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5 min read

Everyone makes mistakes, at one point or another. It’s human nature. Employees make mistakes at work, and there’s usually a consequence from those mistakes. In some cases it may be an unhappy or lost clients, in others it may be a dollar amount that the company has to pay to fix the mistake, or it may cause embarrassment for a manager whose direct report has made the mistake.

Here’s the thing: Your employees should never be scared to make a mistake.

Should you put in adequate learning and development so employees are continually learning and improving? Yes. Should you act quickly on mistakes after they occur to implement process and suggestions on how to avoid future mistakes? Yes.

But that doesn’t mean that you should discount the value of a mistake. When employees don’t feel free to make mistakes, they can no longer effectively and openly express their opinions. The employer is limiting themselves from receiving valuable feedback and diverse opinions from their employees, who in many cases will know parts of the business better than any member on the leadership team or a senior manager. By making employees afraid to be wrong, we’re simply limiting their abilities to be creative, and giving them no chance to grow and develop.

Giving employees opportunity to express their opinions and ideas, even if most of the time wrong, can result in dramatic increase of productivity for the company. Letting employees make mistakes is the only way they’ll grow and gain the skills and motivation that are necessary to work effectively. After all, it’s human to make mistakes, and the learning from the mistakes we make shapes us to who we are later in life.

Ask yourself, how are mistakes treated at your company? Do employees have the freedom to make mistakes, or do they stay within certain boundaries to avoid it as much as they can?


In some companies, employee mistakes may lead to a warning or some form of punishment. Knowing this, an employee will do everything possible to do things “the right way,” or the way they’ve been told. Managers will ensure they watch over their employees closely to ensure no mistakes are made. But the punishment in this situation is at the stake of the company.

As we’ve said before, you must provide the means to let your employees innovate, and it’s OK if those innovations don’t always work out. An engaged employee creates significant value for a business by innovating more, making better decisions and ultimately, those mistakes will lead to greater productivity with lessons learned in efficiencies.

At Reward Gateway, one of our values is Be Human. Part of this is to “understand that every colleague, client, partner and supplier is another human being with their own hopes, fears, likes and dislikes.” Another part of the value is that we’re only human, and humans make mistakes. It’s the way we’ve learned for centuries. It’s also the quickest and easiest way to learn, as it helps us remember the learning better than when someone else tells us how not to do something.


The fastest way to learn is by doing.

We learn from experiences more than from any other form of learning. According to Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience concept people generally remember:

  • 10 percent of what they READ
  • 20 percent of what they HEAR
  • 30 percent of what they SEE
  • 50 percent of what they SEE and HEAR
  • 70 percent of what they SAY and WRITE
  • 90 percent of what they DO (= Experience)

So if there’s a 90% knowledge transfer when we do something, than why is it that we treat actions that lead to mistakes as something bad that should be punished?

Being judged for mistakes will only make employees feel more insecure and dependent on their manager to make decisions for them.

Another point I’d like to make that I see often is a manager who, once they notice their direct report making an error, simply just completes the task at hand. There a few issues with this:

  • Your employee isn’t learning. According to the statistics up above, an employee watching you has only a 30% chance of retaining the right way to do it. Wouldn’t you rather them be in the 90th percentile?
  • You hired your employee for a reason. Candidates are brought on by skill, in addition to culture and overall job fit (my colleagues will talk about this more in an upcoming post).
  • You’re shutting down any chance of open and honest communications, one of the foundational elements of The Engagement Bridge™. Instead of doing something for someone else, question why the mistake happened, and have a transparent conversation about flaws in your organization.  

As it’s said:

Most people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure - Napoleon Hill

So let your employees make mistakes and have bad ideas.

If you have a “free to make mistakes” policy for your employees or want to share how you see mistakes at your own company, feel free to leave a comment under this post, or drop me a line on LinkedIn.

Didi Kirova

Didi Korova is the Head of Learning & People Experience at Reward Gateway.

Head of Learning and People Experience

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