Dear Dan: I Have an Employee who Makes Repeated Mistakes
I have an employee who rushes through her work. I’ve tried to get her to slow down, but she is always worried about getting in trouble for not getting work done. She has never gotten into trouble for not getting work done while working for me.
When she rushes, she makes mistakes on things that she has done correctly, in the past, for years. How do you help this sort of employee? I know she has anxiety and in reading this I am now wondering if there is a correlation. Any advice?
Sometimes we cause our own frustrations.
Don’t blame your employee for a situation you’ve been tolerating. We cause our own frustration when we:
- Respond the same way to repeated mistakes.
- Hope patience will resolve issues without intervention.
- Delegate tasks to people who consistently drop the ball.
An employee’s repeated mistakes reflect on the person who manages them.
What if it’s boredom? If she’s done things correctly for years, maybe she needs new responsibilities.
- How might you redesign her job?
- Who might be able to assume some of her current responsibilities so she can focus on something new?
- How satisfied is she with her current job on a scale of 1:10? If she is dissatisfied, but is reluctant to speak up, how might you begin crafting a new future for/with her?
Suggestions from Sara:
I reached out to Sara Stesney for her suggestions. I’ve worked with Sara and know that she manages in an area that requires precision.
Sara shared an illustration that might help your employee grasp the importance of quality.
Sara said, “If you went to McDonalds and ordered food, would you rather have the food come out REALLY FAST and be completely wrong or would you rather the food come out in a reasonable amount of time and be perfect?”
Sara added two more suggestions.
- Ask your employee to compete her work, set it aside, and review it for mistakes later.
- Help your employee learn by finding and correcting her own mistakes. Don’t point out mistakes. Say, “This work has mistakes. I need to know you can find your own mistakes. Please find and correct them.”
You have my best,
How might managers deal with employees who make repeated mistakes?
Note: The text from questions is not included in my 300 word limit. (I also exclude the after material from word count.)
Your Employee Messes Up: How do you Respond (SHRM)
How to Manage Employees who Make Lots of Mistakes (Small Business)
She’s rushing–Are you giving her clear deadlines as to when the task must be completed?
Has her workload increased and she’s feeling stressed about getting it all done?
Ask her–Why are you rushing and making more mistakes?
I agree with Sara–Require your employee to find and correct her own mistakes.
Thanks for jumping in, Paul. Great questions to add to the conversation.
I have a boss like this. She always complains about the tiniest little errors. Some examples: She gives me her hand written notes to type, whether it be a letter or other. Sometimes it’s a scribble of unreadable words. As many times as I read it and try to decipher what she is trying to say, sometimes the word I chose wasn’t what she wrote, i.e., simple vs. sample, etc. Also, she is very narcissistic. She’ll send out emails to important people with no punctuation, words spelled wrong and words that should be capitalized all the time and that’s only emails! She will give me projects with her notes on it, I type it, then she changes it all around or totally forgets about things she wanted included. Sometimes no matter what you do or how much thought and effort you put into the job, they want to find mistakes to complain about. These things negate all the other things I do. I always say, “bosses think they know, but they don’t know what you do until you DON’T do it!
Couple items jump out tolerance on your part, anxiety on her part.
They can be managed. Meet her one on one and ask her what can we change to relieve the pressure? Ask her what has changed? If she has been on the mix before of doing things correctly ask h RT what she thinks the cause is?
Thanks Tim. I thought about a coaching approach to this situation. I’m glad you brought it up.
Surely as a leaders, we have to believe in the worker we would not. have hired them!
Fast forward to the issues, perhaps try the ” focus method” on the task at hand.
Get one done correctly then move on to the next, success may develop succes.
It is just in some people’s nature to hastily rush through work just as it is in other people’s nature to be careful and meticulous. You cannot change these traits in people. You can only make sure you assign the right person to the right job.
The second paragraph states… she makes mistakes on things that she has done correctly, in the past, for years.
She has the ability!
Paul B. Thornton
Surely as a leaders, we have to believe in the worker we would not. have hired them!
Fast forward to the issues, perhaps try the ” focus method” on the task at hand.
Get one done correctly then move on to the next, success may develop succes.
This is a great question. I agree that a 1 on1 converstion is very important. The focus should be on managing expectations. It sounds like something has changed, either workload, deadlines, or both. Make sure that you truly allow her to be open and honest with you. Do not get offended if she says something you don’t like. What you like and what you need to hear are two different things. My manager at a former employer once told me “I know that you will have the job done on time and that it will be done right. I just need to see you to have a greater sense of urgency about it.” Her perception of urgency was based on my supervisor who would run around and get very frazzled, and it looked like he was everywhere at once, but it would always be a rush to the finish and often there were things we had to quickly fix. i explained to my manager that if I rushed like my supervisor i would not be able to think as clearly and be able to catch all of the details that were so important to her and the clients. Later they were both dismissed. Make sure that your employee knows exactly what is expected of her. Adjust her workload accordingly, if need be. Manage her expectations and yours. When you are done with the meeting ask her to verbally confirm what she understands the expectations to be. This way, you both know that you heard the same thing and are on the same page. This will give her confidence in what is expected of her and you now have the ability to hold her accountable, for either success or failure. If she succeeds and improves make sure to acknowledge it to her. Positive re-inforcment is a powerful thing. You don’t have to go overboard, but a simple “I see where you have really improved and I wanted to let you know I really appreciate your efforts.” will help cement to this worker that you are paying attention and they are moving in the right direction.
I managed someone like this. At first I said I’m holding you equally accountable for timing and accuracy. It didn’t totally work and it wasn’t really about him being unaccountable for work. He was trying to do a good job and not be lazy.
What I changed to was not accepting work prior to the due date. If I asked for something by EOD Thursday, I said don’t send this to me until at least 3pm Thursday. If I get an email earlier, I’m deleting it without looking at it. It worked out better and after about a month I ditched the rule and quality went back to normal.
I think that is GREAT advice from Sara! I can remember a time when I frustrated my own coworkers by making the same mistake over and over. I kept forgetting to remove old labels from bottles before sending them to be washed in the lab. Now, that might not sound bad, but the labels did not peel easily and required constant picking until it was finally all removed. Once my coworkers were fed up with me forgetting, they decided to let the bottles pile up before asking me to come and remove my own labels. I PICKED AT STUBBORN LABELS FOR HOURS! But after correcting my own problem, I never forgot to remove another label again. (Still traumatized!)
An interesting, thought-provoking post!
Fear of an angry boss is the sole reason for repeated mistakes! Alternatively, an employee with disturbed mind due to any personal or health problem can lead to such avoidable errors.
In the past, I have followed the idea expressed here that, oftentimes, an employee who is repeatedly making mistakes or underperforming may need their position to be reorganized. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses- the point of team work is to utilize people for their strengths, instead of criticizing them for their weaknesses. For example, when I was on a track team, I was moderately fast, but not enough to earn points for my team in the 100 meter dash. I could, however, hold that same pace for longer than most, so I was put in the 200 meter and 400 meter races. I was more effective there, with the skills I had. I was never made to feel bad for not performing as well in the 100 meters, but I did work hard to ensure my role on the team earned us points. If I had continued to be put in the 100 meter race, I would have consistently felt like a failure.
In Brene Brown’s Book “Rising Strong,” (2017) she describes a conversation with a military leader surrounding an underperforming employee. The leader, upon being prompted to assume the employee is doing the best they can, and asked what he would then do, replied that he would “move the rock.” This analogy, he explained, is like kicking a rock over and over and expecting a different result. In the end, however, it’s only hurting him. He goes on, “I have to stop kicking the rock. I need to move it. It’s hurting both of us. He’s not the right person for this position, and there’s no amount of pushing or getting on him that’s going to change that. He needs to be reassigned to a position where he can make a contribution.”
I have found this example to be particularly helpful when dealing with my own employees that are struggling and repeating mistakes. By altering their position, or even by simply altering their schedule, I have found that they become more self-sufficient and produce better work.
Brown, B. (2017). Rising Strong (1st ed.). Random House USA.
It is so often overlooked that boredom is a quality killer. Some employees are perfectly happy and comfortable in the same position for years, and thank God for them, a position consistently filled by a satisfied employee is a thing of beauty. Some never get the hang of it no matter how long they are allowed to try. However, others need novelty in order to thrive. This can be a good or a bad thing depending on the needs and the structure of the company. Many corporate structures require a minimum time served in one position before an employee can be promoted or given additional training. I’ve been stuck in that position myself. The job required a year in one position before you could apply elsewhere within the company. Though the amount of work involved was intense, it was repetitive and only took a few weeks to master. I held on for eight months full time before dropping to part time and ultimately moving on. Given that the employee in question has had the job for years and is making mistakes with skills she formerly mastered, this might be the case for her. While anxiety is more commonly experienced at the beginning of a job as the employee becomes comfortable with their environment, stagnation can create anxiety as well.
This is, of course, also frustrating as a supervisor. Constantly attempting to retailor positions to keep them fresh when there isn’t a clear path for advancement is a job into itself. You want to be sure what problems you are trying to solve before starting. I think the situation requires a sit down. Perhaps this is all off base and the employee has had some other life event that is throwing her off her game. Let us know if you figure this out, it’s a complicated topic and I would be interested in the resolution!
Although I am not currently a supervisor or boss to anyone, I do aspire to gain that title one day. For that reason, amongst others, I really enjoy reading these blogs to gain perspective and insight on issues that leaders face and deal with on a daily basis. I do, however, still look at myself as somewhat of a leader in the workplace. When other employees are lacking in their work, I try to pick up the slack. I take charge when it is necessary and go above and beyond my job title and responsibilities. I work extra hours when it is needed. I always make sure the job gets done on time and correctly. I am very detail-oriented and observant, so I catch mistakes that other employees make. I have dealt with a similar situation as mentioned in this blog; I work with a person who often makes careless mistakes that are completely avoidable and sometimes they are the same mistakes repeated. I know this particular employee is capable of doing better, but there is a lack of care on her end and a lack of discipline on management’s end. This is very frustrating to deal with but, because I am not the boss, there is not much I can directly do about it. I completely agree that this is something the supervisor is responsible for and that the employee cannot solely be blamed for something the leader allows and tolerates. I really like the McDonald’s analogy and think that would bring the problem to light in a new and different way, maybe resonating more affectively with the employee.
Managers need to pay attention to their employees and their work. If a mistake is made, the manager should let the employee know and make that employee fix his or her mistake. A manager should have a one-on-one talk with an employee who keeps making mistakes to help them understand the importance of not making that mistake. If the same mistake keeps being made, then there should be some kind of consequence for that. It should not be brushed under the rug and allowed to continue to happen.
Does anyone notice that four comments have the same last name but different first names? Coincidence? To pose as someone else or imitate seems a bit off color and I am not sure what the purpose is or why. Anyone? Maybe seeking a totally different topic here. Am I missing something?
When an employee is seemingly “slacking” or making mistakes at work, it is easier to point the blame at the employee rather than delve deeper into what could possibly be causing this issue. Communication is a must when attempting to find resolutions. In this situation, if the manager were to speak to the employee, they may discover other elements affecting their work performance. Perhaps past issues when completing projects, an overwhelming workload, personal issues at home, or not being fully satisfied with her current position are causing issues to arise. After effective communication, the manager may be able to find that the issue is not coming from the employee but rather, their leadership skills. Patience will be required when working through a situation like this, but the manager should remind themselves that the employee was hired for their business for a reason.
Some may believe that including negative reinforcement or perhaps a reward would assist with this situation, but it typically leads to temporary improvements and eventually the original behavior returns. Instead, a manager/leader acknowledging the effort the employee is showing would be a beneficial action.
In cases where the employee is not finding job satisfaction or continuous negative habits occur, another possible solution is to redirect the employee’s role. If this is a possibility within the workplace, it may lead to a change in the employee’s work ethic or allow the individual to shine in an area where they were not able to before.
Your blog post makes me think about the times I have witnessed employers blame the employee for poor performance. You state an employee’s repeated mistakes reflect on the person who manages them, but sometimes I do believe the fault lies on the employee. Typically I have seen this occur when the employer issues an off-the-record warning to the employee for a relatively minor offense and the employee chooses to be defiant and knowingly makes a second offense in hopes of not being caught the next time. Should the employer be blamed for giving his/her employee the benefit of the doubt, or should the employee be held responsible for his/her insubordination? Of course, this kind of scenario is different than the proposed scenario in the blog where the employee is not committing an offense and is unknowingly making mistakes. But what do these two scenarios have in common? Both employees in each scenario were addressed about the issue “off-the-record” and both scenarios represent problems with the employee that could ultimately affect the overall business. So perhaps from this perspective it would be fair to make the catchall phrase, “An employee’s repeated mistakes reflect on the person who manages them,” if the scenarios ultimately boil down to the employee tolerating the undesired behavior? The problem with this perspective, though, is that it operates under the assumption that the employer and employee have complete control over and choice in the factors that affect their performance and decision-making. Every scenario does not necessarily fit that narrative, as I believe is the case with Seeking Advice. Here it seems that anxiety of the employee is what is truly hindering her, not necessarily the fault of the employer. It also seems that her anxiety has been a long-standing problem, leading me to believe maybe it is undiagnosed and/or unmanaged. Anxiety can be debilitating and no amount of self-revisions and correcting her own mistakes will change that. It is an external factor that unless she becomes aware of and seeks proper care for, will continue to affect her performance—if not in her writing, in other areas of her job. I don’t feel it’s leadership’s responsibility to “make her see” her anxiety problem or be held responsible for something that is not only out of their control, but also out of her control, especially if she has not had access to care or proper treatment. I think it is more important to focus energy on devising appropriate solutions or approaches, rather than putting energy into the blame game or into constantly holding yourself accountable as a leader due to the potentially toxic mentality associated with the catchall phrase. Not everything the employees do is the leader’s fault, and believing so could ultimately affect the mental health of the leader too.
According to the Seeking Advice, the employer states that he/she’s tried to get her to slow down which to me would mean that they have told her on several occasions. Has the employer nicely explained, “you have made some innocent mistakes but we need to slow it down and pay attention?” If she has never gotten in trouble over the years for mistakes whose fault is that?
I’m not sure many employers are doctors and can decide who has anxiety and doesn’t. If the employer cares at all about the employee then he/she knows of the anxiety, then most likely the employee has already seen a doctor. Anxiousness, fear, and worry are normal human experiences and, in some instances, are even adaptive and helpful for our survival. Most people feel a little nervous before a big speech, a job interview, or a visit to the doctor. But in anxiety disorders, those feelings are crippling, extreme, and/or persistent. The FMLA could be a door to open.
While some employees might be content with bare minimum effort and just “look” busy in their office, others are committed to constant improvement and aim to find out how to make fewer mistakes at work.
The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends, there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose.
For most people, mistakes are not intentional. They’re also unavoidable. You as a leader, will inevitably, make a mistake one day. A good manager knows that mistakes happen. It’s when the same mistakes happen or happen frequently. As understanding as leadership can be, there’s no free pass to ignore mistakes and have a carefree approach to work.
Mistakes don’t make you a terrible employee, even if they make you cringe when you look back on them. If anything, they’re terrific learning experiences – an opportunity to learn how you can do better. Having made my share of mistakes over my career, I try to import things I have learned and apply them to my work life.
Often, mistakes stem from a lack of understanding. Either you were too proud to ask, you thought you understood how to complete the task at hand, you were taught incorrectly, or you didn’t have proper direction or incomplete information from the source in the first place. If you don’t know how to do something with 100% confidence, then take the time to ask. Also, if the employee isn’t told about the mistake repeatedly each time, how would they know that they made one each time?
To avoid having to go back one or more times with questions, which can slow progress, get clarification immediately. When given a task, make sure you fully understand what needs to be done. Repeat the request back to ensure that you heard correctly.
Know who your support system is as well. Ask who to go to if you have any questions while performing the task.
Asking questions only makes you smarter, since most new tasks come with a challenge and require that you learn something new.
Before you move on to the next task and declare your current one officially done, review it. Then review it again. Then review it a third time. I use a multi-stage proofing process for writing tasks. Despite my best efforts, I still have errors/mistakes that sneak through.
Often, errors get missed because we work up against tight deadlines. With little to no time left to carefully review, things get pushed through while relying on luck. If you’ve spent countless hours working on a project, make sure you take the time to review it. Give it the attention it deserves so you can be proud of the finished product – not terrified of potential errors.
I’m here because my own boss has demoralised me so completely recently reprimanding me for my mistakes. All of the team members’ work is checked twice (it’s financial work) so perfection is not expected and perfection is not the standard. He has told me that I make more mistake than the others but he is only keeping a list of my mistakes. I told him I didn’t want to see his list of my mistakes because 1) if it is just my mistakes he’s listing he’s confirming his bias against me, and 2) it is a shaming thing to do. I have been really struggling to stay engaged in the job. I am still working just as hard as before and I’m still trying so hard to improve but I have worked so hard throughout the pandemic and never got so much as a thank you. Now he is shaming me with a list of my mistakes! For work that will be checked twice as part of our process. It is really, really demotivating me. I have googled how to make fewer mistakes and it always says reduce your workload and my workload has been enormous this last year. It also says be really, really clear about your own perceptions of the employee. Be objective. I want to buy my line manager a book on how to motivate staff because he is anti-motivating me right now.
Dan..maybe you shouldn’t rush through typing your responses…which, btw are outdated and ineffective, but also, mistyped.
“Have her compete her work..” instead of “complete”.
Not to worry, it’s not your fault..but leadership freak should be blamed for letting you work on their website.
Well, HOW ABOUT THAT – i have a coworker who keeps making the same mistakes every month and produces sloppy, low quality work. She is a brown noser and no wonder her boss did nothing. I complained to him multiple times! So here comes the fun part – SHE GOT PROMOTED. To this day I am still assigned to check her sloppy work and of course I find the same mistakes… She makes more than me, she came AFTER me, she got promoted and I am still with the same role…She even got her own office! Wow… So, HOW ABOUT THAT?!! I am so angry. I cannot get over this.