Deadlines are a very common part of work life. We know we need them in order to achieve certain objectives but how we deliver these deadlines can be the difference in helping to reduce workplace stress, anxiety and depression.
“First coined in the 19th century, the word “deadline” originally described a line around a prison, which, if the prisoners crossed, they would immediately be shot.” – Sherin Sam, Zoho on medium.com.
I’m going to describe what happens when someone sets a deadline, how this can affect the team and what it does for loyalty, trust, respect and productivity as well as the overwhelm experienced by some individuals that can lead to depression. I’ll also show you from a Coaching perspective, how you can avoid this in your organisation.
A business spends £x amount on the best recruitment agencies/process, you show off how great the company is to work for in order to attract the best candidates for the job, you interview, you paint this picture of the perfect company and then, post probation (usually) you suck the life and joy out of the job.
How? There are a number of ways companies ‘get it wrong’ with employees hence the topical conversations surrounding employee engagement but here I’m going to use one very common, subtly aggressive example of how companies do this. It’s part of the push and pull effect. In this instance, the employer does both the pushing and pulling of the employee without any consideration for the employee themselves.
When a project is assigned to a qualified and capable employee in a specific role, the employee accepts the brief and gets on with the task in hand because quite simply, this is what they are employed to do and they like the work they are doing. Once the project is complete, drafts have been received, amendments made and the project has gone live, this is when it’s crucial that employers catch themselves in order not to cause an adverse affect on the hard work the employee has put in.
There are two scenarios at play when setting a deadline and it’s not as simple as setting it and achieving it. A lot more goes into achieving a deadline that employers either often forget or ignore.
Scenario 1 – The Employer (manager etc)
The employer sets the task/project, jumps in here and there checking on the task, the employee keeps up to date and makes sure everything is done to the employer and department specifications, the employer checks-in to see if the deadline can be met, the employee confirms and the deadline is achieved successfully. The employer is happy with this scenario, goals have been met and can go ahead and book their family holiday to Bora Bora (over-inflated example of employer activity for emphasis of next scenario.)
Scenario 2 – The Employee
The project has been given, the deadline put in calendar. No discussion on whether they can achieve the deadline, it is expected.
The employee looks at their calendar, reviews all the other work they need to do and realises that they will have to work most evenings and weekends in order to get the job done in time. But that’s ok, they want the challenges, it will advance their career and will help to facilitate good things for the company.
Once the employee starts the project, all is well, they get the information they need and they are feeling more and more confident and comfortable about achieving the deadline.
Then come the amendments. Any day, any time but they need to be updated so that their boss knows the project is still going to be delivered on time. Again, this is ok, it’s been anticipated and planned for by the employee.
The project is signed off, the deadline has been met and the employee plans an evening of (for example) boozing it up in triumph. They are happy, proud of themselves, confident and loves the company they work for.
The next day, the employee opens up their emails and there are a barrage of ‘opinions’ from the company across all departments/teams including the boss with all said emails cc-ing the boss which equates to increased pressure to amend the project. The joy of the job is firmly diminished. The employee starts to feel worthless, anxiety and stress levels increase, then an overwhelm of serious emotions ensue attributed to the effort they needed to put in to deliver the project as seen below.
The part you don’t see as an employer: Once the project landed, the employee set to organising their daily work tasks in order to accommodate the project and then set to organising their life up until the point of deadline which looks a little like this (I’ve provided a variety of examples as employees are varied):
- Cancels all social activities
- Cancels all gym/fitness classes committed to, morning runs, yoga practice etc in order to afford themselves more time in the day
- Eats badly as they are more stressed and they are not using their usual stress management techniques
- Misses out on key social engagements such as a grandparent’s 90th birthday: this time does not get given back
- Organised that their kid(s) will be with their grandparents every weekend: they miss out on crucial time that they will never get back
- Puts the kid(s) with a childminder after nursery/school as they won’t be home in time, this costs money: they only see their children to put them to bed each day and the mornings are a rush to get to work and childcare in time
- Tension builds in relationships as partners/friends/family feel neglected
- Tensions build with their colleagues due to the work (and home) pressure and others not being compassionate or understanding in the workplace
- Can’t see how they could possibly do more with their personal lives such as start families without risking their careers
- Can’t see how they can hold down a relationship or even afford the time to find a partner
- Chooses not to have any more children
- Parents feel the pressure of achieving the job’s objectives as they need to work to provide, fear they will never get the balance right and have a constant fear of being let go due to their family commitments
- Stress shoots so high, they struggle to manage it
- Depression can start to set in/ is exacerbated
Without the time to reflect/vent/rant/talk (by socialising) this causes individuals to over-analyse, build pressure, they create ‘stories’ in their minds about various situations both in work and in their personal lives and they board the train to self-fulfilling ‘failure’ in some or all of their relationships. They stop listening and only hear what they think they hear which supports the unhealthy scripts in their minds leading to a skewed view of reality. Their perception is unreal.
Of course there are a number of other examples but I think these deliver the point. Employers need to have more compassion surrounding the delivery of deadlines with their employees, the trust in their competence to do the job and to respect their time and effort too. Employers can suck the life out of a job very quickly and very easily. The downward spiral that can affect some employees in these situations is too great not to actively try to do something about it. Simple ways would be to improve communication, allowing the employee to feel that they can ask for more time, say no to certain work and be able to work flexibly so that they don’t need to compromise their personal lives so much. Everything an employee has to give up in order to achieve something at work is another notch in the ‘hate the job/company’ bed post which will lead to higher turnover, disgruntled staff and lower productivity. An environment which nurtures, supports, understands and provides support to employees is more likely to create a successful company not only financially but also culturally.
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