Personal Growth

This New Study Busts a Myth About Deadlines

Imagine this common workplace dilemma: A deadline is looming but it's going to be a struggle to get the work done on time. Do you rush to finish the project by the deadline, burning yourself out and likely producing work that's less than your best, or do you ask your boss for an extension, tagging yourself as a slacker? It's an unpalatable choice, but happily, according to a new study out of Harvard, it's one you actually don't have to make at all.

Need an Extension? Just Ask

How does the new research help get you out of this bind? The researchers discovered that while most people expect their bosses to react negatively to a request for an extension, managers not only give employees more time in an incredible 95 percent of cases, but they also don't negatively judge those that ask to push back deadlines.

As the research team explained on the Harvard Business Review, across a series of 10 studies involving 10,000 workers, they found "employees — especially female employees — worried that by asking for a deadline extension, their managers would think they were incompetent and unmotivated. But in contrast to employees' predictions, managers judged both male and female employees who asked for an extension as more motivated than those who did not. Managers did not see employees as less competent unless employees asked for an extension on a very urgent assignment."

Women, they go on to say, often feel less secure at work and more in danger of being seen as uncommitted to their jobs. This makes them more reluctant to ask for extra time. But the studies showed that, unless an employee is chronically late, bosses view extension requests from men and women equally positively.

In light of these results, that tough work dilemma no longer looks tough at all. Unless you know that the task is incredibly urgent for your boss or have a history of missing deadlines, asking for more time is all upside. You'll look mature and motivated, avoid stress, and probably hand in better work thanks to the additional breathing room. So go ahead and ask for the time you need.

Managers Should Spread the Message

While the main takeaway from the researchers is that employees should be less shy about asking for deadline extensions, the authors also note that managers could do a better job of explaining to their people that asking for more time when you need it is a good thing and won't be looked down on.

"When assigning tasks, managers should clearly communicate deadline expectations and whether or not it is adjustable," advise the study authors. They also say bosses should be more transparent about how often they both grant extensions and ask for extensions themselves so employees will understand that being realistic in managing your time isn't a mark of shame within the organization.

Get stories like this one in your inbox or your headphones: Sign up for our daily email and subscribe to the Curiosity Daily podcast.

The Harvard Business Review is bursting with good workplace advice. For the best of the best, check out HBR's 10 Must Reads Boxed Set. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Jessica Stillman April 29, 2019

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.