The hidden risks of unrealistic expectations in the workplace

The hidden risks of unrealistic expectations in the workplace

Do you often find yourself setting unrealistic expectations for your staff?

Perhaps you set impossible deadlines? You may ask for unachievable results? Or do you expect employees to complete projects with a limited team, or inadequate budget?

Whilst you may think that setting super-ambitious goals can help your team achieve more than if a much lower target was set, it may in reality have a far-reaching effect on your employees and your overall business success.

Short-term ramifications of setting unrealistic expectations

Setting goals which push staff to achieve their best can lead to very positive results. On the other hand, setting unrealistic goals can have a negative impact on employees and the business. Here are some of the effects that may occur in the short-term:

  • Missed delivery dates – Setting unrealistic expectations means that it’s increasingly unlikely that your team will be able to achieve them. If your team regularly misses targets, this could lead to questions raised from your own manager, asking why your team are underachieving.
  • Reduced work quality – To achieve unrealistic expectations, employees may be forced to rush work, cut corners and not take proper care. This can lead to mistakes and poor quality outcomes.
  • Overrunning costs – If you set your budget based on unrealistic expectations, you may be surprised when project costs overrun. If your deadline is also unrealistic, staff may need to spend longer on the project and work overtime, which all adds to your overall cost.
  • Increase in absenteeism – If expectations of employees are too high, this could lead to them taking time off work for stress related illnesses. This only increases the pressure, as the rest of your team will need to meet your unrealistic expectations with one less pair of hands.

Long-term consequences of setting unrealistic expectations

Setting unrealistic expectations can also impact your business in the long-term too. Here are some of the long-lasting effects to consider:

  • Low staff morale – Staff often get a buzz from hitting their targets. However, if that goal is constantly unrealistic, employees can feel like they’re not achieving. This can impact self-esteem, motivation, and productivity, which can damage your bottom-line.
  • Staff may aim lower – If targets are regularly set too high, staff will constantly fail to meet them. Over time, this failure can almost become accepted. As a result, staff may no longer try their absolute hardest, even if targets are lowered. This can have a detrimental effect on all future projects.
  • Lose respect – Staff want to feel like they’re achieving their targets but are instead constantly being set up for failure. So, if you keep asking for the impossible, you can quickly lose the respect of your whole team.
  • Higher staff turnover – If staff feel like they can never, and will never, be able to meet your unrealistic expectations, they may feel like their only option is to resign. Not only do you lose valuable knowledge and expertise, there’s even more chance that the remainder of your team will begin to exit your company.

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How to avoid setting unrealistic expectations

As you can see, setting unrealistic expectations for staff can have serious ramifications. It can not only effect employees themselves, but also the business and ultimately its success. It’s therefore important for this behaviour to stop. Make a change now by following these 6 steps:

  1. Recognise the issues – The first step is realising that you set unrealistic expectations. Review previous projects, or ask your team if they think your targets are fair or unobtainable.
  2. Think before setting expectations – Just because you want something to be completed within a month, doesn’t mean it can be completed in that timeframe. Take a step back and consider the amount of work required and what resources you have available, before setting a deadline. This also applies to expectations that are being pushed on you from above too.
  3. Clearly define requirements – Whilst deadlines may at first seem reasonable, these can quickly become unrealistic if more requirements are added. To avoid any surprises or missed deadlines, clearly outline requirements and targets right from the start.
  4. Use your employee’s experience – Instead of relying on guesswork, speak to your team about how long they think a project will take and what resources will be needed. You may even find that if they are involved in setting deadlines and budgets, they will be more committed to meeting them.
  5. Re-estimate – If you realise you’re not going to make a certain deadline, don’t just let staff struggle. Discuss with staff how much longer they need and reset your deadlines. This will give employees something more realistic and achievable to aim for.
  6. Support your staff – Instead of setting expectations and then putting increased pressure on staff to perform, try supporting your team as much as possible to help them achieve the best they can. Remember that the best leaders don’t manage; they lead!

What do you do to ensure you don’t set staff unrealistic expectations? Share your suggestions and experiences with us in the comment box below.

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