What’s The Best Way To Deal With Mistakes At Work?

shutterstock_62252611-300x200Author: Sarah Devlin

Sarah: Okay, let’s talk.
Colette: Let’s do this thang. So apparently everyone is scared that the first mistake they make at work will be their last.
Sarah: Right. How do you feel about that?
Colette: Well, I don’t blame them — as someone who has just entered the workforce, I understand the constant anxiety and wariness that one feels about his/her job.
Sarah: Totally.
Colette: If there is one thing a recent college graduate has heard above all, it’s how hard it is to find a job and how hard they have to work when they do find one. It’s unfortunate that our fear is holding us back from taking chances because we’re sacrificing innovation and progress for safety.
Sarah: Well, I think even more than that is the fact that our workforce is squeezed and jobs are so hard to come by, so the feeling is “If you can’t do it, there are 20 other people who can and for less money.” It’s hard to take chances, make mistakes and get messy in that environment.
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Colette: We’re hesitant and unsure; rightfully so. Who is willing to take chances in an environment like this? Perhaps that is why a lot of the innovation is happening in 17-year-olds’ bedrooms (in terms of entrepreneurship).
Sarah: Do you think that the whole “mistakes are when genius happens! Penicillin came from moldy dishes!” thinking is a little overblown, though? Mistakes really aren’t cool in a lot of fields. Not everywhere can be a kewl startup.
Colette: Well, it depends on what field you are talking about, you know? I don’t think there are a lot of roundtable-ing and brainstorming happening in banking. (Forgive me if I’m wrong, hip & fresh banker, wherever you are.)
Sarah: Right. I think the “mistakes are great!” part of it is not as important as the “people can’t be living in fear of being fired” part of it. So how can companies make people feel more secure, without making them complacent?
Colette: I was hoping that was a rhetorical question…
Sarah: Haha. NOPE! SOLVE IT.
Colette: Well, can the companies create a less tentative atmosphere on their own? Isn’t the fear more pervasive than that? Even if your company is telling you that there is nothing to fear, there are a slew of Forbes articles telling a different story.
Sarah: Well, I think it is a systemic problem but there’s certainly a lot that companies can do. For instance, they can be clear that they’re investing in their employees and that they are indispensable to them even if they screw up once in a while. Because if your company values experience then the “there are 20 other younger/cheaper people behind you” thing isn’t nearly as scary.
Colette: Right. We also need to remind ourselves that even in these economically troubled times, a job isn’t a non-renewable resource. Now, I’m not saying that everyone should go and quit their job since f*ck it, THERE ARE OTHERS; I just think that working in constant fear is more stifling and probably less healthy than being unemployed. (If that’s what it comes to.) (Worse case scenario.) (Don’t worry.)

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