Why Unrealistic Deadlines Lead to a World of Trouble

Published on 26/02/2020


When you set a deadline for a task to be completed, how do you identify a specific time for completion?

Do you simply grab a day or time out of the ether and go with it, or do you think carefully about how and when the task can be done in real terms?

When a task is needed quickly and urgently, it’s very easy to simply say “do this and do it quickly”, but by doing that, you’re not giving your employees the time to actually assess the task properly and approach it in the right way. 

Put simply, rushed and unrealistic deadlines can lead to a whole world of trouble for businesses, not least causing a huge dip on morale if these types of situations occur on a regular basis, over the long-term. 

You see, your employees are not superhuman; they need time to do a task properly and if you want high quality, you need to give them that time. You can’t expect magical results if you give someone an unrealistic timescale!

Let’s look at exactly why giving unrealistic deadlines is asking for trouble and then assess how you can decide on a fairer and more realistic option. 

  • Unrealistic deadlines lead to stress - If you’re sat at your office desk and someone brings you a task and tells you they need it by 5 pm at the latest, it’s stressful. You might have other tasks you need to complete and suddenly they have to be put off until the next day. The whole feeling is one of being overwhelmed and stressed out. When this happens regularly, stress begins to mount and it’s a very dangerous element to add into your office. You will notice that your employees become unhappy and frustrated that their working days are constantly upset by deadlines which are borderline impossible. Over more time, you’ll notice that more employees go off sick with stress because it’s an impossible situation to deal with. 
  • Unrealistic deadlines lead to mistakes - If you’re asking an employee to complete a complex task in a very short amount of time, they’re going to rush in order to hit that deadline. When you rush something, you’re more likely to make mistakes. The result is a low-quality piece of work that probably contains errors. This could easily cause a problem if you have to hand this work over to a manager or if it is being directly distributed to customers. Then, rectifying the mistake is going to take more time still. 
  • Unrealistic deadlines may lead to conflict - In this type of situation, when stress is present, it can be very easy for relationships between colleagues to deteriorate to the point where conflict becomes commonplace. An employee might be questioning why they have been given this unfair deadline when another employee is sat at their designer office chair ticking away the day nicely. It can lead to resentment and when tempers flare, problems occur. Over time, you’re going to have an office full of very unhappy workers

How to Set Fair Deadlines 

If you want to avoid all the problems above and ensure that office morale remains high, you need to set realistic deadlines when giving an employee a task to be done. If the task is urgent, make that clear, but also ensure that you give them enough time to complete it in the right way.

Firstly, think about the task and how it needs to be done and attach a realistic amount of time to it. If a task generally takes two hours to complete, don’t expect them to do it an hour! Give them the two hours and by allowing them the right amount of time to complete the task, the final product will be high quality, free of mistakes, and your employee will be far less stressed as a result. 

Unrealistic deadlines are one of the biggest reasons for workplace stress and low morale, but they can easily be rectified by thinking in a realistic and fair way. 

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