• When SHTF at work, stay calm and work through the crisis one step at a time with support from your team
  • See this as an opportunity to prove your awesome crisis management skills
  • Be sure to take care of yourself during and after the crisis
Work is hard at the best of times. But every so often, the shit really hits the fan.

It’s never a fun time being in the office when there’s a drama brewing - but it’s really shitty when your actions just so happen to be the cause of that drama.

When that happens, you’re putting out fires all day and it’s nothing but crisis management.

No matter how cautious and diligent you are, there’s always a chance that something could go wrong. Whether it’s a confidential email sent to someone external or a missed deadline that costs the company money, mistakes can be made by anybody.

The moment you realize that you’ve made a huge mistake that’s causing a chain reaction of other problems, you can end up feeling like you’ve just been punched in the gut.

Kinda like this forklift operator.

VIDEO: Forklift Collapses Warehouse
YOUTUBE: TzD Channel
LENGTH: 1:03
Okay, maybe your situation isn’t as bad as that guy, but it sure feels like it, right?

The asshole in your head starts playing out scenarios of your boss’s reaction, your company losing millions of dollars and you getting shit-canned.

You know you need to come clean and that sooner is better but you’re frozen in fear.

This situation is something that many will experience at some point in their working lives. There’s no avoiding it. It’s part of life.

We all fuck up at some point.

But it doesn’t have to be a moment of career doom. There are whole teams and even whole businesses dedicated to crisis management, so it’s obviously a normal part of business.

Taking a calm, organized approach to crisis management can help you work through the situation and minimize the negative impacts on the business and on your mental health.

How Work Crises Affect Us

When a work crisis happens and SHTF, it instantly puts your body into fight or flight mode. Your cortisol levels spike, adrenaline goes through the roof and your body focuses all energy on fighting off this stressor.

The problem is that this system is perfectly set up for dealing with the kinds of life-threatening stressors you can literally run away from. Which was great, back in the day when we had to run away from saber tooth tigers and other predators.

But, these days, when the stressor is a work crisis, let’s be honest, running away from it isn't going to do shit. It’s only going to make things worse.

Because you don’t have the option of running away and burning up all that cortisol and adrenaline, it continues to circulate in your system and wreaks havoc on your body.

These excess stress hormones can lead to headaches, brain fog, aches and pains, sweating, chest pains, dizziness, etc. These are all physical reactions that you might experience when a work crisis hits.

And all this stress can affect each of us in different ways and how we handle the situation.

1. The Avoider

Some people, when faced with a crisis, simply shut down. Their coping mechanism is to act as if everything is fine and dandy, in the hopes that pretending will make it real.

Burying your head in the sand is a terrible idea because the longer the issue remains unchecked, the worse it gets.

At work, avoiding crisis situations will make you look weak, incompetent, deceitful and unprofessional, so don’t take this kind of approach. 

2. The Blamer

For some of us, the default reaction to fucking up is to point the blame to someone else or another department or group.

“The email went to the wrong person because Clara wasn’t clear in her instructions.”

It’s shifting blame.

Nobody likes a blamer and especially not in the workplace, where collaboration and accountability are both key expectations of the best performing employees.

It’s not a good look for building relationships with your colleagues, who you will inevitably need to turn to for help in the future. And, it’s just a dickhead move.

Don’t be that like that asshole at work that passes the blame to innocent folks.

3. The Martyr

While shifting the blame might not be the answer, neither is taking all of the blame if others were part of the problem too.

Trying to shoulder the full responsibility for a mistake that was a result of multiple factors is a bad career move and can even look somewhat patronizing and self-serving to those you’re trying to protect.

The martyr wants to “save” everyone else at their own expense but this can come at the huge cost of you not being able to fix the problem.

4. The Existentialist

Finally, we have the existentialist - the person who genuinely believes that this mistake will be the end of their jobs, their careers and maybe even their lives.

They fret and fuss about what to do, how to handle the situation and whether to start updating their resume now and preparing for unemployment.

They get flustered, overwhelmed and are likely to have intense physical reactions such as crying or hyperventilating.

While it is important to recognize the results of our actions, existentialists are so blinded by potential doom and despair that they can’t often see a solution, even though it might be right in front of their face.

Messing up at work is stressful for everyone, but believe it or not, you can actually flip this crisis around and use it as an opportunity to build yourself up.

Reframing The Situation & Turning Lemons Into Lemonade

Reframing is the act of looking at potentially stressful situations in a different light. The key question to ask yourself when doing this is “what good could come from this?”

When it comes to a crisis at work, the answer might seem like an instant “nothing!” but, if you take a breather, step back and see things from a larger perspective you might just see the silver lining.

1. Personal and Professional Growth

Whether in life or in work, whenever we face a challenge and we step up to that challenge head on, we always come out having learned something new.

Dealing with a big issue at work will develop your problem solving skills as well as skills specifically related to the problem at hand.

If you messed up with a client, bringing things back around will definitely boost your client management skills.

Making a huge mistake in the software code will test and improve your bug fixing skills.

Whatever you mess up, the process of fixing things will teach you something you didn’t know before and that can be applied in future to make you more capable and more experienced.

It’s all about improving your skills and to never stop learning.

2. Show Your Leadership Skills

Effectively managing a crisis is an excellent trait for a leader. Being in a position where you need to problem solve under pressure, you’re able to show these skills off.

Sure, it might not be the best scenario since the problem was of your own doing but effective handling of the situation will ultimately show others that you can rebound from big mistakes, which will make you look good.

Ultimately, pulling through and recovering from a major issue will positively boost your personal brand with your peers, managers and executives at the company.

3. Make Internal Process Improvements

A lot of the time, mistakes at work uncover processes and procedures that aren’t as effective or fool-proof as they could be.

Sure, you accidentally ordered the wrong part. But shouldn’t there be a process in place that automatically reorders the correct parts? Or, prevents incompatible parts from being ordered in the first place?

Messing up is a great way to identify problems and then create new solutions or processes to prevent them from happening again. This will allow you to do more with less stress.

So there are some good things that can come from a bad situation but only if it’s handled in the right way.

How To Fix It & Turn Things Around

When shit hits the fan, it’s not what happened that is most important but it’s how you deal with it.

Effective and quick crisis management determines the depth of the damage and allows you, your boss and the team to figure out a solution fast and get things back on track.

This is not the time to be scatter-brained and all over the place. You need to get your shit together and follow through on fixing the problem.

1. Calm Down & Breathe Everyday

We’ve already discussed how the fight or flight function kicks in when something goes wrong. If you act from this place, the results aren’t going to be great.

Between the brain fog and panic, there’s a high chance that you’ll actually make matters worse instead of better.

So, before you do anything, breathe and settle yourself!

Calming your body and your nervous system down will help you to see things clearly and decide the best course of action.

Here’s a simple one-minute breathing timer animation that can help you settle down.

VIDEO: Silent Breathing Timer Meditation
YOUTUBE: Cubicle Therapy
LENGTH: 1:35
Taking the idea of deep breathing one step further, a quick meditation can help to bring you back to a neutral position and clear your head to start coming up with solutions.

Throughout the process of cleaning up this mess, you want to make sure that you’re allowing yourself to mentally recover each day. And, one of the best ways to manage work stress is to meditate your stress away.

If you’re not familiar with meditation or haven’t really given it an honest try, check out our newbie’s guide to meditation to get started.

Doing meditation or any kind of stress relief activity every day during the process is essential to prevent stress from building up too much. It’ll allow you to recover, relax and get re-fueled for the next day.

2. Get Your Thoughts Together & Figure Out What Happened 

Once you’ve realized the mistake and pushed back the wave of panic that threatened to engulf you, it’s time to get a grip on exactly what the fuck happened.

You need to get to the bottom of this.

What went wrong and how did it happen?

Now is not the time for vagueness and guesses. Get the relevant information together so that you can effectively tackle the problem.

Get to the root cause by retracing your steps and actions to find out what triggered this whole mess.

3. Communicate Clearly With Your Boss & Key Stakeholders

Once you have clarity on the issue, it’s important to communicate it quickly and clearly, to all relevant parties.

Of course, notifying your boss is the first step. However, be sure to notify any other team members who might be affected by the problem too.

State matters as clearly as possible, while staying calm.

Meet with your manager and other key people affected by the issue on what has gone wrong. Make sure you come to the table with ideas and questions so that you can ask for help, support and advice.

Developing a solution to the problem you created is a must but doing it with the help and input of your team makes all the difference. 

4. Don’t Do It Alone, Ask For Help

Just because you were the cause of the problem doesn’t mean that you have to tackle things alone. But, it does mean that you need to take the lead.

As you explain the situation to those that have been affected, ask for their help and guidance so that you can get things back on track.

Now is not the time to be shy.

There might be certain blind spots you have or skills you’re not confident on or just not being able to access certain internal systems at work, so be honest about where you need help and don’t be afraid to ask for it.

Trying to fix a problem by yourself will add extra unnecessary pressure on you when you’re already stressed to the max, which can often lead to even more mistakes.

5. Develop, Present & Take Action On A Solution

Once a mistake has been made, there’s not a lot you can do about it aside from go back in time, but you can make the whole crisis management process easier by thinking quickly and engaging in some creative problem solving with the team.

Not only does this show initiative, it also means you might get to the resolution stage a lot quicker.

It’s important to remember that choosing the quickest solution instead of the right solution is simply delaying another disaster.

Be sure that you’re considering all options and acting from a clear-headed place instead of from a place of pressure and panic.

It’s always better to put the time in now to avoid having to do double the work later.

Once a workable solution has been found, it’s up to you to take the lead on making it happen.

Present the solution to your boss and your crisis management team and be clear on what each person’s role is. Yours should be, at a minimum, project leader. After all, it is your mess to clean up.

6. See It As A Growth Opportunity

There is a lot of talk in personal development circles about having a fixed versus growth mindset.

With a fixed mindset, you believe that things will pretty much stay as they are, no matter how hard you try. A fixed mindset reaction to a work crisis will be that you’re an idiot and, no matter what you do, you’ll continue to mess up at work - that’s the asshole in your head again.

This is obviously not productive and not good for your wellbeing, motivation or career prospects.

With a growth mindset, people believe that improvements can be made - in yourself, in your life and in this situation - through focus, hard work and determination.

A growth mindset response to a work crisis will be that managing the crisis effectively will help you to become better at your role and, ultimately, help you to grow and progress.

This is a much better attitude to adopt, as it will push you to find the best solution and make the most of a bad situation, all the while keeping a can-do attitude.

7. Lean On Your Emotional Support Network

Dealing with a fuck up at work can take a real toll on your mood and your wellbeing. Even as the problem is being resolved, it’s easy to keep ruminating on how you let it happen in the first place and to worry about the long term effects.

It’s best not to deal with these feelings alone, as this can lead to anxiety and low mood. Rely on your work BFFs, mentors, family and friends for support.

Even just talking through what happened can help to relieve the weight of the situation. Opening up about it might also lead you to hear about similar situations from others, and learn how they dealt with it.

Following these simple but invaluable tips will help you feel in control when a crisis comes and SHTF.

But, the work isn’t over once the issue is resolved. After the initial fire is put out and things are under control, you need to go into recovery mode.

Post-Crisis Follow Up & Recovery Tips

The whole process of messing up and then cleaning up your mess is a tough one. It takes a huge amount of energy out of you and your team. Plus, it distracts you from the pile of work you already have on your desk.

So, it’s important to round things off and make all that energy worth it with an effective recovery. Not only will it help to bring everything to a true resolution, it will also help to prevent another blow up mistake. 

1. Share Lessons Learned

Every mistake is a learning opportunity. In the workplace, it’s important that lessons learned are always shared as there’s a good chance that your colleagues will face similar challenges too.

Once everything is sorted out and things are back on track, take some time to share the details of the issue, how it was resolved and the lessons learned.

This could be in the form of a group email or a short presentation at the next team meeting.

2. Recognize Those Who Helped

While you’re sharing the lessons learned, it’s also important to recognize those who helped to solve the problem.

Take some time to thank them personally and make reference to them in your email summary or presentation too.

Jumping in to help probably also caused them a bit of stress, so showing your gratitude and appreciation will go a long way. A simple email, phone call or face to face chat will make a world of difference.

A side benefit to this is that it will trigger happiness for all that were involved.

3. Make A Plan To Avoid Future Crises

Whether as an individual or as a team, it’s important that you reflect on what events led up to the error being made, and what can be done to prevent it happening again.

Whether it’s a change in process or a change in how you personally approach your work, all this stress and drama will be in vain if you don’t follow it with change.

Work with the appropriate people to put system checks in place so that the problem doesn’t happen again.

4. Self-Care Recovery

Finally, take care of yourself!

Dealing with these kinds of situations can be extremely taxing on the body and the mind, so once things cool off, it’s important you give yourself some “me-time” and a bit of TLC.

Depending on the intensity and duration of the crisis management process, you might even want to take some vacation days or go for a weekend getaway so you can take yourself offline and really relax.

It’s Not The End Of The World - You Got This

Shit happens.

And work is not immune to this, so inevitably things will go wrong at some point. And, when they do and the shit hits the fan, the only thing we can control is how we react and what actions we take.

How you manage through a crisis can be the difference between being labeled as an incapable mess or an office superhero.

See crisis situations as an opportunity to rise to the occasion.

Making a real contribution and going above and beyond is a sure-fire way to ensure that, not only do you not get in trouble, but you might even end up getting praised or promoted.

Wouldn’t that be the turnaround of the century!

Feel Better,

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