A serious mistake happened while I am on holiday, which could have led to missing out on a major potential client for the company as a whole.

I am responsible for the task, but my direct manager (who initially designed the task) agreed to handle it while I was on holiday. I don't know the exact causes of the incident yet, but my conscience says it could have been avoided if I had created a second system to double check it.

I am sure everyone in the company is looking for someone to blame - what is the best professional reaction to a situation like this?


If your immediate superior (whom I presume is responsible for your day to day activities), was aware of your absence, it becomes his/her responsibility to plan for a backup in case of your absence. (Unless you are a manager, in which case, you have to make arrangements for your absence)

The best professional response in a situation where something went wrong during your absence would be something as follows:

  • Get in touch with your immediate manager and see if anything can be done to remedy the situation.
  • In case your manager blames you for the loss, you'll have to be ready with the communication you had with your senior regarding your leave. In many situations, this can snowball and become a blame game and you better have proper evidence for your own safety.
  • In case you are a manager who is responsible for handling things and the critical situation went out of hand due to you not creating a backup, the best thing to do is to accept the mistake and try not to repeat the same in the future.
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Good managers are not looking to place blame. Whatever happened is in the past and cannot be undone. Placing blame will not help. On the other hand, making sure this will never happen again is their absolute priority now.

Step forward and suggest a solution that will mitigate the impact of future problems of the same sort. Either by making sure this can not happen again or by making sure the result of it happening will not be as problematic. Or both. For example more built in checks.

Ironically, once a mistake is made, everybody is afraid that the boss will blame them. Yet, as a boss, the best thing that can happen to me after a mistake was made is that someone steps up and says "sorry, it was my fault, I will make sure this never happens again." Because that solves my immediate problem and I'm free to handle the fallout of the actual problem.

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  • Only problem with this answer might be assuming that the manager is a good one? (This may or may not be the case, but it's hard to know.) – StackExchange What The Heck Jan 30 '14 at 13:36

Address this as a problem with a solution.

Problem - there was a gap in knowledge while you were away. It's not your fault for not explaining absolutely everything you know about the situation - that's impossible. It's not your boss's fault for not knowing how to do your job perfectly while you're gone. This was a simple gap, with potentially big consequences.

If you avoid pointing fingers, you stand a much better chance of keeping finger pointing out of the situation entirely. If fingers do get pointed, point out that it has to be reasonable for you to take a vacation, and clearly if you'd known about the potential for the problem, you'd have done something to prevent it - but no one can see all cases in the future.

Solution - spend only enough time on the problem for your boss and any other stakeholders (other people responsible for the solution) to see the risk imposed by the problem. Move quickly onto the solution (secondary process), and directly connect to how it addresses the problem. Be open to the input of others - the process may need tweaking, since ideally it is not what you do but something anyone can do in your absence - so it has to work for everyone.

Keep everyone focused on the solution. At the very end, verify with everyone that the solution is likely to be a fix for the problem.

Then let it drop.

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