5 Fatal Work Mistakes and How To Avoid Them

Mistakes In Space

Everyone makes mistakes. However making mistakes at work can lead to serious consequences, and in the worst case –even getting fired.

Take, for example, Kee Wah Bakery’s Mid-Autumn Festival advertisement from last year. Both its TV commercial and graphic design were viewed as having symbolism from the Hungry Ghost Festival –the exact opposite in spirit to the Mid-Autumn Festival! This led to a PR disaster as netizens criticized the designers and PR staff for their lack of understanding traditional Chinese culture, ultimately forcing Kee Wah to pull down all of the advertisements.

Even an international brand can make mistakes. This year Dior had a fiasco with its Year of the Dog Red Packets. The simply-done design of a gold printed “狗”(“Dog” in Chinese) on the red packet quickly became a bad online joke, with some Chinese netizens expressing offense (side note: while in Mandrin the word “gau” for dog is used to express anger toward something, in Cantonese, the word is even more of a curse word). You have to ask, hEven an international brand can fall into the trap sometimes. ow did their marketing team miss something so simple and huge?! A perfect example of not taking the time to fully understand a situation and the glaringly embarrassing consequences.

While hopefully you won’t be part of a major mess-up on the scale of Dior, here’s a few common workplace mistakes you can easily focus on seeking to avoid:

1. Oops, typos!

Never overlook a simple typo on your documents, especially when it comes to numbers, data and factual information. A missing zero can result in a huge loss for a company. A misused word or misplaced comma can materially change the meaning of a contract clause. That’s why always remember to double check the details in your documents and don’t hesitate to let your colleagues double-check for you when in doubt. A set of fresh eyes is always useful to see blind spots you may have overlooked.

2. Recall that email?!

Email is key to most daily work. Internally we use it to communicate with our boss and colleagues, while externally it is used to stay in touch with clients and business partners. When drafting or replying to emails, make sure you clearly distinguish between using “cc”, “reply to”, “reply all” and “forward”. Be aware if attachments are needed, included or should be completely removed. And of course, make sure whatever you write, you are okay with the possibility of it being forwarded on! Remember to think twice before you click the “send” button. Taking that extra minute to double check before hitting send can save you a lot of headache.

3. Not saving a backup copy

It’s just common sense to keep a backup copy. In case there is an electrical fault, or someone makes a mistake and loses a file, the backup copy will be your saviour. No matter where your files are saved, a regular backup is essential. Even if nothing does go wrong, making it a habit to keep a backup copy helps safeguard your work and ensure your efforts aren’t wasted.

4. Not prioritizing

Many time management experts emphasize making time to prioritize tasks – meaning taking the time to list out what needs to be done for the day, reviewing the list and determining whether a task is urgent, important, not urgent or not important. Of course, first priority falls to those tasks that are both urgent and important. While ideally you’d take the first 10 minutes in the morning to review and prioritize what needs to be done, try at least making time early in your day to get organized. From your daily “to-do’s”, the next step would be mapping out a weekly schedule. Even while plans are ever-changing, the ability to systematically manage your time will prove useful throughout your life.

5. Unknown unknowns

Donald Rumsfeld, the former United States Secretary of Defense, once famously discussed life’s “unknown unknowns,” referring to those things a person is not aware of not knowing about. On a similar strain, Nassim Taleb’s book “The Black Swan” focuses on life’s Black Swans, those random, highly unpredictable events that can befall any of us in life (the title refers to the previously accepted fact that all swans are white --as that was all that had been seen --until this “fact” proven wrong with the discovery of the black swan in Australia).

Putting this into the workplace context, it is always useful to remember that the knowledge you have acquired through your own personal experiences has its own limits. When we are unsure of what we don’t know, we tend to use our experience for judgement. However, it’s always good to remember to take a step beyond ourselves to see if there’s anything else being missed. Perhaps a quick discussion with colleagues or others can save you from embarrassment (the Dior team could have used this advice).

Fiona Wong

Freelance translator & writer, love arts, cinema, travel and flowers!

3 min read

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