Allowing Employees to Make Mistakes – 3 Myths Managers Should Know

Allowing Employees to Make Mistakes

If you work as a manager, supervisor, or in another leadership position, you may think part of your job description is to prevent any and all mistakes. While this may be true in some instances (more on this in a bit), another important part of your job description involves guiding employees to be the best they can be. Sometimes, this means allowing employees to make mistakes.

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

Do you allow employees to make mistakes? If not, the following myths could be what’s holding you back from experiencing the associated 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 perfect in every way? While being punctual and willing to work those extra hours to meet deadlines are admirable qualities, an employee who has never come to you with a mistake may be a red flag.

As cliché as it sounds, it’s true; no one is perfect. The same goes for employees. To expect perfection is to set your employees up for failure.

In fact, making mistakes can actually be beneficial to memory and cognitive function. A study posted by found that making mistakes while learning can benefit memory. Tracked mistakes led to participants finding the correct answer faster when asked the same question again than if they had not made the mistake at all.

This suggests that mistakes employees make while learning new tasks or procedures can actually make them faster and less likely to make mistakes in the future. A perceived perfect employee may be slower and more apt to make a mistake later on.

Myth 2 – Mistakes make you look weak as a leader

There are most likely areas within your unique business where mistakes simply can’t be tolerated. Those that lead to financial errors, violate the trust of a client or cause serious damage to your brand’s reputation should be avoided at all costs. While this article encourages leaders to allow employees to make mistakes, we don’t condone allowing disaster to unfold before your eyes.

What your superiors will be looking for when a mistake does happen is not the fact that it happened, but how it was handled. A manager who points fingers or allows a simple mistake to snowball into a catastrophe will be met with harsh criticism. A manager who addressed a mistake head-on while directing employees and preventing disaster will be praised.

Myth 3 – Allowing mistakes causes chaos

We’ve established that mistakes encourage growth. But 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.

Our suggestion is a progressive discipline policy, similar to an attendance or break policy. In this policy, outline what is acceptable and what employees can expect when mistakes happen.

For example, telling employees that first offenses will be addressed professionally and positively encourages them to come forward when a mistake happens, rather than try to cover it up. However, letting employees know that repeated mistakes will not be greeted with the same positivity and that consequences could incur promotes responsibility and accountability.

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 hold people back, including employees. Allowing employees to make mistakes can have a positive effect on morale and productivity instead of the negative effect so many assume.

Do you need help putting together a mistake policy or learning how to let go a bit as a manager? Reach out to Tandem HR at 630.928.0510 to get started.


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