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Your Employee Screwed Up! Now What?

May 27, 2015

By: Terri Williams

No one is perfect – and this includes your employees. While you shouldn’t be nonchalant when an employee makes an error, you should also evaluate the action from more than one perspective.

There’s no universal answer for how to handle an employee’s mistake. The first step is to sit down with the employee to understand how the mistake occurred. Even if the error was the employee’s fault, it may be necessary to evaluate yourself and/or the organization. Is there something that you failed to do or could have done differently? Is the company creating an environment that increases the probability of making errors?


Are You Setting Up Your Employee to Make Mistakes?

According to Keith Barnwell, a leadership development specialist and executive coach, some leaders exhibit “disruptive” behaviors that can negatively affect the work environment.  For example, some leaders fail to provide direction, fail to pay attention, and fail to provide feedback. Under this type of leadership, workers don’t really know what is expected of them and it’s hard to hit the target when you don’t know what or where that target is.

A recent study by the IBM Institute for Business Value revealed that close to half of workers don’t understand many key organizational components such as:

  • The organization’s business strategy
  • The manager’s expectations of employees
  • The customers’ expectations
  • The organization’s brand

When employees can’t answer such basic business questions as “Who are we? What do we do? and, What’s my role?” mistakes are inevitable. Companies have to take the time to clearly communicate the organization’s mission, vision, and values as well as the employees’ role in the company.

Also, sometimes managers and companies are so focused on meeting their goals that they push employees to work harder and faster, and whether they realize it or not, they’re choosing quantity over quality.

In addition, some employee mistakes may be caused by other types of work environment issues. For example, a study by Wakefield Research revealed that poor lighting and glaring lights could cause tired eyes, visual disturbances, and headaches - which can negatively affect an employee’s productivity and subsequently lead to errors.

A loud, noisy, work environment is another culprit that can diminish concentration levels. Some employees – especially those with kids – may be accustomed to tuning out chatter and commotions, but those who are used to quiet environments may struggle with rowdy coworkers or deafening sounds.

Some mistakes are more significant than others and leave very little room for error. Frank Winston Crum Insurance notes that workplace injuries can cost businesses $250 million a year. In addition to medical costs for the injured worker, there are additional costs, such as productivity loss, damage to the equipment, the cost of training another employee, and perhaps, legal fees. As a result, there has to be zero tolerance for employee mistakes that lead to workplace injuries.

Keys to Reduce Employee Mistakes

Regardless of the type of employee mistake, there are universal best practices for reducing errors. Greg Andress, Safety and Loss Control Manager for Frank Crum, recommends the following:

  • Always make sure that employees are properly trained
  • Communicate - and if necessary, demonstrate - the “standards” (the employee should clearly know what success in that role looks like)
  • Compare employee performance to training and explain what could have been done differently or better
  • Offer job-training refresher courses on a regular basis

It also helps to let a more competent employee be a mentor to another employee  so they can observe their work process. Also, formulate a plan for ensuring that the mistake does not happen again.

If an employee’s mistake affects the company’s customers, it is important to contact the involved parties immediately to apologize and resolve the issue.

Unfortunately, some employees may not benefit from training. Individuals are as unique as the talents they possess, and some employees may be working in an area that doesn’t match their skills and talents. Ideally, this employee can be moved to another area where they can flourish and thrive. But if not, the company must decide if it is willing to continue paying the employee for subpar work.

Terri Williams

Terri Williams began writing professionally in 1997, working with a large nonprofit organization. Her business, education, and lifestyle articles have appeared in various online publications including Yahoo, USA Today, The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report University Directory, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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