Studies have shown that managers with unrealistic expectations are a key cause of stress for employees — and that stress can lead to lower morale, lower productivity, and more turnover. Unrealistic expectations can even make people sick: According to one study, a bad boss can boost an employee’s risk of heart attack or other cardiac conditions by as much as 60 percent!
If you’re dealing with an unfairly demanding boss, know that you’re not alone — and that there are steps you can take to change the dynamic for the better. Here are five key actions you can start with today:
1. Consider Whether the Task Is Really Unrealistic
Some bosses really do go over the top with their demands — but sometimes, a request only seems unrealistic because the boss sees a clear path to achieving the goal that we ourselves do not see. While you think something may not be feasible, your boss may know better.
Rather than getting immediately stressed by a boss’s seemingly unrealistic request, take a moment to consider the alternatives. Perhaps you’re simply underestimating yourself, or maybe the boss is assigning this task outside your comfort zone to help you enhance your skill set (which is usually a good thing!). While you may feel overwhelmed, you might find that pushing yourself to meet the demand helps you reach your full potential.
On the other hand, if your boss continues to push and push, they might actually have unrealistic expectations. If you conclude that your boss really has given you an impossible task, arrange a meeting so you can chat about the issue.
You can reduce your anxiety before the meeting by writing down what you plan to say. You should also try to brainstorm some concrete action steps that would help you complete the project successfully. Approaching your boss with a plan typically goes over better than just claiming a task is impossible — which brings us to the next point.
2. Find Positive Solutions
Employers want to see results. They’re less concerned with how you’re feeling and far more concerned with making sure the work gets done. Instead of simply explaining why you can’t finish a project the way the boss wants, present your concerns and explain what resources you would need to make sure it gets done.
Show your motivation to deliver results by offering a solution to the problem as soon as you’ve pointed it out. For example, if the boss has asked you to complete a project in a day that would actually take a week, explain that you need more time to gather the information you will need to accomplish the task. Likewise, if you would need some helping hands or space to put some less important projects on hold, make that known.
Once you have everything you need to get the work done, hunker down and deliver. Doing a great job will prove you’re a valuable asset to the company, and not just someone who complains for the sake of it.
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3. Consider Why Your Boss Might Be So Demanding
If your boss is insisting you get things done in an unrealistic way, there’s probably a reason. Is it a personality issue, or is your boss dealing with their own pressure from higher up? Maybe they’re just testing to see if you’re ready for a promotion — if you suspect that’s the case, you’d better be on your toes!
Understanding your boss’s point of view can help you navigate the situation more successfully. Ask for clarification about the specifics and context of the project — just be sure to phrase your questions in a proactive and productive way. For example:
• What is the specific end goal of this project?
• What challenges or roadblocks should I be aware of?
• Do we have any resources from past projects that would help keep this project ahead of the deadline?
Be sensitive to your boss’s perspective, but also be honest when the occasion calls for it.
4. Seek Advice From Colleagues
If you’re having a hard time dealing with your boss’s unrealistic expectations, chances are you aren’t alone. Ask around to find out if any of your coworkers have tips on how you can handle your boss and workload.
Even if you, and you alone, are in charge of getting your work done, you can still turn to your colleagues for help — especially those who have more experience. Learn the company culture and how other people have worked successfully with your boss. This information will help you find ways of getting work done without pulling your hair out.
That said, be cautious when talking with coworkers. Watch how you word things in case the conversation gets back to your boss. It’s vital not to come across as someone who gossips or complains.
5. Prioritize Work/Life Balance
When your boss has unrealistic expectations, you will have to work extra hard to find a balance for both yourself and your boss. Taking care of yourself is imperative — not just for your own well-being, but for your performance as an employee. If you get burned out, you won’t be able to perform to the best of your ability, and that’s not good for you or your boss.
Here are a few ways you can strive to find a better work/life balance, even with a demanding boss:
• Try talking to your boss about an issue as soon as possible, as opposed to letting it build. Effective — and early — communication is often key to avoiding crises.
• Take some time every night before bed to unwind by doing something you love, such as reading a good book.
• Don’t get so preoccupied with work that you forget to spend time with friends and family.
• Eat healthy foods and spend time outdoors doing activities you find enjoyable and relaxing.
Some bosses believe the only thing that matters is getting results, no matter what it takes. Do your best to manage your boss’s unrealistic expectations by communicating clearly, offering solutions, and providing results. Show that you’re committed to delivering value within realistic frameworks. Your hard work will pay off. You’ll impress your boss, stay sane, and pave the way to a more peaceful and enjoyable career.
Angus Flynn has five years of property management experience. He leads the team at Talaria Burbank.