Home Work Career Confessions Little Things are Big Things at Work

I made a mistake at work last week.

I did not miscalculate my numbers.  I did not break procedure. I was simply going way too fast.

We’ve all been there before: it’s a super busy afternoon, and all of a sudden a bunch of requests come in at once.  This happens minutes before the system is about to close which is also about the same time your afternoon reports are due.  On top of it, you’ve covering some accounts you are unfamiliar with for one of your co-workers who is out.

I’ve written before about making mistakes at work.  In fact, that post brought some of you to this very site after you messed up at work and immediately Googled how to handle it (thanks for sticking around Aimee!).

But my previous mistakes seem minor in retrospect,  because I don’t think I really understood the magnitude that a little mistake can have on you, your department, your clients, etc.

Mistakes are meant to be reality checks.  They are also meant so that you never make them again.  Lastly, they are meant to teach you something about yourself.

This may sound obvious, but the older I get the more I realize that little things are big things at work.  When I first graduated college, I felt that details were not that important.  It was more about the “big picture” (whatever that meant!).

But now I know that missing a little detail can ruin the big picture.  Immediately.

Consistency is Key

One of the best things an entry-level employee (or really any employee) can do is be consistent.  It is in part consistency in your attitude, but also your reliablility.  You want people to know where they stand with you and that they can expect you to do things correctly and in a timely way.

Think about the little things we do every day: we buy a latte, we go to the grocery store, we  go to the gym.  What happens if your barista makes you the wrong drink on occasion, the grocery store forgets to put a few of your grocery bags in your cart or your gym is out of clean towels?  Small details?  Not to the customer.  My guess is that you probably won’t be a patron of these establishments for long.

If you’re missing the small details, should your employer keep patronizing you? Today there’s an educated and capable person on every corner to waiting take your job.  If there is ever a time to slow down, stay consistent and pay attention to the details it’s right now.

I know for a fact that this little mistake reinforced the importance of the little things at work.  It showed me that focus is really important so much that us ADHD multi-tasker types need to change our ways.  Lastly, I’ve shifted gears from placing value on the quantity of work I can get done and instead focus on the quality.

What are your Work Mistake Confessions?

Have you ever made a mistake at work that made you re-think your daily routine?

  • What did you learn from your mistake?
  • How did making a mistake change your perspective on your job?
  • Was your first thought ever to blame someone else?
  • Did you identify a bad habit after making mistake such as, trying to do too much, answering every client call in the middle of important transactions, trying to get your work done as fast as possible, saying yes to others before you finish your own work?

Preferred Partner Tip: Was your biggest mistake at work suffering an injury or accident after unnecessarily being exposed to hazards or not being made aware of health and safety regulations at your workplace?

10 replies to this post
  1. Nicole,

    I would say my biggest mistake was to act without thinking. Granted, I’m still somewhat impulsive, but since I get to do stuff on my own now, I’m less concerned with that. I think your point is well taken. If anything, I’ve learned that freaking out and focusing on your mistake is not the solution. I learned that from a music teacher when I was practicing for a solo performance. The problem with dwelling on mistakes is that it results in more. I think slowing down and being present really are the two keys to avoiding big mistakes. The more in the moment you are the less likely you are to make even small mistakes.

  2. Srini, Being present is a very valuable skill in life and deserves it’s own post. This is how those amazing “how does she do it” types get it all done. If anyone is interested in taking the concept of “being present” to the next level, check out Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth.” It may be too deep and spiritual for most but it is a great workout for your brain.

  3. Nicole, thank you for this post! You have no idea (or maybe you do!) how many “rookies” in my office undervalue mistakes. Their position is “I’m human, I’m not perfect, mistakes happen.” Granted that is true, but I don’t think it should be an excuse to make a mistake and shrug it off! People need to realize mistakes at work are serious — as you say, a customer relationship is riding on it — and try their best to be consistently mistake-free.

    Personally, I’ll admit I’m not perfect. In my five years at my current job, I have made mistakes, but I have learned from each one, and I have never repeated a mistake. I think that is crucial. I have a reputation of being reliable, straightforward and detail-oriented. My managers know that I will cover every base.

    • I was definitely one of those rookies too. I don’t know why it took me so long to take little mistakes so seriously but now I have a very different view. Regardless of what field you are in, you can’t use the “I’m just not a details type of person” as an excuse if you want to stay employed.

      That’s great you’ve never repeated a mistake- I bet a lot of people couldn’t say that.

      Thanks for coming back and commenting again :)

  4. My biggest workplace mistake was commenting on a female co-workers frizzy hair one Monday morning. I didn’t hear the end of it for a week. Never again!

  5. I’m glad I made that mistake that day because it brought me to this blog! I felt silly google-ing “what to do when you make a big mistake at work” but it just proves that there is no such thing as a dumb question. Thanks for all your advice, Nicole!

    When people make mistakes at work the first thing they think is “how can I fix this fast.” While coming up with a solution and being a quick thinker is great, I think it is also important to reflect on that mistake and why it happened in the first place. This will help you to improve career-wise and it might lead you to improve on company procedures, policies, etc.

  6. Very good points about making mistakes. I’m a junior myself, and an American working overseas. I made two or three mistakes my first year at my company, and the way my boss responded (screaming at me once in front of a client’s office on the Champs Elysees…the tourists were horrified!) was something I wasn’t sure if was merited or just abrasive on her part. I haven’t made that mistake again, but I feel the way in which she handled it taught me less than the opportunity perhaps presented. Regardless, good food for thought re: learning from mistakes, team management, personality disorders…

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