As printed in The Marketplace – September/October 2018
By David Rupert
Each summer, as a teenager headed for college, I was determined to make as much money as possible. My dad, a roofer, needed the help. There were perks: free transportation in Dad’s ‘52 Chevy, a lunch packed by mom, and a paycheck that didn’t bounce.
Reality is, I wasn’t a good roofer. My lines were often crooked and, if left uncorrected, would ruin the run of shingles going all the way up the house. My patient dad would help me rip up the offending row, and we’d start over.
On one hot August day, I committed a cardinal roofing mistake. I didn’t properly secure the ladder. Through a negligent sideswipe of my body, I bumped into the ladder and helplessly watched it fall to the ground.
There we were, stuck on the roof. I saw my dad’s face, sullen and slack-jawed, and he was very quiet. This was bad. Eventually, a passerby saw our dilemma and thought he should call the fire department. “Honest buddy,” we said, “just push the ladder up here.”
That wasn’t the last mistake I’ve made on the job. I’ve messed up at work plenty of times and have had to pay a price to make things right. I’ve had to make amends with coworkers, call customers, or stay late at night to fix my errors.
No one, however, has had to pay the price quite like Washington, DC meteorologist Tucker Barnes. The WTTG-TV weather man predicted a monster spring storm would hit the capital. Instead, the area got just a dusting of snow and rain.
Barnes’ punishment was played out on live TV the next day, as he was forced to take a “timeout” in the corner of the studio. “Finally, someone takes responsibility for their actions,” boomed the voiceover. The hilarious stunt was further enhanced by Barnes’ calls from the corner. “I don’t know why you guys have to do this to me,” he said. And, “How long do I have to stay here?”
You might not have to sit in a corner, but the results of your mistakes are often no less publicly humiliating. Loss of position, pay, or prominence are all common results of getting it wrong. Paying a price for mistakes is a long-standing principle in the workplace.
Part of our high calling is facing the music when things go south. We are told in Galatians 6:5 “…every person should bear their own load.” In other words — we should learn to take our lumps.
Here are four things you must do when you make a mistake at work:
Own it. Don’t point fingers. Don’t blame. Just admit it. Because of the complicated work structures of the modern workforce, mistakes are often multi-layered and shared. If the mistake isn’t solely yours, step up to your responsible portion without implicating others.
Fix it. Don’t let someone else clean up behind you. If you broke it, you should be the one who has to face the music in front of suppliers, customers, or other employees and to do all you can to put it back together it.
Embrace it. There is something about owning up to mistakes that helps close the door. You can even laugh about it later. To my dad’s dying day, we laughed about that ladder.
Don’t repeat it. When you learn from your past, you earn respect. You are able to teach others and mature. Learning from the past is a valuable trait in any field.
When was the last time you messed up at work? Can you laugh about it now?
Four Things to Do When You Make a Mistake at Work. By David Rupert. Published by The High Calling, May 15, 2013. Theology of Work Project Online Materials by The High Calling are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.