How unrealistic expectations at work affects employee health

Having unrealistic expectations at work is a major source of stress, and it negatively impacts workers’ health and wellbeing. Considering employee input when establishing standards is the number one way to reduce these effects and improve workplace satisfaction. If you don’t monitor performance and adjust accordingly, then you might cause more problems than you solve.

How unrealistic expectations affect health

There are many ways that unrealistic expectations can affect health. They can impact workers on an individual level or the entire team. Here are just some examples of these effects and the issues they cause.

Stress levels

One of the biggest impacts of unrealistic expectations at work is that they increase stress levels. The effect of stress on the body is well-researched and known to cause all sorts of health issues like:

  • Headaches and migraines
  • Immune disorders
  • Chronic muscle tension
  • Shortness of breath
  • Depression
  • Gut health issues (IBS, bloating, nausea, etc.)
  • Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
  • Circulatory system inflammation
  • Fatigue
  • Diabetes
  • Nervous system overload

Workers may experience these issues without even recognizing them as a symptom of stress. If you want to reduce stress, you need to set realistic goals and give your team the resources to reach them.

Safety culture

Upper leadership drives the safety culture within an organization. Sometimes, setting huge goals in areas like customer satisfaction, quality, or productivity can distract from your company’s EHS program.

When you push for greater output, safety may become secondary to the new expectations you’ve set. Suddenly, workers may sacrifice safety to meet your new standards.

Of course, it’s important to set expectations and improve results over time. But if you do this at the expense of safety, then you’ll have different issues down the road.

Attention to detail

When expectations are too high, workers may take shortcuts to meet them. This can cause safety problems by worsening attention to detail and increasing incident rates.

If employees put too much focus on their quota, for example, it often comes at the expense of due diligence. They may stop cleaning as they go, performing critical safety checks, or reporting safety hazards.

The more workers do this, the more the issues compound. Soon enough, too many people are overlooking health and safety risks to meet unrealistic work expectations.

Free template!

Download this free safety perception survey template to create a feedback document for your employees to submit.

Considering employee input

The best way to avoid setting unrealistic expectations at work is to involve workers in the planning process. This means that before you announce new rules or standards, you factor employee input into your decisions.

You can learn a lot by asking workers what their idea of a realistic expectation is. Here are some examples of questions to ask:

  • What concerns would you have if your quota got bumped up to X?
  • What are the most time-consuming tasks you do every week?
  • Do you feel that your coworkers are held to the same expectations as you?
  • How often do you set personal goals for your work performance?
  • Do you think X is a realistic expectation of your job and why or why not?

Asking these questions can help you decide what expectations to set for a team or individual job. If you decide to implement new standards without employee input, make sure you get feedback immediately after rollout. That way, you can quickly adjust or level set before health and safety issues become a major possibility.

Managing expectations effectively

Oftentimes, unrealistic expectations are the result of poor management. You need to understand your team’s strengths and weaknesses to set attainable standards. Here are some ways you can better manage your team, and therefore, your expectations:

  • Schedule and conduct monthly 1:1 meetings with your employees.
  • Create an open feedback loop for employees to communicate their concerns.
  • Adjust expectations according to employee achievement metrics.
  • Avoid making last-minute demands of your workers to fulfill customer needs.
  • Eliminate the feeling of urgency by communicating expectations well in advance.
  • Set concrete expectations and give workers flexibility for achieving them.

Managing expectations effectively requires a preventative mindset. Remember, the goal is to challenge your employees without causing burnout or major stress increases. That’s why you should always be willing to adjust expectations when operational variables change. In that way, you don’t have to chase better metrics at the expense of your team’s wellbeing.