To be human is to be fallible. Even when all the necessary checks are in place, human errors in the workplace still occur. There are various reasons why errors happen at work, including distractions, improper planning, stress, and carelessness. Examples of the consequences of human error can range from additional expenses to overordering to serious accidents in industries such as nuclear power, aviation, or medicine. If you’re trying to minimize errors in the workplace, it may be useful to learn what the most common types of human error at workplace are. To get you started, I have compiled this list of the five most common types of human error found in the workplace.
Five Types of Human Error at Workplace
1. Slips When Performing Familiar Tasks
Slips typically happen when you’re performing a familiar task. When people perform regular and familiar tasks, they often do so without much conscious attention, which can lead to absent-mindedness. Distractions and interruptions can also contribute to slips.
Another cause of slips at work is “multitasking,” which is when you try to do more than one task at the same time. However, studies have shown that it is not actually possible for the brain to do two things at the same time. What you’re actually doing when you’re multitasking is to quickly shift your attention from one task to another. Instead of boosting productivity, multitasking actually reduces attention and can lead to slips, since you’re not really focusing on any one task.
Examples of slips in the workplace include:
- Omitting a step or series of steps from a task.
- Selecting the wrong button or function.
- Transposing numbers.
- Performing an action too soon in a procedure, or leaving it for too late.
- Doing the right check but on the wrong object or doing the wrong check on the right object.
You can try to avoid these types of errors by using checklists to double-check that all steps have been completed. Also, aim to minimize distractions and interruptions in your workspace. If your work involves complex procedures and tasks, it’s vital that the necessary checks are in place since slips during such processes could potentially be costly or dangerous.
2. Lapses in Memory
As opposed to slips that generally happen due to a lack of attention, lapses typically happen because of a failure of memory. Forgetting to do things at work can be embarrassing and can also negatively affect your or your team’s productivity and performance.
Examples of lapses in memory at work include:
- Not remembering everything that was said in a conversation with a client.
- Failing to pitch for an appointment or a meeting because you forgot.
- Forgetting specific details about assignments you’ve been given.
- Losing your place midway through a task.
Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to counter lapses in memory. If you know that you tend to be forgetful, it’s advisable to write things down or to ask for written instructions. Using technology can also be useful. You can, for instance, use an app that sends you notifications when you have a meeting or a task scheduled.
While slips and lapses are unconscious errors, i.e., something you didn’t intend to do, mistakes are conscious errors. This doesn’t mean that you’re purposefully trying to do the incorrect thing. Mistakes occur because you’re thinking that you’re doing the right thing at the time but in retrospect, it was not. There are many factors that contribute to mistakes in the workplace, such as lack of training or knowledge, as well as organizational issues such as incorrect job descriptions.
This means that a slip occurs when you have the correct mental model but fail to execute the task properly. In contrast, a mistake happens when you have the incorrect mental model. For instance, if you press the wrong tab on an application by mistake, it is a slip. However, if you select a tab thinking it will do one thing but it does another, you’ve made a mistake. Mistakes, therefore, are decision-making failures.
Here are a few more examples of mistakes:
- A new employee executing a task incorrectly due to lack of experience or poor training.
- A manager buying the incorrect software licenses for a company.
- A truck driver overtaking another vehicle at the wrong time and causing an accident.
To avoid mistakes at work, employers need to ensure that employees are properly trained. Also, employees should not be given tasks that fall outside of their job description and skillset. Effective management can also help curb potential mistakes in the workplace.
Violations differ from slips, lapses, and mistakes, in that they are intentional. Although mistakes are also intentional, a different result is expected by the person making the mistake. However, if you perform a violation, you are deliberately doing the wrong thing. Although violations are deliberate, those who ignore the rules and regulations don’t necessarily have malicious intentions.
Some of the reasons why violations may occur in the workplace are that employees may find rules and procedures impractical or that they think that the rules don’t apply to them. Another reason is that workers may be under pressure because of staff shortages or hectic deadlines. Peer pressure may also motivate employees to violate rules.
Examples of violations include:
- A truck driver failing to wear his seatbelt or stop at a red traffic light.
- A project team member executing a task that is not part of the project plan without checking with the project manager first.
- A manager allowing untrained personnel to operate machinery.
Violations can be curbed in the workplace by improving communication between executive staff and employees. If employees are feeling disgruntled about rules and regulations to such an extent that they are violating them, explaining the reasoning behind the company’s rules and policies may be beneficial. It may also be a good idea to accept some input from employees regarding possible changes in regulations to ensure their future compliance.
5. Team Errors
So far, I have highlighted errors that individuals make in the workplace. However, a good deal of the errors that take place in the workplace happen within teams. When people work together, the likelihood of errors occurring is quite high.
There are multiple reasons for team errors, of which a lack of communication is probably the most important. When people work together in teams, it is vital that they communicate effectively. A lack of communication can lead to all kinds of errors, and also conflict.
Another reason for team errors is something called “Groupthink,” which is when the desire for conformity in a team leads to erroneous decision-making and action among group members. Another reason, which is quite similar to Groupthink, is when a subordinate is too scared or reluctant to challenge the decisions of a superior.
Examples of team errors include:
- Team member A just assumes that team member B will act in a certain way.
- A lack of reporting or updates from individual team members.
- Team members acting outside of the scope of a project without consulting other team members.
- Team members who don’t do their tasks properly.
- Unresolved conflict between team members.
Team errors are less likely to occur when the team has a strong and effective leader. A strong team leader will instill a culture of communication and transparency in their teams. They are also more likely to have checks in place to ensure that individual team members are executing their tasks properly.
General Tips for Prevention of Human Errors at Work
Whether you’re an owner of a company, a project manager, or a team member, you must aim to take preventative steps to try curb potential errors in the workplace. Here are a few pointers to consider:
A Productive Work Environment
Employees who work in a pleasant, well-equipped, and clean work environment may be less prone to make slips or mistakes, or commit violations. A safe, well-lit, and quiet work environment is conducive to productivity since distractions and interruptions will be minimized and employees may have fewer grievances.
Effective managers also help curb the occurrence of errors in the workplace. Apart from the fact that good managers put the necessary checks in place to ensure that team members get the job done, they typically also cultivate a culture of effective communication among team members.
Individual employees should also take responsibility for their performance at work. Whether you’re a manager or a team member, you can minimize slips and errors at work by taking good care of yourself. Ensure that you get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat well so that your performance is not hampered by ill health or lack of sleep. You can also boost your productivity and minimize errors by creating schedules and checklists, and generally being organized at work.