6 common work mistakes and how to handle them

You might strive to be the perfect employee, but we all make mistakes once in a while. Career experts suggest ways to recover from these common slip-ups.

I was having a really stressful day. While in a meeting with my boss, I broke down in front of her. Even the most competent of us loses it once in a while. It’s how you deal with the situation that makes you stand out. Quickly but politely excuse yourself, and go someplace where you can compose yourself.

Tracy Chong, a career coach, and director at Passions Work, advises: “When you’re ready, speak to your boss in private. Let her know that you were having a difficult day, and that you recognise that your outburst was unprofessional but you will make sure it won’t happen again.”

The usually stoic Renee Chan surprised herself – and her boss – when she broke down in front of the latter some months ago, during a team meeting. “I’d been experiencing numerous problems in my personal life and was feeling  the pressure at work,” the 35-year-old account manager shares.

“When my boss snapped at me for not being focused during the meeting, I lost it. When I had calmed down, I apologised and explained that I was having a difficult time at home. She appreciated my honesty and apologised for snapping at me. Her understanding meant a lot to me, and I felt more motivated to do better work.”

You were giving a presentation when a cheeky photo of you and your manshowed up on one of the slides. Crack a joke to get over the embarrassment. It may even help lighten the mood around a serious topic.

Julia Ng, a professional certified coach at Executive Coach International, suggests saying something like: “That must have been my nephew playing on my computer again”, or “That was a quick commercial break”. Then, quickly move on and get back to the presentation.


You accidentally included someone in a mass e-mail, but the e-mail is about her. If your company uses Gmail, you can use the “Undo send” feature to cancel sent e-mails. However, you’ll have to enable that option ahead of time, and realise your mistake and bail on the e-mail within 30 seconds.

If there’s no way you can cancel the e-mail, don’t go running in panic to the recipient you didn’t mean to send it to, advises Julia. This could further highlight the fact that you went behind her back.

Instead, go up to her as soon as possible and be honest about the e-mail. Tell her what she needs to know, and offer your support. Admit what you did and clear any upsets between the two of you immediately.

Adds Julia: “You should make it a practice to complete typing the message before typing in the names of the recipients, to avoid accidentally sending the e-mail prematurely.

“Always double- or triple check the recipient names beforeyou hit ‘Send’. Never BCC anyone, because you risk that person accidentally mentioning something that’s supposed to be private or confidential.

Lastly, if you don’t want someone to see something, don’t put it in an e-mail. Julia offers a checklist to determine what you should send as messages:
• Is it true?
• Is it necessary?
• Will it help or hurt the other person?
• Would you say the same thing if you were face-to-face with the other person?

If you cannot answer “yes” to all of these questions, it’s best not to write or even say it.

I was in a meeting with a few clients when I forgot one of their names. The easiest way to breeze through something like this is to smile, says Tracy. Carry on with your presentation despite the mistake. “When the client’s name comes back to you, look at her with a big, sincere smile, and address her while discussing one of your presentation points.” After the meeting, go up to this client and personally thank her for her support. It’s a good idea to also slip in a short apology for your earlier flub.

My boss happened to see copies of my resume that I’d printed using the office printer. How you deal with this depends on your relationship with your boss, says Tracy. “If you are pretty close to her, you can casually mention that you’re working on updating your resume, and just leave it at that.

“However, if your relationship is purely that of a boss and subordinate, then act like the slip-up never happened. Next time, don’t print your resume at work.

”Sales executive Charlene Goh admits she made this exact mistake a few years ago. When her boss spotted her resume sitting in the printer, she quickly told her that she was updating her Linkedin profile and wanted to print a draft copy to look through.

“I even asked my boss if she was on Linkedin and if I could add her to my network,” the 38-year-old says. “I didn’t act like it was a big deal, so I don’t think she suspected anything. I left the company six months later, but by then, I’m sure she’d long forgotten about the incident.”

Gossiping about the boss is never a good idea. You risk losing your job and getting a bad recommendation – or no recommendation at all – when applying for another position. It doesn’t matter if your boss was within earshot, suspected that he heard you gossip, or sensed it.

Julia says the best way to diffuse the awkwardness is to approach your boss privately and apologise for talking about him and causing him embarrassment. A face-to-face apology is best. Or you can write a letter and deliver it in person.

“Offer an explanation and be honest about it,” Julia suggests. “Take responsibility for the situation and let him know what you will do to handle it. You may need to address your colleagues to let them know that you should not have gossiped or complained about him, and to deal with any upsets as soon as possible.”

If your colleagues happen to feel the same way as you do about your boss, the last thing you should do is get them to back you up. It just shows a lack of integrity and says you are unable to speak for yourself. Instead, stop any gossip and suggest that each colleague address the issue with the boss directly or fi nd a way around the problem.

This article was first published in Simply Her August 2015.