When Your Coworker Makes a BIG Mistake

At work, we are put on a team with our coworkers.  We don’t get to choose them, we may not even like them, but they are on our team.  When one of your coworkers makes a mistake, it can significantly affect you in your job.  It is very touchy situation because on one hand you want to help your coworker, but you also need to protect yourself and the company.  Here are some steps to guide you through this precarious situation:     
Assess the potential damage.  How will the company be affected by this mistake?  Could the error potentially harm anyone else?  Is there a chance that you could be blamed?  In order to determine the best course of action, you need to assess the potential damages.

Consider your own motivations.  Why do you need to bring attention to this mistake?  Will this mistake harm anybody if it is left undetected?  Be sure that you are not just taking the opportunity to make yourself look better at your coworker’s expense.

Talk to your coworker privately.  Your first step should always be to privately speak to your coworker.  Find out exactly what happened and what your coworker is doing about it.

Offer to help.   Is there anything that you can do to help your coworker mitigate the situation?  Your coworker will appreciate your support and you never know when you may need them to return the favour.

Determine how the mistake can be prevented next time.  Why was the mistake made? Was your coworker distracted?  Is there a problem with the current procedure?  It is important to determine the cause of the mistake so that you and your coworker can take steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Only escalate if it is absolutely necessary.  Escalating a coworker’s mistake is not pleasant, and it should only be done when there are no other options.  If the mistake is going to cause harm and you aren’t able to prevent it, then you need to let the manager know immediately.  It is better if your coworker tells the manager, but if they are unwilling, then you have to do it.  Since you are aware of the situation, if you don’t let the manager know, you are also responsible.   

We all make mistakes.  Today it was your coworker, but tomorrow it could be you.  Do whatever you can to help your coworker, but be sure to protect yourself.  Just because it wasn’t your mistake, doesn’t mean that you’re safe.  Stay alert, keep focused and wait for this to blow over.

(Written by Karen Bivand)

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