Is It Possible To Repair Your Reputation at Work?

There may come a time in your career when you damage your reputation or personal brand to the point it’s stuck to you like gum on your shoe.  Maybe whatever you did wasn’t bad enough to warrant being terminated on the spot (although maybe you should have been,) but you are now living through the aftermath of the “thing” you did.  Maybe it was only one big fail or it could be you acted really bad for an extended period of time, but either way, you get it now.

As a result, the problem you are facing is whether or not you can restore your personal brand enough to get you back into a positive career growth path.  Good question.  There are way too many variables to prescribe a set of steps that will guarantee a great outcome.  However, there are things you can do to help your situation and some decision milestones you need to have the courage to make.

Actions to consider:

Make amends and apologize.  Depending on what you’ve done, you may need to humble yourself and apologize to people who have been negatively impacted by what you’ve done.  If you did some performance damaging thing you don’t need to apologize to the boss, but you do need to acknowledge to them that you understand the issue.

Make your improvements stick.  If you now understand what you’ve done wrong, make the changes and keep those improvements in place.  Only through consistency with your change will people start trusting you again.  Most people can’t sustain a change and, therefore, any talk about changing is usually met with skepticism.  Don’t talk about changing; make the change and stick to it.

Don’t over compensate.  While you do want to make changes, you don’t want to start over-compensating by slathering people with unwanted attention or doing unnecessary activities.  This will be a sign you really don’t “get it”.

Get over it.   At the recognition of doing a career limiting move, you are likely to feel uncomfortable with some of your duties or perhaps some of your co-workers. The sooner you can move past it and start regaining some confidence with yourself, the better you will be.

Despite these steps you may discover that you can never fully regain the support and confidence of the boss or peers.  It seems we can have a long memory for some things and short memory for others.  In a group of people like at work, we can almost develop a “cultural memory” for how to treat and behave with a given person.  It can become a legacy that you can’t get past.  You need to give your recovery period enough time to help redefine how people see you.  You can’t rush this situation as each group of people is different and the dimension of your issue can also have a bearing on time for recovery.

Decision to make:

Stay or go.  At some point you have to get realistic about your situation.  If you can’t get past your problem and it is now impacting your ability to excel, it is time to go.  We often try to rationalize that if we only give it another 6 months that maybe the boss will leave or things will magically improve.  Even if that might be true, you have to think through how long you are willing to allow your career to be derailed.

Damaging your career really stinks.  When you do the damage you have to be willing to put the time and patience into recovering it, even if part of your recovery plan is to leave and start with a clean board at a new position.

For more career tips and advice – FREE newsletter and eworkbook:  From Dorothy Tannahill-Moran – Your Career Change Agent from and

Dorothy Tannahill-Moran is a certified life and career coach. She works with aspiring professionals who are looking for career growth, advancement and entry into the “C” suite. As well, she works with people to overcome the sometimes daunting task of changing careers. With over 21 years in management, Dorothy has coached, trained and guided other professionals who have gone on to impressive and fulfilling careers. Her personal philosophy about careers is: “It’s not JUST a job; it’s half your life – so love your career”. You can check out her resources, blog and services at Next Chapter New Life and MBA Highway.

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  1. A very thorough post, Dorothy. In today’s testy job market, it’s vital for professionals to pay special attention to how others may interpret their actions; the smallest discrepancies can be grounds for termination. The actions you suggest are not only imperative for making amends within a professional’s current company, but they’re also necessary for career advancement at another. When a future potential employer asks the professional, “Why did you leave XYZ company?,” the professional should be able to give an honest answer and suggest the potential employer follow-up with his or her former boss for more details. The key is to not alienate any of your network.

  2. J Harwell says:

    This article is another nail in the coffin of employee empowerment. Your article makes NO mention of the truth about corporate toxicity. The psychopathology of corporate life is clearly explained in the documentary I Am Fishead ( and Vanity Fair’s August 2012 article on How MIcrosoft Lost its Mojo. The list of your articles on your site list only 1 (1!) article that empowers employees to protect themselve in the corporate shark pool of lies and character assassination that is daily fare of the daily grind. Wake Up! Help your employees stand up for themselves, not cowtow to psychotic and narcissistic strategies in the toxic corporate workplace. Stop presenting corporations as trustworthy, ethical places to work. The truth is that success in a corporation actually indicates a psychotic personality.

    • It would seem that our experiences are very different based on what you’ve said. I do acknowledge that there are some businesses that have fairly dysfunctional behaviors but up to this point, again from my experience and that of countless clients, that is more the exception than the rule. My point of view is always about taking responsibility for your actions and your happiness.

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