Allowing Employees to Make Mistakes

3 Myths Managers Should Know.

Managers may think their job is to prevent any employee mistakes. While this may be true in some instances, a more vital task is to guide employees to learn from their mistakes to be the best they can be. Sometimes, this means allowing employees to make mistakes on their own.


“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” – Oscar WildeIf


If you hesitate to allow employees to make mistakes, the following myths may be holding you back. Consider these myths and how they hold you back from experiencing various benefits of employee mistakes.


Myth 1: A perfect employee is the best employee

What’s your idea of a perfect employee? Do they always show up on time? Do they stay late whenever asked? Are they always agreeable to more projects and opportunities, expertly juggling multiple tasks at one time? Are they the cheerleaders for others within your organization? While these are all admirable qualities, an employee who displays them yet never proactively comes to you with an admitted mistake may be a red flag.


As cliché as it sounds, it’s true; no one is perfect. The same goes for employees. As managers, we must acknowledge that mistakes will be made. You employ humans. Humans make mistakes. If you expect perfection, you’re setting your employees up for failure.


In fact, we now know that making mistakes can be beneficial to memory and cognitive function. A study posted by found that making mistakes while learning can benefit memory. In this study, tracked errors led to participants finding the correct answer faster when asked the same question again. More so than had they not made a mistake at all.


This suggests that making mistakes while learning new tasks or procedures can lead to faster future work with fewer mistakes. A perceived “perfect” employee may be slower in the same tasks and more apt to make a mistake later on.


Myth 2: Mistakes make you look weak as a leader

There are probably some areas within your unique business model where mistakes prove detrimental to your business. Avoid those that lead to financial errors, violate the trust of a client, or cause severe damage to your brand’s reputation at all costs. While we encourage leaders to allow employee mistakes, we certainly don’t condone allowing a disaster to unfold before your eyes.


In most cases, how a manager handles an employee mistake show more about their leadership style than the error itself. A manager should not point fingers or allow a simple mistake to snowball into a catastrophe. Instead, address the mistake head-on while directing employees and preventing disaster. Give employees the opportunity to voice the impact of the error and how they can do it better in the future.


Another way to use mistakes as a leadership strengthener is to share your own. Don’t be afraid to allow your employees to learn from your mistakes as well. Neither your mistakes, nor theirs are a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that we are all human! Plus, employees may be more willing to admit mistakes and learn from them when they know their manager does the same.


Myth 3: Allowing mistakes causes chaos

As with everything else, too much of a good thing can have a negative effect. A business still needs structure, protocol, and reliable processes to function and prosper. A never-ending wave of mistakes will never allow this to happen.


Consider a progressive discipline policy, similar to an attendance or break policy. In this policy, outline your philosophy on employee mistakes. Clearly, state what is acceptable and what employees can expect when mistakes occur.


For example, addressing first offenses professionally and positively encourages employees to come forward when a mistake happens, rather than try to cover it up. However, let employees know that a continuously repeated mistake can receive consequences that promote responsibility and accountability. Discuss the consequences on an individual basis after the error has been resolved in a private meeting as part of your continuous feedback strategy.


A mistake policy will prevent chaos while allowing employees the freedom to make honest mistakes, learn from them, and grow. The fear of making mistakes often holds people back, including employees. Allowing employee mistakes can have a positive effect on morale and productivity, instead of the negative impact so many assume.


If your organization could use help with managing employee mistakes or you would like to put training and policies in place to proactively deal with them, reach out to Tandem HR today.

Call 630.928.0510 or email to get started.


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