Too many people are afraid of making a mistake at work. They think that mistakes automatically lead to discipline, and major mistakes always lead to dismissal.
While errors may lead to some discipline—particularly if the error was preventable—what certainly will get you into deep trouble is trying to hide the error or refusing to accept responsibility.
In the countless arbitration awards I’ve read over the years, it is almost universal that when the person shows remorse and takes ownership of his or her error, the arbitrator has not been as harsh as the times when the person tries to blame everyone but themselves.
In my experience, most supervisors act in a similar fashion.
Several years ago, I was approached by a worker who minutes before had done something stupid that damaged some company property. He asked me what to do, and I told him to go tell his supervisor immediately.
After an investigation, the company wanted to discipline him and make him pay for the damage.
We told the company that if they insisted on continuing with this demand, the next time someone made a mistake like this, they wouldn’t come forward but would instead try to hide it.
The company realized that by coming forward immediately, the employee did what the company wanted. It dropped the request to pay for the damage but did give him a first-level warning.
There are two things you need to remember about mistakes.
1. Never intentionally go out and make a mistake. That will get you in trouble—guaranteed.
2. If you do make a mistake—even a fairly sizable one—acknowledge and report it immediately. Yes, you may face some discipline, but I can guarantee it will not be as bad as trying to hide your mistake or deflect blame away from you.
If you do the right thing and come clean but happen to end up with an unreasonable supervisor, seek out your union steward or representative for help. That’s what they’re there for.