Feeling Like A Failure At Work
January 23, 2017 4:15 PM   Subscribe

Are the amount of mistakes at work I'm making normal?

I posted a year ago when I first started my job with the fear of my mistakes. It's been almost a year (wow time flies) since I updated. I did get a good 90 day review and have greatly improved since then. I haven't made the same mistakes and always try to learn from them. I do make the small mistakes sometimes that everyone does but nothing to fret over.

I was really proud of myself when not making any moderate mistakes for several months. My trainer/coworker is on maternity leave so I even had to watch my own back, take on some of her tasks, etc. I even updated over 500 employee information during open enrollment and was really proud! I caught my boss's mistakes, I've been two steps ahead of her, I now supervise three students and see their mistakes too. It's given me a good picture of the other side of seeing them as really good workers even when they make mistakes sometimes yet I can't apply it to myself. I've had one horrible assistant and had to fire him because we always has to clean up after him and he never ever learned and can't take simple direction.

Anyway, I was on a roll of rocking at my job! Until recently... This past month I've made two mistakes. One where I should've been more careful and today which I was not familiar with a task but I thought I knew.
Anyway, my first careless mistake I placed the incorrect payment and underpaid a bill. My boss takes blame because we were rushing to get requests in last minute before our two week holiday shut down. I normally triple check my work!

Today I made a mistake from last month entering someone in the wrong position. It was a very easy and understandable mistake to make and because I'm not too familiar with it and wasn't trained fully on this I made a mistake. I thought I knew it. Now I know why and what to look for to prevent it. I didn't know any better.

But I can't help but feel like maybe I should've known better. I fear my boss thinks I suck because of the mistakes I made recently. I fear getting fired especially after purchasing a condo. I feel like I'm a failure and am losing my confidence.
posted by Asian_Hunnie to Work & Money (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Just fess up and move forward. I'd tell your boss you are mortified because you are working so hard to not make any mistakes. I would not be surprised if your boss has noticed all that effort, too, given the good 90 day review.
posted by bearwife at 4:20 PM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Expecting to never make a mistake is unrealistic. What matters is how quickly and smoothly mistakes are corrected without damaging any business relationships. Were you able to fix things quickly and cleanly? Then don't worry.
posted by Wretch729 at 4:43 PM on January 23, 2017 [9 favorites]

Just keep making new mistakes, not the same one over and over again, and you'll be fine. Also, it sounds like you are somewhere in HR, the land of horribly designed and maintained internal systems that make it really easy to make mistakes, and it is just expected that they will happen.
posted by rockindata at 4:49 PM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

Learning to handle making mistakes and recovering gracefully are very important skills to learn. Don't be like that guy in college who gets the first B+ (instead of an A) and throws a chair then hides under a desk sobbing. People often get far in life without learning these skills. You don't sound like you are making a ton of mistakes so now you just need to work on handling failure well. Accept blame without acting like a martyr, apologize sincerely and quickly and only once, and think about how you can avoid the same mistake (and similar ones) in future.
posted by meepmeow at 5:01 PM on January 23, 2017 [10 favorites]

If you make an error, identify it, create a plan to prevent it and move on.

Redirect your focus from your mistakes to your production, successes or accuracies. For example; if you've successfully submitted 100 reports with 1 mistake, your success rate is 99%. Not 1% mistake. This is a more positive way to work and live.
posted by mountainblue at 5:11 PM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

It's virtually impossible to be 100% accurate 100% of the time. The phrase "nobody's perfect" has been used forever for a reason!
My own philosophy is:
1. Try my best to not make the same mistake twice.
2. Learn and improve from the mistakes I do make.
3. Clean up my own mess--meaning, when I do make an error, own up to it, fix it, and do what I need to do to minimize it from happening again.
In my experience, when I've consistently put these 3 steps into place, my boss and coworkers are much more forgiving than I am to myself!
posted by bookmammal at 5:16 PM on January 23, 2017 [6 favorites]

Yes, you're correct. I am in HR. I've never had a job that was so busy and detailed. I like that it keeps me challenged and busy but there are definitely many room for errors and there's always exceptions to the rules.

If anyone can reccomnd a great self help book related to this I would appreciate it. A part of me is probably still traumatized from my first job when I was bullied and in a toxic environment .
posted by Asian_Hunnie at 5:23 PM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, one other thing--
In my fast-paced office, we often remind each other that "We're not surgeons!" Meaning that what we do is not life and death--sure, we all want to do a good job, but we don't have a body laying open in front of us on an operating table. It does help keep things in perspective.
(Obviously may not apply if you're in the medical field!)
posted by bookmammal at 5:26 PM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Dude...Okay, I work in a fiddly job with lots of little stuff and I work with people who work in fiddly jobs.

1. You need at least a year to really know a job. I would say that in my first "fiddly stuff" job, I didn't know all of it for 18 months.

2. Payroll entry at the university level ( that's what you're doing, right? At least in part?) is ridiculously complicated. If I worked with an HR person who made one mistake due to carelessness and one due to unfamiliarity with the task in a two month period, I would be over the moon. I have dealt with a wide array of HR/payroll/finance entry people in my decade of university employment, and even the very best one made at least that many mistakes. (And she was really good; her name became a byword.)

3. In my first job that I actually cared about, I tormented myself with fear of screwing up and fear of being fired. Looking back, I really wish I'd been more realistic.

4. College or university systems are complicated and proprietary and require adherence to a lot of state and federal rules. (Actually, so do big corporate systems.) The longer you're at a place, the more you'll realize that hiring is a crapshoot and training is burdensome - holding onto good employees who know the ropes, are a good culture fit and are capable of keeping up with systems changes is huge. If you are pleasant, get things right most of the time and can roll with the punches, you are a huge asset. Consider the assistant you had to fire - your employer wasted a ton of time and money recruiting and training him only to fire him.

You sound like an anxious person. Therapy helped me hugely with my anxiety - I'm still ridiculously anxious but it is much less of an everyday torment to me. So there's that.

But also: try to find a self-soothing train of thought. I would suggest, based on experience, that reminding yourself that it's hard to recruit, hire and train good people, and therefore you are valuable to your boss just by being fairly competent, a good fit and already trained.
posted by Frowner at 5:30 PM on January 23, 2017 [6 favorites]

Detail-oriented jobs are hard, especially if you are more of a "big-picture" thinker. I made many very expensive mistakes in my first office job. I thought I wasn't cut out to be a secretary, but in the end it was about adapting my priorities and developing attention to detail and numbers. Don't judge yourself, it takes a long time to adapt to the workplace, especially if this is one of your first jobs? Finally, also remember that a lot of companies have insurance policies on human error losses, so in the end you might not lose them all that much money if they file a claim.
posted by jacobnayar at 5:40 PM on January 23, 2017

Yeah I learned a lot of new terms that were foreign. I basically had a faculty term position. I didn't know that it could mean being full time or three quarter crime even though if you're term and work one semester. I know now to look back in requested paperwork from months ago which they indicated and sometimes it still can be easily misunderstood!
posted by Asian_Hunnie at 5:41 PM on January 23, 2017

> I've never had a job that was so busy and detailed

Since you're in HR, you might come across an opportunity to train in personality type. I really recommend it. When I did this (there are lots of different models) I basically learned that I was not a busy / detailed work person. I just don't prefer that kind of work. Oops, I've got a lot of it on my plate though.

That was a bit of an "I already knew that," situation, but a) it helps me judge upcoming projects better before just jumping in, and b) I started to look at related tasks that would use more of my gifts and fewer of my weaknesses. Now I feel like I benefit from focusing more on those and they support the areas in which I need to be really detailed.

For example, I'm good at contingency planning and making lists. So in several detail-oriented areas I now rely on lists--they're always there. Lists for days of the week, lists for different tasks. And I have a "Making Embarrassing Mistakes" file on my computer that walks me through a series of steps for handling those things, because I know they'll happen again. It includes things like notes from last time: "You waited to tell the client and completely regretted that later." As well as other tips. Next to the "Making Embarrassing Mistakes" file, I've got a "Meeting Recovery Framework" since I'm such an introvert that meetings can throw off my entire day and I need help ramping things back up again. lol.

Another thing I learned from the personality type training was that there are certain types of weaknesses that we feel _really_ pained about. People who aren't detail-oriented by preference can get really flustered and exposed when their detail-orientedness is tested, for example.

Regardless, it seems like you're doing really great compared to at least my own definition of a poor employee. You're sensitive to your weaknesses. You're thinking and talking it through here, which is its own kind of therapy. Writing about our problems is cathartic.

Hope that helps. I can also recommend Julie Morgenstern's books if the list-keeping kind of tip resonates with you.
posted by circular at 5:41 PM on January 23, 2017

This is something I grapple with regularly in my career (communications, where mistakes happen all the time, sadly), and in my roles where I'm learning lots of new things. There are a few thoughts that help me with this kind of catastrophising/beating myself up.

1) I ask myself, "what would you say to a friend?", and I mean I really think out exactly what I would say to them about this situation, and then I basically turn that around and apply it to myself. If it's good enough for a friend, someone I care about, it should be good enough for me too. It helps me put in perspective that my mistakes are not so big, and that no one really will care in the long run.

2) I draw up a little plan, depending on the severity of the mistake, and give that to my manager or whatever. Essentially: This is what happened, this is why I think it happened (not excuses, but contributing factors), this is what I propose to do going forward so those things will not be an issue. I keep it short, achievable, and systems focussed (as opposed to say, "making sure I don't stuff up again!", that's not helpful. "Getting Lynnette to cross check the tables before sending out" is helpful.)

It's not perfect, but neither am I, hey? Best of luck, you sound like you're doing great.
posted by smoke at 6:25 PM on January 23, 2017

Assess. Document. Lead a learning organization. Why did you make the mistake? What would've kept that from happening? Make that something part of your department's training. Claim the mistake AND the improved processes.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 6:58 PM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Your detail at the end about being anxious about losing your job now that you bought a condo jumped out at me. This is not an uncommon fear when you've recently made a big financial commitment! I think you might want to focus less on whether you're going to get fired and more on whether getting fired would be catastrophic. I know this sidesteps your question, but getting a six month emergency fund in place over time can be a big help in giving you a sense of confidence. In turn, confidence will help you avoid making mistakes. If you're having some anxiety about this major purchase, it's easy to be so worried about doing your job well that you end up making mistakes because the anxiety is so distracting!

It sounds like you've been getting good feedback at work for most or all of your time there. (Since it's not uncommon to make mistakes in your first few months at a job, and you got a positive 90 day review, as far as I can tell you haven't gotten any negative reviews — awesome!) If your boss isn't giving you any indication that she's frustrated with you then there's no reason to believe you're making too many mistakes. Trust that, if she's a good manager, she'll be communicating with you if you're in danger of losing your job.

People rarely get fired out of the blue, and if they do, that means the company is likely badly run — a lot of firing can be avoided by good management. And even badly run companies do usually have a procedure for firing someone: a series of warnings/consequences and, if appropriate, coaching that will give you clear feedback on whether you're improving or not. Do you know what the formal procedures are for employee with performance issues? If they exist, and your boss isn't asking you to do those, then that should also help ease your anxiety.

Lastly, it may help to let your boss know that while you've made mistakes, you don't make the same mistakes twice and to talk her through your problem solving. Let her know that she can trust you to fix your mistakes and your mistakes won't be something either of you get overly focused on. So if you have one-on-ones with your boss or other kinds of check-ins, think about how to bring up that a.) you recognized that you made a mistake b.) you corrected that mistake and c.) here's why you won't make that mistake again. If you have a good (or even middling) boss, she's going to appreciate knowing that she can trust you to solve problems without needing hand-holding. Trust me, not a lot of people realize that it's less about the mistakes you make and more about the way you handle those mistakes and you're going to gain esteem by doing this. Mistakes are inevitable, any good manager knows that.

Congratulations on your new condo and for, as far as I can tell, being a high performer at work!
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 7:10 PM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

One manager I had impressed me with his approach towards mistakes - he viewed them as always possible, so when one did happen, investigate the cause and determine what process change could be done to prevent such a mistake from happening again.
posted by coberh at 9:47 PM on January 23, 2017

I'm in HR too and it is impossible to remember every step to every process without checklists! Use excel or whatever works best for you, break down each process into every single action you have to do, and don't consider something ready until you've ticked off everything. It takes a while to set up but will make life so much easier going forward.
posted by ellieBOA at 2:14 AM on January 24, 2017

I caught my boss's mistakes ...
I now supervise three students and see their mistakes too ...

This past month I've made two mistakes.

I think that leaves you net negative on mistakes. You made two but caught more mistakes and had your co-workers' backs. That's the way it works. Be gracious and generous when catching or fixing others errors and people will really appreciate it (and you).
posted by Gotanda at 3:30 AM on January 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Anyway, my first careless mistake I placed the incorrect payment and underpaid a bill.

Simple clerical errors like this one happen routinely, and office systems and protocols should have built-in features to catch them. Instead of beating yourself up, you might try being a little bit ticked off that there are apparently no redundancies in your office (e.g. someone else checks your work; the computer flags a payment that does not match the invoice).

Also, all mistakes are not created equal. The two you cite seem pretty minor to me. Neither of them cost your employer anything, for example, apart from cutting a second check to make up the difference on that underpaid bill. In contrast, I know of a company whose IT department incorrectly configured their back-up system, and when one day they had a catastrophic accounting software failure, the back-up tapes were found to be blank. It took six months and $100+K to reconstruct their books, all because nobody bothered to test and verify that the back-ups were happening as expected.

Granted, "It could be worse!" may not be the thing to say to your boss, but you should not let these minor things erode your confidence.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:19 AM on January 24, 2017

Thank you everyone. I just spoke with my boss about my errors and she was surprised I get horrible. She knew that those were weird exceptions to the rule and said it was a good learning experience for me so now I know. She didn't think it was a big deal. She said I even know more about the issue we are trying to fix now than anyone else. She told me not to think I can't do my job because of that.

Talking with her helped see how she thought I was doing.
posted by Asian_Hunnie at 7:22 AM on January 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

Your boss sounds great, but just remember that your boss is not your counselor or confidante. Phrasing is very important, for example: "I made x and y mistakes recently, I plan to do z to avoid making them again, but would like your take on how I am doing and if you have any advice..." vs "I am falling apart and feel that I can't do my job!" Keeping your composure is key, especially if you would like to be considered for advancement sometime.
posted by meepmeow at 8:32 AM on January 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

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