    In my second job out of school, I was asked to attend a conference/trade show in my hometown. I had recently lost a loved one so my employer was also doing me a kindness as they knew it would give me the opportunity to be with my family.

    For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that I was expected to stay at our company booth throughout the duration of the event. I was definitely naive and also maybe still wrapped up in grief. Anyways, the company’s managing director was also attending and one morning was surprised to see our booth empty, and asked my boss and grand boss about it.

    I think at the time they phoned or texted me asking where I was, and I was mortified. I think I expressed my apologies and made sure to be at the booth during trade show hours.

    When I came back to the office, my boss and grand boss displayed a lot of grace and were understanding. Luckily, it didn’t harm my reputation there and I received a couple of promotions afterwards.

  111. BoxBreaker*

    I’m in package testing. I was given responsibility over a certain big orange client whose work didn’t normally fall under my department because the group that should have been doing them was too busy. Yep, that is in fact your crystal ball singing.

    I completely screwed up a test series by overloading the test package (it was designed to withstand a 200 lb load on top, I applied 500… crush central!). Had to request new materials from the vendor trying to qualify his product for Big Orange, and redid the entire test at no additional cost.

    I then spent the next work day writing myself a VERY detailed “cheat sheet” that extracted only the relevant portions from the overall test document, included the formulas for calculating the loads, drop heights, etc., then ran it past the lab manager to make sure I didn’t miss something. Once that was approved, I started adapting that for the other similar test series(es? what is that plural?) for other sized packages.

    8 years later, I’m still using those cheat sheets!

  112. NinjaMonkey*

    I’ve been a medical software developer for over 20 years and I supervise a staff of 8 programmers. A few years ago, I made a coding mistake that got propagated throughout a program and led to the accidental deletion of multiple HUGE sets of data. Thankfully, we back up the server, but several hours of data from the day I deleted everything was lost permanently and required folks to start over on some things. Unfortunately, getting the backup drive required submitting a ticket and waiting on another group, and, and, and. Not the hardest recovery, but not the simplest, either.

    But, Gentle Readers, THIS WAS NOT THE END. Oh no. For I did not check carefully enough when I cleaned it up, and in fact I missed numerous other places in the code where it was wrong, and deleted everything not ONCE more, but TWICE, for a grand total of 3 times. The last time, I had my work doublechecked by 2 other senior programmers to make sure I didn’t do it again.

    I was later promoted to Senior Supervisor, so I guess I’m not the worst? :)

  113. Scott*

    A few years ago, I was an IT Helpdesk contractor for . It had a large presence in the USA, and so we would periodically get visiting executives/VIPs from the Japanese home office. Mostly these were handled by an internal bilingual “tiger team” that did white-glove service, but occasionally someone would take the initiative to call us and we’d take care of them.

    A person calls in on the special drop-everything “executive” line. He needs a password reset. I was a newbie at the time, and while I was nervous about handling something for a VIP, but I got everything taken care of by-the-book. Except.

    Current password practice mandated that I use a special character. I used a dollar sign for this man’s password. Japanese keyboards (you are unsurprised to learn) do not find it easy to type the dollar sign, and the Yen sign is not equivalent.

    After I realized my error (about 5 seconds after he hung up), I went to my supervisor, white as a sheet, and I told her, “I f—ed up.” She listened, expecting me to have set something on fire, or deleted something crucial, and when she heard what I said, she literally laughed at me. I called the poor man back, sheepishly explained that he would need *another* password, gave him one that he could, y’know, TYPE, and we got him set out on the right path.

    One thing I learned is that, while systems should be in place to catch errors, that they still happen, and that as long as you’re proactive in noticing them and working to correct them, the best response is not, “How could you screw this up?”, but, “Oh, shucks. How do we fix it?”

  114. Hammock*

    My first job out of college was a terrible fit. I got a job as a bank teller. I struggled with accuracy at the speed they needed. I came from retail and while I was good with customers, I lacked some of the professional polish they wanted. The assistant manager took a personal dislike to me and was unkind, made zero effort to mentor me or help me fix my mistakes, and when I was put on a PIP, would not make the accommodations outlined in my PIP.

    I wound up successfully completing the PIP, barely, but made enough errors a short time later that I was going to be fired. I knew someone who’d left to take a temp-to-perm job at another large local employer, so I quit the bank job and applied at the same temp agency and got a similar gig. I am still working for that employer 18 years later! That first job taught me a lot about what my strengths and weaknesses were — more than any job I excelled at ever would. I have been able to seek out roles that play to my strengths while minimizing my weaknesses.

  115. MellowGold*

    I don’t know if SharePoint is as universally hated as it is at my company, but once I was trying to delete a folder I had synced to my OneDrive and accidentally deleted the ENTIRE DOCUMENT LIBRARY. I got several panicked calls from coworkers, because they could see I was the last person editing on the site. After several minutes of trying unsuccessfully not to freak out, I remembered I could call our in-house IT department, who showed me everything was just in a SharePoint recycle bin… Cue three tedious hours of restoring 500+ files.

    In the grand scheme of things, this was such a small issue, but now I call our IT anytime I need to not syncing and delete a shared folder on my computer to have they handhold and confirm I did it right.

  116. Caz*

    Low stakes in the grand scheme of things but it was a mess at the time…
    Many moons ago, I was in charge of ordering cleaning products for the health care premises where I was based. we got deliveries once a week only, there was no way to get an extra delivery. The order code for toilet rolls and the order code for hand towels were acronyms of each other.
    One week, we ended up with MORE TOILET ROLLS THAN WE HAD SPACE TO STORE and insufficient hand towels to stock the dispensers in all the (many!) clinical rooms. I called in every favour I had and accrued a few more owed out, I sweet talked colleagues into adding extra onto their orders due later in the week, I…attempted to hide a stack of toilet rolls in a meeting room behind a flipchart stand (it was as successful as you think). I got utterly chewed out by my boss. I triple-checked and checked again every other order I put in after that one. The list I put together of what days different sites had their deliveries and when the deadline was to get emergency orders in with them was used across the organisation afterward…and I was used as a cautionary tale for literally years.

  117. Maura*

    I made a javascript mistake in a Qualtrics survey and $15k of survey completes were unusable. As soon as I realized my mistake, I called my manager. I tried to keep it together but it upset me so much I cried to her. I was on a business trip for a different client when I realized the mistake I’d made, so I was also away from home and alone, which added to me freaking out. My manager did a great job helping me calm down.

    In the end it came up in my performance review as a neutral-to-positive incident, because I recognized the error quickly, reported it quickly, corrected it and we were still able to deliver the survey results to the client on time.

    I still get upset thinking about it, even though it ended up ok!

  118. Off Plumb*

    I was working in local government. My office received a request from an elected official; it was about a high-profile issue and had a tight turnaround time. I did all of the data analysis and drafted the report. Not long after it was released, I suddenly realized that a major chart contradicted the message in the text. When I looked into it, I found an incorrect cell reference in my Excel formulas. I had to go to my boss, grandboss, and very aggressive authoritarian great-grandboss and tell them that we had publicly released flawed information. It was…stressful, to say the least. I’d been there for a few years at that point but was still one of the more junior employees.

    Fortunately for me, all three of these people had signed off on that report without noticing the discrepancy, so I wasn’t solely to blame. And I was the one who found and reported the error. It would have been a lot worse if that had come from outside the office. The only real consequence was that great-grandboss grilled us a bit before releasing the updated report, to make sure we were extra super sure it was good to go.

    I think the primary things that make a difference are:
    1) honesty and transparency (don’t try to cover it up)
    2) taking responsibility (don’t try to deflect blame)
    3) demonstrate that you take it seriously (your future behavior should reflect the lessons you’ve learned. And ideally your prior behavior also shows that you’re generally reliable)
    4) don’t lose sight of the fact that mistakes almost always involve system failures as well as individual failures. Maybe it was a failure of training, or communication, or review. But the root cause is rarely if ever “everything else is perfect but you’re an idiot.” Your bosses might not be willing to see it that way (my office was very focused on root cause analysis and systemic approaches, which definitely helped), but it’s important for your own peace of mind. And if you can propose solutions to keep it from happening again, even better.

  119. editricks*

    Long-time reader, first-time commenter! For some reason, telling these stories is a good gateway. Both happened at the same job, at a large nonprofit (and I’m an editor).

    Once, I assigned an ISBN to a publication that already had one. They were assigned by hand in a big book of ISBNs, and my predecessor had done this one, so I just overlooked it (the name had also changed). Orders had been coming in for months for the previous ISBN, but the actual published book had the new one printed on it. When the warehouse received the books, they emailed to let me know that they’d need to cancel all the orders already in the system and let the buyers know so they could re-order under the new ISBN. Of course, there was a chance that some wouldn’t bother to do so, so I’m sure it cost us some orders (since we were a nonprofit, the money wasn’t the main aim of the publication, but it never hurts! And of course, the aim was outreach). My boss, a micromanager, freaked out, but I think what bothered her more was the fact that the colon was left out of our website URL on the back cover (http//www…) Thanks to our intern for pointing that one out as soon as we got the new books.

    Another time, the zip code where we were located was going to change, along with some other neighborhoods in the area. For some reason I fixated on one of the new ones and thought it was ours because it was “better” in my mind, but I was off by one digit (think 90210 vs. 90310). And then I ordered new envelopes for our publications to be mailed in, with our return address printed on them. I had no idea I’d made a mistake until I had to type our zip code into a software program while a colleague trained me. She said, “Isn’t our new zip code 90310?” and my heart dropped. The envelopes cost $2,000, so I immediately went to my boss to let her know. Again, she freaked out, but I’d learned to confess to things immediately and not try to hide them because it was just best to get the pain over with. There was no way to fix the mistake, so we just had to print new envelopes. My boss very breezily managed to let her boss know when she passed by his office at one point, and I don’t think he blinked. I think I was scared pretty straight after those incidents, and although the micromanaging could be torturous (especially once I cleaned up my act and stopped messing up!), I ended up staying there for six-plus years and forming a solid relationship with my boss. Her reviews of me became absolutely stellar over time, and she cited trust a great deal, which I owe to owning up to those mistakes I made in the early days.

  120. Toaster Oven*

    I’m a scientist, and several years ago I made a discovery that ended up being Really Cool, published in a fancy journal, widely covered in the news, etc.


    Several months after we published it all, I was looking through my old code, and I realised that I had screwed up the maths.

    So I had to contact, uh, a bunch of people, get the article corrected, etc etc. It was a scientist’s worst nightmare. I thought I was going to get fired, shunned, all sorts of terrible things.

    But it turned out that, like, kinda nobody cared? I certainly wasn’t fired! I still collaborate with my co-authors from that paper; our corrected version is still being cited (what I did *actually* discover is still pretty cool, just not as cool as we originally thought); and a bunch of people in my field have told me that they’re impressed with how well I handled the whole situation.

  121. nona*

    I have a counter example, given that so many of these examples involve people new to the workforce. My first job out of college was as an engineer on a land remediation project. It was the largest project my company had ever taken on by far (something like, they went from monitoring gas stations to remediating a shuttered gas refinery), and the contamination wound up being much much worse than expected – so we were way out of our depth. Also, the company was run by buffoons.

    The person I had replaced was also in his first job out of college, and had been put in charge of developing and maintaining the (sql) database with all the soil and water samples. His degree was in civil engineering, and his computer experience to this point was mostly word processing and maybe a college class in Excel. Because of the size of the project, we were using multiple different labs to do our testing, each of which had different methods for identifying samples. He put everything into the database, but with no consistent way to identify individual samples, or any way to connect each individual sample to it’s location. It was basically just a list of samples. He winged it for a year, before getting his real estate agent license and abruptly quitting on the eve of the court case to argue that we were behind schedule as the contamination was worse than could reasonably be expected (also, the company was run by buffoons). The court case had to be delayed, because we couldn’t produce the necessary statistics, and the company hired in external folks to sort it out. After all this, they then hired me, also a civil engineer fresh out of college with limited computer experience, to manage the database going forward. The database had been jury-rigged back together in a unstable way and we were still in court, so I told them that this was not my area of expertise, and promptly left for a new job with fewer buffoons. I felt really bad for the guy I replaced, as he was set up to fail from the beginning. He had no background in what they asked him to do, and no one around to guide him. But, he really should have spoken up straight away, instead of just hoping it’d sort itself out, somehow.

    Fun fact: I now work in one of the buildings built on the land that we remediated (or may not have remediated, who knows really?).

  122. 401(yay)*

    Within my first year at the company, new to running payroll, I made a mistake with our 401(k) submission. Something along the lines of a misplaced decimal; not that, exactly, but something someone in my role should have noticed before clicking “submit”. Our bank account got overdrawn, the CEO noticed the whole situation, and I got a formal warning the next day. What got me through it: I admitted fault as soon as I was told what I’d screwed up, I was legitimately contrite – I panicked and cried during the meeting, worried that I was going to lose another job and that I wasn’t actually qualified for this – but most importantly I admitted that I really knew next to nothing about 401(k) plans, which was a big part of why I didn’t catch the mistake. My bosses heard that, understood that I needed and wanted to learn more, and gave me some homework reading. We changed our procedures so there’s another set of eyes, I learned more about what I was doing, and since then I’ve received the top end of our annual merit increases and otherwise stellar feedback.

    Admitting fault early, showing that I understood what I did wrong, setting up procedures so it didn’t happen again, and showing that I was going to use the situation to educate myself so I wouldn’t make similar mistakes going forward – that’s what did it for me.

  123. Violet Sorrengail*

    I work in the highly regulated aerospace industry. During COVID, we did not have a test engineer, so I inherited testing these tiny light bulbs so we could screen and select the best ones for spaceflight. I was very excited for the opportunity and spent WEEKS writing the test procedures, getting them reviewed, gathering and wiring the equipment, testing the equipment, holding pre-test meetings, until FINALLY I was cleared to go.

    I wired my first lightbulb into my integrating sphere, turned it on, and POP. I exploded my first ever lightbulb testing because I shorted the bulb. I cried, then had to call our program quality person to file an anomaly report, call the lab manager to help me clean the sphere, etc.

    However, I later got an award and a bonus for my excellent work on that testing! They were impressed by my can-do attitude, how I immediately owned up to my mistake, and spotted an error in the schedule and reworked the test to still be complete on time. So, for me, owning up to my mistake and continuing to do good work forgave me blowing up a lightbult!

    1. Wendy Darling*

      I was running the international expansion of a project involving a lot of expensive hardware, and had been in charge of looking up all the equipment and figuring out whether it worked with the new country’s 240 volt power. Mercifully, all the devices were fairly modern and had AC adapters that could handle 110-240 volts.

      OR SO I THOUGHT until I plugged in one $500 item and it immediately went BANG and never turned on again.

      It turned out that there were in fact two versions of what I will call the Widget. The Widget mk1 was what we had. However, shortly after my predecessor had purchased our Widgets the company had released the Widget mk2, which was identical to the Widget mk1 EXCEPT that they had changed from voltage-specific AC power to a 110-240 volt AC adapter. Because the models were identical except for some absurdly tiny grey-on-black text next to the power cord, I had not realized multiple versions existed when I looked up the specs for the Widgets. The website said they had an internal 110-240 volt AC adapter so I assumed our Widgets would be fine.

      Our Widgets were not fine. I fully blew up one and the other three WOULD blow up if I plugged them into the local power, so I had to overnight myself four replacement Widgets.

      AND THEN I got in trouble with finance when I submitted for reimbursement of my $2500-after-tax-and-shipping overnight-myself-widgets bill, because for purchases over $1000 we were required to submit a purchase order and let them purchase the item via an approved vendor. D: Luckily I explained the situation and they made a one-time exception. (There were literally two places that could get me Widgets before the project started, and I chose the cheapest one!)

  124. InsufficentlySubordinate*

    In the many years ago, I missed a problem in an input file to a 6 week long mainframe process. (Weeks not days). This caused a huge number of issues when it was discovered. I was put on a PIP which was basically 3 months of “Don’t make any mistakes.” I did survive it and stayed there another couple of years (stupidly, because the place had problems). I successfully used the incident during an interview for my next job. The interviewer told me after I was hired that she was so impressed by my maturity in describing the incident and in my honesty in discussing it when they talked about weaknesses and what I’d done to correct.

  125. Bee*

    This happened about 12 years ago, back when I was the administrative assistant for a technology training group in higher education. I was a part-time employee, and at the time this story happened I was working remotely at my in-laws’ house during the winter holidays, halfway across the country from the office.

    One of the things my office did was resell access to other training platforms with more specialized content than what we offered. For one particular platform, large groups who subscribed through us were able to have their own admin space under our account- they would have their own customizable login page and home page, and so on. During the first week of winter break, a local government office placed an order for a batch of accounts, and requested their own admin space so they could customize the offerings and keep track of everyone’s progress in the online courses they took. I’d never set up one of these group spaces before, so I read through the spotty notes the previous admin coordinator had left on the process, and thought I had set everything up properly and given the group lead the proper access to manage his own group site.

    I was wrong.

    Around 9 or 10 pm on Christmas Eve, I get a panicked phone call from my boss, asking why our login page for that particular eLearning service didn’t look right, and why he couldn’t log in to fix it. I figured the service was having issues, and went over to the page to take a look and see if I could fix things.

    Well, it turned out that when I gave the group lead for the government group admin access, I gave him access for our ENTIRE instance – not just his little piece of it. Apparently he decided to spend his Christmas Eve setting up the new eLearning portal for his group, and I sent him a very panicked email telling him I had mistakenly given him the wrong level of admin access, and asking him to undo whatever he did so I could log in and fix it. He apologized profusely, told me he changed all the branding and deactivated all the accounts he didn’t recognize, including my boss’s account and mine, and quickly reactivated my account so I could go in and undo the rest of what he did.

    I spent until 1 am reuploading all our branding assets, restructuring our catalog, and reactivating accounts, reassured my boss everything was fixed (yes, he was still up at 1 am on Christmas morning, waiting for me to fix this), and then spent Christmas day figuring out how to *properly* set up the group lead’s admin access.

    I certainly never made that mistake again, even though we only ever had two other groups who wanted their own custom space like that. Now, 12 years later, we no longer resell eLearning subscriptions, and I’m a full-time trainer instead of the admin assistant – which means no more working remotely on Christmas to fix things I inadvertently broke due to bad instructions from my predecessor!

  126. Lynx*

    Literally today… I got emailed by someone following up on something that I was late on doing. It was first thing in the morning and I was half-asleep checking my emails. I PANICKED and, for reasons I cannot explain, in my anxiety flare-up that I had messed up, I told a little white lie in my answer.

    Cue more panicking. I ended up calling my coworker and just (mostly) fessing up, explaining that I had missed x/y/z steps but I would make sure to take care of them immediately. His response? “Ok, so anyways [unrelated topic]…” (it was way bigger a deal in my head than it was anyone else’s)

    Another one is recently, in a transition between one coworker going on maternity leave and another leaving, some tasks for maternity leave coworker that exiting coworker usually handled did not get appropriately transferred to his replacement. It’s a gray area, but I should have been the one of the ones checking in on how that transition went but I assumed it was fine, and when mat. leave coworker came back, several things were not continuously being updated/sent out the way they should have been.

    I investigated what happened, reached out to my boss & new coworker’s direct manager. Then we explained what happened to returning coworker and also outlined how we would handle things going forward. It sucked, but she was very understanding that it was because of the transition confusion.

    So, overall honesty and owning up to things and presenting a plan to move forward are how I’ve handled mistakes.

  127. Jen with one n*

    Let’s see, first time participating in a big media event at my department, we get to the media QA portion and despite having journalists on the line, we can’t hear them and I don’t know if they could hear us. Lots of different departments in the room, mortified, but we end up having to move on because what else can you do. Head back to the department, I’m half-kicking myself because this was sort of my responsibility to manage, finally get a mini brainstorm and ask my boss, “why not contact the journalists and just invite them to a conference call where they can ask their questions and get answers?” We get it set up and all is well.

    Fast-forward fifteen years, I’m managing many different events while my colleagues are on strike, and I accidentally send the wrong products up for an event, including the speech. The rep on site announces the wrong project info and dollar amount (and it was a major difference — millions when it should have been billions). As soon as I find out, I tell my boss and propose a few mitigation strategies (including the correct dollar amount in our social media, etc.). We ended up not needing to do it, media didn’t ask, and all trucked on. When my colleagues got back into the office, it was one of the first things I told them about.

    Basically my approach is always to own it and tell someone as soon as possible, and try to propose a solution if you can think of one. You’re going to feel like garbage, and that’s not a feeling that goes away right away, but sit with the feeling and know it’ll fade.

    And when someone comes to me with something they’ve screwed up, I try not to berate them about it — provided they recognize that they’ve screwed up and feel bad already. Not that I’m going to bag on someone who doesn’t feel bad, but if they don’t see the impacts of their error I might have to outline it (honestly I’m mostly thinking of when my kids don’t act in a safe manner here, I’ve never had to dress down an employee).

  128. Wendy Darling*

    At my last job I managed to fuck up big about three months in and make a full week of data for a project basically vanish into a hole.

    I fessed up immediately upon realizing what had happened, and I knew I had a good manager when his response was not “oh my god what did you do” so much as “oh my god how does our process suck so much that this could happen and not get caught for a week?” I helped make some changes to the process so it couldn’t happen again, and somehow this incident ended up listed under achievements in my next review because of the process improvements.

    So I made a giant mess and then got praised for cleaning it up after. SUCCESS???

  129. Someone Else's Boss*

    I work for a consulting firm that, like many companies, utilizes a CRM to track projects and contacts. Four months into starting at this company, I decided that surely there was a better way to pull a report my boss asked for manually each month, so I went into the reporting section of our database and promptly broke the main report everyone used all day long. It didn’t work at all, and within ten minutes colleagues were calling from around the country to ask what happened to the report. It happened too fast for me to come up with a lie, so I humbled myself to my boss to report my mistake. Luckily she had a good relationship with the vendor, and got the report fixed in record time. To this day, no one else knows it was me and they all just thought it was an outage. I’ve been promoted 3 times (amid plenty of other mistakes) and yet I still remember that dread as if it happened yesterday.

  130. girlie_pop*

    I wrote a piece at my current job that we published under the CEO’s name, and after he had read and approved it, another person did a round of revisions and I published it, forgetting to run it through our proofreading software and just quickly reviewing and approving all of the changes.

    It got published (again, under our CEO’s name) with about fifteen bad typos, and I didn’t notice until the CEO sent me a message the next day about it. I was so embarrassed and I wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. It didn’t help that at my last job, any mistake, no matter how small, was treated like a catastrophe.

    He had already gone through and fixed them, so I apologized, briefly explained how it had happened, and what I was going to do moving forward to make sure it didn’t happen again. I don’t remember my exact words, but it was something like, “I’m so sorry I didn’t catch those and they got published under your name. I think that Manager made some revisions after your final review, and I didn’t run it through our proofreading software again after that, so that’s one me. Moving forward, I will make sure everything gets run through one final time right before we publish it even if it’s been run before.”

    He thanked me, and that was basically it. We work together often and well now. I think in general, sometimes people think that trying to explain how a mistake happened will come across as “excusing,” but I always think it’s good to tell someone how it happened if possible, and what you’ll do to avoid it in the future. If you’re just matter-of-fact and calm about it, I think most reasonable people will understand you’re not making excuses and just problem-solving.

  131. SadieMae*

    It wasn’t really something I needed to recover from in a career-path way, but it was funny (and, in fact, would be good for Mortification Week too):

    When I was an office admin, one day I was sent into an important client meeting with a sheaf of papers to hand out. The person who had printed them had left them in a messy pile in my desk, so when I walked into the meeting room, I went over to a desk in the corner, intending to do that thing where you rap the edges of the paper smartly on a flat surface to joggle them down into place. Except that in my haste (the meeting had already started, and the printouts were late by then) and in the force of my movement (it was a lot of paper, so I knew I’d have to hit the desk pretty hard to shift it all), I missed the edge of the desk, and the papers went everywhere.

    At first I was mortified, but then I got the giggles, because I realized that the clients (and the company brass) probably didn’t understand what had happened. To their eyes, this young woman had walked briskly into the room, smiled at them all, lifted a pile of papers up to about chest level, and with a dramatic flourish, thrown them all over the floor.

    I started laughing too hard to be able to explain. I just scooped up the papers and, snorting, put the whole pile in front of the Big Boss, and then I got the hell out of there. The boss scolded me afterward, but there were no other repercussions, thank goodness.

  132. Anon here*

    A couple of months into a new job where I work with people who have lost loved ones to violence, I wrote a letter to people who had lost their son 30+ years ago and got his name wrong. Not spelled wrong–just fully wrong, like “Andrew” for “Peter.”

    I was under a lot of stress at the time, due to a close family member of mine–Andrew–being diagnosed with a terminal illness. I also had a baby under 1 who was medium at sleeping through the night. While I explained these things to my boss, she was, candidly, less than deeply interested in the cognitive-science “why” of it all. My supervisor had me send a handwritten note apologizing.

    She was a very good boss who came to trust me over time to communicate with other people like this in other situations, even without her listening in/participating. (I’m VERY careful about names, spellings, pronunciations–I will ask people upfront, “Oh, how did s/he spell that?” or “Sorry, how do you pronounce that again? I just want to make sure I’ve got it exactly right, sometimes our records are wrong”–now for obvious reasons.) I always cared a lot about this part of my job and getting it right–it was just a bad confluence of events right at the outset. And while I’m still probably not as careful to cover myself with scrupulously careful recordkeeping, I make up for it in being an absolute bulldog about finding people who my office has lost track of over 20-30-40 years and making sure they understand what’s going on and why I’m reaching out.

    (I also hardly ever communicate with people in writing anymore–it’s almost all via phone, for better or for worse.)

    Earlier this year I won an officewide award for my work in this area, and earlier this summer I had an intern listen in while I made one of these calls; when we were done she asked me if I had ever been trained (at this office or elsewhere) in “soft skills,” which I thought was very nice.

  133. pally*

    First job out of school. A long, long time ago.

    On my way to work on my second day of employment, I forget the training documents at home. The documents to be used in training on that day. So, do I turn around and arrive late? No, I decide to arrive on time and tell the boss I forgot the documents.

    Okay, she makes a production out of how a college grad could forget so easily. Okay, I deserved that. But she gives me another copy of the documents.

    Memo to self: the night before, place everything for work on table next to purse. A habit I follow to this day.

    My job is to prepare 600 plasma samples for hepatitis testing to be read on a scintillation counter in trays of 100. Gold ol’ I125. Each tech loads their six trays, places a blank tray at the end and then the next tech loads their trays. The counter is left on all the time to read samples.
    This counter is so old it acts up a lot. Ideally, it reports several thousand results to a computer. And reporting results to the outside labs is practically automatic. When it is acting up, the data team has to pull a printout and manually tabulate the data. And then contact outside labs via telephone regarding the results. Big pain. Takes hours to complete. Very prone to error.

    I get a lot of good feedback from the training folks that I’m doing well. Getting up to speed faster than they expected. I’m often the first one done with preparing my 600 samples!
    There’s a post-it in the window of the data team office to indicate when we can load our trays. My trainer explains that when this appears, the first person is to load in a special tray configured in a specific way to clear the previous day’s data from the computer to make room for the incoming data.

    I see the post-it, load the special tray, then my six, then the blank tray.
    Next day, training supervisor says, “I take back every positive thing I said about you!”
    Apparently, I wasn’t supposed to load that special tray that clears the data -ever! The data team had to tabulate the data manually. And make all those phone calls.

    All my fault. Dirty looks from the data team from through the window.

    Yeah, I apologized. A lot!

    Made sure never to be the first to load that scintillation counter.

    Six weeks later they promote me to retest tech. This requires extreme accuracy and good lab technique. I have to find and then retest every positive sample.

    1. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

      Wait, I’m confused! There was a post-it saying to load the special tray to clear out the data but when you did what it said, that was wrong? I’m totally not getting how this was your fault.

  134. Abogado Avocado.*

    Back before cell phones and back when newspapers were printed on actual newsprint, I was a daily newspaper reporter who was sent to a court hearing concerning a request for a preliminary injunction in a major case in our fair city. The paper was holding a slot open on the front page of the midday edition for the story of the ruling. Thus, I was instructed to call in and the plan was for the rewrite editor to write a new lede based on the ruling, the chief copy editor would write the new headline, and everything would be sent to composing so the head section (which the front page led) could be printed and the midday edition could hit the streets.

    The Judge held the request for the preliminary injunction in abeyance, the courtroom immediately emptied, and I — all of 22 years old with NO legal training — thought that meant the injunction had been granted. Which is what I told the rewrite editor over the phone. Rewrite yelled that news across the newsroom, presumably so that the chief copy editor could started on the headline. Fortunately, the rewrite editor followed up by asking me, “Exactly what did the judge say?” Which — after some more yelling across the newsroom — averted a front page error of epic proportions.

    I remember walking into the newsroom and hanging my head in front of the rewrite man in shame. He ordinarily was a tough guy with little patience for baby reporters, but he must have taken pity on me because he said, very quietly and gently, “If you’re not sure what something means, just ask me. And always give me the direct quote. That’s how we make sure we’re right.” Words to live by.

    Five years later, after I’d been promoted several times and decided to attend law school, he told me not to forget what I learned as a reporter, even though I would now be holding journalism in abeyance. And I haven’t.

  135. Converse*

    Last summer I was so distracted by one really complex project that I forgot about my OTHER time consuming complex project. We fully had a ticketing system and everything, so I’d seen it but my brain was just filtering it out??? As soon as I realized (like 2 weeks before it was due), I emailed my manager to let her know. She emailed the requester to let them know it would be late. She wasn’t upset at all; especially bc she knew how time consuming the other project was plus we were understaffed. She extended the deadline and it worked out fine. After that I started to use the “task” column in outlook to have a visual reminder lol. I also work at a government agency.

  136. Medium Sized Manager*

    A few years back, I was put in charge of running a project that I had no business running, but I was eager and confident that I could do anything if I tried my best, and it…failed miserably. It’s still a point of contention with me personally, but I am able to laugh about it personally. About a month after it launched, I was approached by senior Leadership who apologized for their lack of involvement – they thought I was following a specific process instead of flying blind. Apparently, my status update emails went unread because it was pretty clear that I wasn’t.

    In the short term, I cried a lot, had at least one panic attack, and tried to be extra proficient in other areas to make up for it. I took it really personally and generally struggled with the project being rocky at best. I didn’t get any real feedback from my manager at the time because he was more concerned about his own promotions, and I switched to a different team shortly after (no relation – it better aligned with my goals). I started to set better boundaries and work on separating my personal and professional life – too much of my self-worth was tied to my job.

    In the long term, I’ve identified how to tell if I’m over my head and I have gotten better at knowing when to ask questions/push back on senior leadership. I also use it as a learning example for my direct reports and am really open about what went wrong/how it could have been avoided/what we can do differently to give them a better experience in the future. I often think about the support I didn’t get and how I can be the manager that I didn’t get (i.e., writing out a template for writing a status update for brand new professionals, ensuring my expectations match their skill level and not that of an executive).

    I’ve been promoted twice since that project, and I’ve maintained a very strong position in my company’s future plans, so it didn’t hold me back despite feeling like the fate of the universe was hanging in the balance at the time.

  137. Anon retailer*

    Worked in retail, first paid job. I got scammed by someone writing a cheque (! it was a long time ago) that would bounce or was invalid in some way, for around £100 worth of a product. This product was particularly prone to scams and I should have asked for a cheque guarantee card (remember those?!) and flagged it to a manager. Instead I just put it through as I didn’t know any different. The manager asked me about it afterwards and I admitted it and offered to pay up to make it right. He said I wouldn’t need to, but need to learn the lesson (which I did). For some reason I wouldn’t stop with wanting to pay it back though, so eventually he accepted. It only occurred to me about 20 years later that that money probably went in his pocket…

  138. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

    We used to have an area of our plaza where you could leave items free for people to take (office supplies, work shirts, leftover Halloween candy, etc.) One day there was a nearly full bottle of mouthwash on the counter. It was odd, but I figured someone tried it once and didn’t like it and didn’t want to waste the rest of it. I wasn’t squeamish and I was young and broke, so I took it. The next day there was a note: “Who took my mouthwash? Who would take someone else’s bottle of mouthwash? That’s DISGUSTING!!” The person I was with saw the note and said “Eww!” and I laughed and tried not to look guilty while my temperature shot up 100 degrees. I could barely focus over the next couple of days, legit concerned the mouthwash owner would ask for security camera footage to see who “stole” the mouthwash and I’d get called into a meeting to explain myself. I felt terrible, but I had already taken it home, and I sure as heck wasn’t going to bring it back to work. I dumped it all out when I got home that night! Now that I get to the end of the story, I guess I don’t have a good recovery technique, just that time heals all wounds. I’m glad I can say it was years and years ago but I still cringe when I think about it. LOL

  139. KayDeeAye*

    This is a tale of two errors. The second one actually wasn’t my error but I had some very unpleasant hours when I was sure I would be blamed for it.

    I edit publications for a non-profit. A few years ago, my new supervisor and I were going through some difficult times getting used to each other. The first error – a typo – was about two-thirds my fault. It cost us $250 to fix, and it took her weeks to get over it.

    We were just getting back on an even keel after the $250 snafu when I glanced over a PDF of a publication that had just been completed the previous day and found an even bigger error smack-dab in the middle of page 5. It hadn’t been there when I approved the page, but it had somehow appeared between the time when the out-of-house designer had made the approved PDF and when she made the high-resolution PDF that I was looking at now. And the important thing here was that the high-res PDF was the one that was being used by the press.

    This was after-hours on a workday, and my boss, I knew, couldn’t be reached that evening. Meanwhile copies of the publication with that big honking error were rolling off the press, costing us hundreds or thousands of dollars (at that point nobody could tell me exactly how much).

    Well, I was terrified. She’d gotten so mad over a measly $250 – what would she say about $1,000 or $2,000 or $3,000? But on the other hand, I knew she would truly loathe spending thousands of dollars on anything with that big honking error in it.

    I decided I’d rather be in trouble for being too conscientious rather than not conscientious enough, and so for the first and (I hope) only time in a long career, I had to say “Stop the presses!” The printer reprinted the issue with the corrected page, all at a cost of an extra couple thousand dollars.

    That night, I couldn’t sleep. At all. All I could think of was how furious she was going to be. She always got into the office early, so I decided to go in even earlier so I could tell her about it first thing and get it over with. Early the next morning, I told her all about it, showed her the PDF I had approved that had not had the error, and said that I truly did not think we were at fault. And she said, “Well, I agree, and I’m not going to get mad about the cost because we’re not paying it.” And we didn’t.

    And after that, she never mentioned the $250 snafu again. Somehow I’d redeemed myself.

  140. Hiring Mgr*

    I had a high school job as a cashier at a pharmacy. I was caught taking a couple of items without paying for them. Surprisingly, all they did was have me pay for those items and said “don’t do this again”.

    1. allathian*

      With a few coworkers we used to drink beer in the back room after hours on a Saturday (the store was closed on Sundays unless the Monday was a holiday). All of us were legally permitted to drink and we’d paid for our beers but we weren’t supposed to drink on company premises. Usually we just had one beer each before we went to the pub, but once we bought several cans each for some reason I can no longer remember and stuck around too long until security showed up and wondered why the alarm wasn’t on. Cops were called and the store manager wasn’t happy, but all of us except the store manager and one supervisor were foolish young adults who’d barely reached the legal drinking age. We were lucky because the store manager didn’t press charges and apparently didn’t tell corporate, either. We did learn our lesson, though, and from then on we went straight to the pub after work on Saturdays.

      I’m a reasonably law-abiding citizen, I never so much as drank underage as a teen, and that’s the story of my one and only brush with the law… I’ve never had so much as a speeding ticket. Thankfully the statute of limitations has passed long since.

  141. Donkey Hotey*

    I was in about year four of a job that involved a lot of detailed number work. I enjoyed it and did it very well… for the most part. One day, I learned that I had made a large mistake – on the order of costing the company more than what I made in a year. I was mortified, of course.

    I researched it the best I could. Come to find out, it was no one’s mistake but mine. I went to my boss and copped to it. I said that if she wanted it, my resignation would be on her desk the first thing in the morning.

    She said that if I left, there would be one less person to solve the problem and then she’d have to teach the new person to never do THAT again.

    I stayed and fixed the problem. Over the next few years, any time someone new would start in the department, I got to harrow them with the take. I felt like Jacob Marley dragging around my old mistakes. I worked there another 10 years after the mistake, until the company was sold and we were all laid off.

  142. Brenda B.*

    I’m an administrator working with faculty in higher ed, where in my first year because of a faculty person’s unclear communication to me (using student nicknames where two students had nearly identical ones, instead of legal names), I accidentally sent a scholarship award letter to the wrong student awarding her a large sum of money from our department. I later fessed up and apologized to my direct boss when I discovered the mistake, and he asked me to write back to the student to tell her it was a mistake before I resent the award letter to the correct student. The first student, to her credit, then objected and said she had the award in writing and would not relinquish it, so now the grand boss, whom I didn’t know well, was looped in about what to do. When grand boss’s reply arrived in my inbox, I was sure I’d be required to repay the money out of my modest paycheck or might even be fired, but all grand boss said was, “I guess we need to be more careful about nicknames. Go ahead and send the second letter and we’ll take it out of budget X.” So I learned to confess my mistakes without fear and to trust in my employer’s kindness.

  143. Mazey's Mom*

    Many eons ago when I was just starting out in my field (and outside of temp work, it was my first real office job), I had to cover for a department chair’s executive assistant for 2 weeks. I was asked to send an email (with an attachment) to a particular group of faculty members, so I did. But then I got back a very irate email from one person (who hit “reply all” instead of just directing it at me) who accused me of intentionally sending a computer virus that could have wiped out years of their research. Not just that person’s, but everyone’s research. Turns out, the computer that the EA used was loaded with lots of viruses but strangely enough, no one ever knew. I was mortified and upset, and immediately sent out an email to apologize, even though it wasn’t my fault. This stayed with me for a few days, but my boss kindly reiterated that it wasn’t my fault and that the faculty member shouldn’t have taken me to task in front of everyone. But 2 things good came out of it…the EA got a new, virus-free computer, and the research group was kindly reminded (not by me though) to make frequent backups of their work. This did stay with me for days, even months, but eventually I think I realized that I had done what I could to own up to it, and my work since then had received good reviews and positive feedback, so I just let it go.

    I’ve made many other mistakes since, one or two real doozys, but I’ve come to realize that these mistakes don’t usually affect anyone else to the extent that they do to you. While you’re beating yourself up over it, to others it’s barely a blip and they’ve got other things to do. Own up to your mistake, learn from it, and use it for when you’re asked to share a story about when you were mortified.

  144. Troubadour*

    I managed to absolutely mess up our website the day before our organisation’s annual open day. I can’t remember the details, but think unreadably ugly, the navigation not working, etc. And I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how I’d done it. I spent all afternoon checking every file I could think of, no luck. My boss came by and asked how he could help but of course he had no technical background. Being all out of other options I told him I was going to leave, head to my brother’s place for our weekly dinner, drink a cider, and see if my brother (different field but technical background) could help troubleshoot. My boss looked a bit dubious but as he didn’t have any better ideas either he okayed the plan.

    I’d been on the bus for about five minutes when suddenly I realised what the problem must be. Got to my brother’s place, logged on, fixed it, and emailed my boss. Next day he told me that he’d been having dinner with the Top Boss, and my email arrived exactly as the Top Boss had been asking him about what he was doing to fix it!

  145. ex guest service*

    Recently I was organizing the loan of a “llama” to our “zoo”, and the lender let us know that the llama was going to need some minor grooming. The lender had previously loaned us a different llama that also needed grooming, so I told the lender that our fantastic groomer would be able to handle it…. without ever asking the groomer about it. The groomer then very politely told me, “I really appreciate your confidence in my skills, but please don’t tell lenders I can do just any sort of grooming, I often need to see the llama first and then I can say what kind of grooming is possible.” I felt so embarrassed that I had put them in an awkward position. And almost started crying during the conversation.

    Once we received the llama and the groomer assessed it, he said he could do the grooming that the lender requested, and asked me to get approval from the lender, and sent me the exact procedure for the grooming to relay.

    In order to make the flow of my email better, I accidently separated a section of the grooming procedure into two parts, making it very confusing for the lender, to which the groomer then very gently told me, “Please just copy and paste the grooming instructions, exactly as I send them.”

    I wanted to crawl into a hole, having made TWO mistakes regarding the same llama. But in the end the llama was groomed, looked fantastic, and my relationship with the groomer and lender are just fine. I will not be making either of those mistakes again!!!

  146. Kicking-k*

    This was 15 years ago but is burned into my synapses.
    I was the admin person for a bespoke database that our department used. We weren’t coders, so we had two IT guys, Wakeen and Fergus, who were assigned to us for so many hours per quarter to fix any issues arising. Wakeen was great and generally if he didn’t understand our requirements he’d ask us to clarify. Fergus not so much – he tended to assume he’d understood when he hadn’t, and would sometimes promise things he couldn’t deliver.

    At the time, we were in were legally required to publish a certain list of information on a set date. We were using the database to populate this. It had been a huge task. In order to leave a trail, obsolete entries weren’t deleted from the database, just set as “unpublished”. The current ones could be preset to publish on a set date.

    It came to the day before the website needed to update. Everything looked good to go… then I looked at the list of entries and realised that NONE were set as unpublished.

    I called IT and reached Fergus, who said “Oh yeah, I thought that looked like a mistake, so I set them all to publish.” There was no way to revert this. I told my boss, and ended up staying till midnight to revert all the “unpublished” entries to the correct status. I made it just in time.

    A few lessons were learned. One was that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link; it didn’t matter that 50% of our IT team was great. Another was about making sure you explain the purpose of something and not just the workings. Another, sadly, was that nobody at that organisation really had my back. I’d complained about Fergus not listening properly before, but nothing had changed…

  147. A person*

    In my inexperience I accidentally violated a safety rule at work. It was the kind of thing that people were sometimes fired for. I felt awful (no one got hurt or anything, it was really just an administrative error – but in safety things sometimes those lead to much bigger issues so I totally get why they take such a harsh approach). I had to face the “committee”. I was fortunate that I was well liked at work and I was inexperienced in the task I messed up and under the direction of an experienced person who also missed it so we were both suspended without pay for one day and had to write a commitment to safety statement for our “file”. We could’ve both been fired, but weren’t.

    Now the recovery part. That was probably 10 years ago. We both still work for the company and are both still well-respected. I’ve been promoted several times since. I also learned a lot from that experience that I can use when I have to be disciplinary with my reports (which isn’t often) and the importance of proper training.

    Most people don’t even remember it anymore and the “file” isn’t even a real thing. Haha. No one looks at it at our company.

  148. Goose*

    Early in my career I was given an opportunity to run a project that was pretty unusual for someone in my (temporary) position. It required providing potential participants with access to an external resource, which I did at the instruction of my supervisor using the access point to the resource they gave me. It wasn’t long before I received a furious email (CCing my supervisor, their supervisor, and everyone but Jesus) from the creator of the external resource; we apparently hadn’t gone through the correct processes to pay them for using their resource, so we were in effect just pirating it out in front of everyone. I suspected it would be a bigger deal for my supervisor to have messed up on attribution with someone at an organization they’d be with long-term than for me to have made a mistake as a much earlier-career and temporary person, so I just apologized, removed the resource, and checked in about any recourse needed to make things right (also CCing everyone we’d mutually ever met).

    My supervisor stepped into the conversation and clarified that the mistake was really theirs, but appreciated the way I’d handled it so much that I was offered several additional projects in my time there that no one at my level ever got to touch, projects that had a really direct impact on qualifying me for the permanent positions I’ve enjoyed since.

  149. Lionheart26*

    As a loyal AAM reader I have a few mantras in my pocket at all times, and one of them is “get in front of the awkward”.
    I’m an Australian working abroad and (perhaps not coincidentally) I am quite relaxed at work and also am a bit of a swear-bear. I had been a high level manager for years, but I’d worked my way up at a previous company, so everyone knew me and my quirks. I’d recently moved to a new company that was much more strait-laced so I was trying to make a good first impression as a professional division manager.

    In a one-on-one with one of my reports I was explaining the reasons for a much-needed change and I decided to say “maybe your team will love it and it will all go well, or maybe they’ll hate it and you’ll just have to decide you don’t give a fuck”. oooooooops. We both just looked at each other wide-eyed and then he backed out of my office.

    I was mortified, but thought about WWAD (what would Alison do) so I waited a day then went and knocked on his door. “I’d really like to apologise for yesterday. My choice of words were not great and that was not at all what I meant. I’m so sorry if I made you uncomfortable”. He looked confused for a moment and then burst out laughing and said “oh I just figured it’s because you’re Australian!”. Now all is good and we get on well (and his team grumbled a bit about the changes but are fine now).

    I have lots more examples of times I’ve said or done something stupid, and definitely owning the awkward is the way to go.

    PS apologies to all my Australian compatriots for the TERRIBLE reputation and stereotypes I am reinforcing.

  150. Open Window*

    I’ve made so many mistakes throughout my career, at multiple jobs, that I laugh heartily about them now that I’ve reached one of the most coveted levels at my current job, and it helps calm my mentees down when they catastrophize.

    1. As a new employee
    At a previous job, we used antiquated software that would pre-populate the previous address for every new order. I had zero training and a domineering, exacting manager. I placed an order not realizing that the pre-populated address was incorrect. Lo and behold, $5000 worth of merchandise was delivered to someone’s house. We only realized it was a problem when the owner of the house called repeatedly complaining about the boxes of our product cluttering his doorstep and front yard.
    Of course my manager 100% blamed me for this error, and after this was ordered to train me by upper management, but did it with so much condescension (I was actually told during the training “I’m gonna show you this once, and if you mess up again, it’s on you.”). It was during this training that I realized where I made my mistake. My manager’s boss, the one who hired me, told me later on that this was the first nail in my manager’s coffin. Fortunately, I left and didn’t look back.

    2. As an experienced high-performer
    After about a year and a half of working 60-70 hour weeks, I was invited to attend a conference in my area of specialty. Typically, this means being groomed to speak at the next conference, so it was an honor. My department had just gotten a brand new top level Director and I was anxious to meet this person for the first time. I was looking forward to hearing about how they planned to re-balance the workload so that I could go back to my 40+hour weeks and get my life back.
    During their talk, this person said that no work is disseminated without passing over their desk first and they ensure the workload is always balanced, which, unknowingly, triggered me. I waited until the next snack break, and I calmly approached and introduced myself. A few moments into the conversation, I asked about that statement and, before I knew it, I was shouting at the Director. I knew that I was going overboard as people started surrounding us; I could see the alarmed look on my Director’s face. Once I was able to stop myself, I immediately grabbed my belongings and ran away. Some of my colleagues saw me as I passed by and commended me for speaking up, but no one came to my defense. I was sure that my job was over. When I returned to the office, I started taking my personal belongings home. I waited anxiously to be fired, but it never happened.
    Shortly thereafter, our work was all reassigned. We were able to go back to normal and I never heard about it again. Funny enough, years later, my manager asked me to give a presentation at that same conference.

  151. Dunno*

    It really boils down to your manager in situations like this. There are some great managers out there who handle mistakes with fairness, objectivity, and compassion. Mistakes happen, and they should be seen as opportunities for learning, development, growth, and improvement. Psychological safety is paramount. People who are terrified of making a mistake are more likely to make them, and to hide them from you.

    My core memory around mistakes at work is not a good one. Back in the day, when I was a mid-level Llama Groomer, I made an extremely minor, easily fixable, one-off mistake after being given a task that was the responsibility of the Chief Teapot Designer. This task took approximately 3 hours to complete and required years of teapot design experience, extensive task-specific training, and access to specific information and documentation. My manager, Molly, gave me 45 minutes to complete this task, with no training, no access to the required documentation, and instructions and information that were not only vague but also completely incorrect.

    Despite it being a miracle that the single mistake made had no negative impact, and that it only occurred due to the incorrect information Molly gave me, she tried to have me placed on a PIP based on “problems” and “failures”…that she made up. I was dumbstruck and terrified because NONE of these problems or failures actually existed, and she did nothing but gaslight me, nitpick my work, and bully me to the point I was a nervous wreck. She had a long, well-proven history of this behaviour, and it was eventually proven that she had admitted she wanted to illegally fire me because she didn’t like that my colleagues liked me and that I was good at my job. But that didn’t save me. I ended up having to leave a job I loved and was very good at.

    I’ve got to say, this is just one of the not-so-fun things that can happen at work, and it’s made me pretty wary of bosses. But hey, there’s a silver lining – I’ve also had some amazing managers who totally get it. I even became a manager myself (and I promise not to repeat Molly’s blunders!). The turning point was when I met Violet, the best boss ever. When I made a similar sort of minor error while working with her, she didn’t freak out. Instead, she was cool about it, admitted her part, and even said thanks for fixing it so quickly. We talked about how we could avoid it in the future and she actually praised me for being on top of things. That’s how mistakes should be handled, in my book.

  152. Confused Wombat*

    This was quite a few years ago at a major company’s shipping hub. The software my team was responsible for ensured that all the right documents were created and printed for every truck prior to leaving. Since truck drivers are legally required to have these documents with them, you can imagine it was quite business critical.

    Occasionally the system had some hiccups and we’d have to go in and fix the data manually. During one of these times, the program I used for making these changes messed up and caused a database lockup. Simply put, the entire application just stopped working. Not a single document was generated, not a single one was printed. Seeing as this was the only shipping hub for the entire continent, you can imagine how important it was to fix this.

    Unfortunately, I never noticed I messed up and merrily carried on with my work. Within minutes, we got alerts that something was wrong. Then the calls started coming. The incident kept being escalated to ever higher severities, to the point where the C-suite was being kept in the loop on the progress we made. While trying to figure out what was happening, I kept using the same program to look further at potential issues (which of course kept the database locked).

    Over the course of an afternoon, many, many trucks were blocked, causing missed deliveries, upset customers, … Eventually, my program crashed somehow. One of my colleagues noticed that the database still had a connection on my name though (which can happen if the program crashes). They killed that ghost connection and, just like that, everything started working as it should. It took several hours to get through the entire backlog and get all trucks rolling again.

    We learned a few lessons on what to look for if things went haywire and I still work there.

  153. Robyn*

    Oh boy, I still cringe over this one!

    I had been with my company a few years but had a new boss. We were a not-for-profit and received government payments every few months of millions of pounds. I’m in the UK.

    Since my new boss had never done the transfer before from the receiving account to our spending account, he told me to just go ahead and do it.

    Did the paperwork, sent the fax (just dated myself) called the bank to confirm they received the fax and to make sure they knew about the transfer.

    The next day, my boss got a call. We’ll call him Paul. All I can hear is Paul’s end of the conversation in our open plan office.

    “Hi, Bankers Name….what?…it’s what?!?!…let me talk to Robyn and I’ll call you back!”

    I, of course, lifted my head at the mention of my name. “What?!”

    “That 2.5m you transferred yesterday? It’s missing.”

    Anyway, after some backing and forthing and checking my paperwork, I figured out that I had put the Sort Code for one bank and our Account Number for another bank on the paperwork.

    The money had actually not transferred anywhere (you’d think there’d be some kind of flag for that kind of thing!) and was easily retrieved by the bank once they knew what happened.

    Once it was all sorted I said to Paul, ‘Am I fired?’

    And he replied, ‘No since it didn’t go to your personal account!’

    We did have a pretty long meeting about me paying closer attention to details and he thoroughly checked all of my work for awhile, but I definitely was stricter on myself than he was on me during the whole thing, as I prided myself on my precision and never missing details.

    I did learn a lesson about double checking everything 5 times. And also a bit about giving myself a break when I messed up. And now that I manage people, I use it as an example as a mistake that their mistake could never be as bad as!

  154. Baska*

    When I first started a job as an office manager at a small nonprofit, one of my tasks was to manage cash flow, including letting the Board know when we had to get cash infusions from our endowment fund. Well, long story short, I misread the bank statement for one of our accounts, causing the bank balance to fall precipitously low, to the point where a few of our cheques bounced. I was absolutely mortified – this sort of mistake is very unlike me! I spoke to my boss immediately, apologized profusely, and we set a plan in motion right away to get a transfer going from the endowment and to contact everyone who’d received a recent and/or bounced cheque letting them know we’d reissue in the next few days. In the end, everything worked out okay, and I definitely haven’t made the same mistake twice! (It helps that I was otherwise a very good employee and that this job has a lot of moving parts – everyone was understanding of this one mistake.)

    These days, people actually get a kick out of it when I make mistakes (like forgetting to send a document or mis-scheduling a Zoom meeting) because it doesn’t happen very often. Everyone is like, “Whew! It turns out you’re actually human too!”

  155. MistakesHappen*

    I work in nonprofit fundraising – as a fundraiser. It is my job to ask people for money.

    Early on in my career, I was tasked with asking one of our volunteers to join the board, which would require them to make a donation. I really liked this volunteer and suspected that the donation would be too much, so I relayed the invitation to join the board but danced around the issue of the donation, hinting at it rather than just asking outright. I crossed my fingers and hoped it would be ok. It wasn’t. The volunteer eventually received the new board member packet and the prefilled donation form. They were very upset and refused to make the expected donation. Phone call went to my boss.

    My boss called me into a private meeting with just her, and asked what happened. I immediately knew I had messed up – this was a donor relations problem AND would be a loss of projected revenue for the organization. I immediately took responsibility for my mistake, didn’t get defensive, and asked for guidance and help on salvaging the situation. I also asked for help and training to make sure it didn’t happen again. Things eventually smoothed over – but the thing that stayed with me a few years later is something my boss shared.

    She told me how impressed she was that I didn’t try to cover it up, that I took responsibility, and that I asked for help and guidance on fixing the situation and in making sure it did not happened again. We worked well together and built trust despite the mistake. She has continued to be an excellent resource and has served as an excellent advocate and reference now that we are both in different jobs.

  156. canttell*

    The work I do involves digital archives and I was completing uploading large files to our client. At some point, someone on the staff accidently deleted the entire collection from our server. I absolutely panicked, but was able to recover what was lost through a lot of communication with our software platform staff and finished the entire project under time. It almost made me quit, though.

  157. Hot dogs testing*

    Years ago I was in charge of communication with speakers at our associations annual meeting. I was testing the system and for whatever reason would use our CEO’s daughter as the test account because she was a member and I could easily find her name. Anyway one time I do a test with the subject line: HOT DOGS TESTING.

    I’m sure you all know by know that this was the live site and not dev and she got that email.

    I was mortified. But thankfully people not reading emails I sent worked on my favor and I never once heard about it. Phew.

  158. Nooray*

    Absolute best manager I’ve ever worked with was extremely supportive when the team made a major error that caused a big headache that cost about $15k to remedy. Used it as a learning and development exercise for all of us, and everyone since, and to convince the c-suite to change the processes that has created a system where such an error was possible.

    Absolute worst manager I’ve ever worked with has me unlawfully fired over an extremely minor mistake that no one cared about. I took legal action and it was proven that the mistake was a result of the boss’ own ineptitude, and I was one of more than a dozen people he’d subjected to this treatment. I was disgusted, especially when I found out why he had our best team member, C, fired. C had been blamed for an argument with our biggest client and been fired fit it, when it was the manager who had and caused the argument, and C had literally never spoken directly to the client, ever.

Comments are closed.