When is it time to take the blame?

By Robert Half on 5 November 2013

As much as we may try to avoid making mistakes, sometimes things go wrong despite our best intentions. While friends and family may be prepared to forgive our foibles, when things go wrong at work it’s usually a good idea to own up and admit it.

But what if a mistake has been made and you weren’t the one responsible? Would you still take the blame?

The stats behind taking the blame

At least three in 10 executives would, according to a recent survey of more than 1000 senior managers at companies with 20 or more employees.

The survey by OfficeTeam found that 30 per cent of executives had accepted blame for something that wasn’t their fault. The reason they owned up, despite being innocent, was to “take one for the team”.

Why? There are several reasons. More than one-third (34 per cent) of those who took the fall said they felt indirectly responsible for the problem, while more than one-quarter (28 per cent) said they just didn’t want to get others in trouble. For the rest, it was simply not worth arguing about or explaining the transgression.

“It’s best to accept responsibility when you’ve made a mistake at work,” says Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam. “However, sometimes professionals feel compelled to take the blame for something they didn’t do. Depending on the infraction, being the scapegoat only hurts your own reputation.”

People just starting out in the workforce are more likely to make mistakes as they navigate their new environment, and early errors can seem insurmountable when you’re doing your best to make a good impression on your manager and colleagues. But accepting responsibility – even if the error isn’t entirely your fault – is a better option than hoping it will just go away.

5 tips for navigating the blame game at work

  1. Admit when you’re wrong: It’s better to acknowledge a mistake you’ve made than to try to deny it, cover things up or shift the blame. Others may find it easier to forgive and forget if you come clean early.
  2. Move on: When something goes wrong, don’t start pointing fingers. Focus on what should be done to resolve the issue and avoid similar problems in the future.
  3. Don’t always take the blame: You may want to cover for a colleague from time to time, but try not to make a habit of it. If they continue to make mistakes, it might be your job at risk.
  4. Keep everyone honest: Ensure expectations are clearly outlined for every project. Document each person’s responsibilities and contributions so there’s accountability.
  5. Give credit where it’s due: Acknowledge colleagues for their accomplishments and call attention to group successes. Make sure you’re also getting the recognition you deserve by providing status reports to your manager.

Will you be taking the blame next time?

More From the Blog...