unrealistic goals

Are You Setting Unrealistic Goals At Work? 5 Tips To Avoid Them

Setting goals is a crucial part of motivating teams and managers. When your goals are set, it is easier to stay focused on them and make progress toward your ultimate goal.

However, setting unrealistic or not well-researched goals can be detrimental to work performance and can also cause harm to the individual. That’s why setting goals that align with one’sone’s goals and abilities are of utmost importance. This blog explains what unrealistic goals are and how individuals can put them at work without getting burnt out or demotivated.

Unrealistic goals are goals that are not achievable, doable, or practical. Generally, these goals set higher standards than the individual or team can reach. They can be expensive and time-consuming, leading to feelings of frustration and despair when the failure occurs.

They can also force individuals to work hard and strive for success even when they know failure is possible. It can cause them to lose sight of the goal or why they are working so hard. Setting unrealistic goals is incredibly unhealthy for managers, as constantly not meeting expectations puts them on the brink of existential crises. This type of goal setting can prevent people from developing a healthy perspective on their goals and achievements. In essence, it can lead to burnout and demotivation in team members.

On the other hand, stretch goals are highly ambitious goals that require a level of dedication beyond what an individual usually puts in. These goals can keep team members motivated and focused on their larger objectives, regardless of whether they fail or succeed. Read more about stretch goals here to know the difference.

Read more: 5 Secrets Of Solid Goal Setting At Work You Can’t Miss

Unrealistic goal checklist

Unrealistic goals are goals that are not attainable, doable, or practical. These goals are set by individuals or teams with unrealistic expectations of their abilities and potential. They set overly ambitious, unrealistic goals, and frequently impossible to meet. Such goals force you to work harder than ever to achieve them but ultimately lead to frustration and failure. If your goals look like the below checklist, they might need a reality check:

  • They are set at an unprecedented height
  • You are too stretched to take care of everything
  • The goals do not motivate you
Setting goals based on an individual’sindividual’s or team’steam’s potential and available resources is essential. Setting achievable, practical goals within an individual’s or team’s capabilities will help ensure success. In addition, consistent goal-setting will help team members stay focused and achieve their goals over time.

Examples of unrealistic goals

Unrealistic goals are goals that are not attainable, doable, or practical. They can be expensive, illogical, and time-consuming. In short, unrealistic goals require an unrealistic level of dedication and commitment from individuals and teams. It leads to frustration, disappointment, and even burnout for those setting them. Some unrealistic goals at work can look like this:

  • Setting an unrealistic target for a team without providing adequate resources or training: A manager asks the team to revise the sales target from 1500 to 2500.
  • Expecting employees to work 80+ hours a week without adequate compensation or time off: A manager asks team members to put in additional hours during peak season as they have onboarded too many clients.
  • Implementing a new software system or process without proper training or testing and expecting employees to immediately adapt and excel at it: A manager changes the client management system used by the team. However, the team is unable to understand the new system without training. Although they are supposed to carry on work, their productivity drops due to constant confusion and errors.
  • Promising unrealistic career progression or advancement opportunities without providing a clear path or the necessary skills and experience: A manager terminates training programs for new hires at three months. However, the trainees cannot learn every aspect of their job in this period. 
  • Setting unrealistic deadlines for projects without considering the time required for planning, coordination, and execution: A manager asks their team to hire five specialists in a week even though the team is occupied with other tasks. 

Can unrealistic goals be helpful?

Unrealistic goals can be helpful for individuals who are afraid of failure. By setting goals that are unrealistic, you are pushing yourself to work harder than ever for success. They help you overcome your fear of failure and gain confidence in your abilities. It also forces you to work hard, allowing you to learn from your mistakes and improve. Unrealistic goals help people find purpose by challenging them to take risks, strive for success, and learn from their mistakes. However, setting unrealistic goals can lead to anxiety and overthinking too. Hence, it is best to be self-aware about your capacity while setting goals.

Read more: 4 Effective Ways To Overcome Failure As A Manager

Challenging vs. unrealistic goal

A challenging goal pushes your boundaries and makes you achieve what you previously thought was impossible. An unrealistic goal is wishful or unrealistic, such as when someone sets a goal that they cannot attain. A realistic goal is something that is practical and achievable. Setting unrealistic goals leads to disappointment and frustration if not met. Instead, develop realistic goals that are within reach, such as achieving a specific work output or task completion each month. By setting goals realistically, you will increase your chances of success.

Read more: Unrealistic Goals vs. Stretch Goals: The Fine Line

High ambition

Managers often set goals that are unrealistic due to a lack of resources, personnel, or know-how but an abundance of ambition. Despite this, many managers set goals that are challenging for the entire team. Unrealistic goals make managers believe they can push the fear of failure aside and embrace inevitable failures as learning experiences. But instead, setting such unrealistic goals can push their teams towards burnout instead of success.

Unaware of environment

Managers set unrealistic goals if they are unaware of their work environment and plans. If a goal is set in an idealistic setting, it means that it will be either too high or too difficult to achieve. For instance, given the current business and market conditions, if a goal is set for doubling revenue in six months, the goal may be unattainably high or unrealistic. To avoid this dissatisfaction with goals set in such a utopian setting, it’s vital to assess goals carefully to determine if they are attainable and adjust them as necessary. Instead of setting goals based on desired results, focusing on what can be achieved in your situation with your resources is better.

Poor performance reviews

Over-optimism, unrealistic goals, and poor performance reviews all play a role in goal setting. Overoptimism can lead to setting unrealistic goals, which can have adverse effects later on, as seen in disappointing performance reviews. When managers do not take previous performance reviews into account properly while formulating goals for the next period, they end up setting unrealistic goals.

Moreover, managers can set unrealistic goals if the performance reviews are not conducted properly, thus sharing a false picture. Remembering that a team’s or individual team members’ growth cannot rise manifold overnight is critical. Instead, they will need incremental goals set over the long term to keep them moving. Without paying adequate attention to this point, managers create plans that are impossible to achieve given the team’s environment and expertise.

Lack of knowledge of team competencies

Setting unrealistic goals can be a costly and ineffective use of resources if team competencies are not adequately assessed. While aiming for high goals is admirable, evaluating whether the goal is achievable is important due to the team’steam’s available resources and personnel. If team members struggle to reach an unrealistic goal, this can lead to disappointment and frustration. Instead, setting realistic goals can help team members become familiar with failure as they work toward achieving their goals.

In addition, the goal-setting stage of a project or performance should encourage collaboration and foster a sense of shared purpose within the team. While setting unrealistic goals may feel productive in the short term, their effects ultimately backfire and lead to sub-optimal decision-making and performance over time, as teams would be spread too thin to overcome challenges beyond their capacity.

Burnout and existential crises

Setting unrealistic goals can lead to burnout and existential crises in individuals due to the inability to meet desired results. As a result, setting unrealistic goals can cause missed deadlines, reduced quality of work, and the overall demoralization of employees. To avoid this issue, it is important to set goals that are realistic and within a person’s ability. Setting goals that are too ambitious or impossible can lead to emotional exhaustion, decreased productivity, and a feeling of futility. It poses a severe threat to an individual’s health and well-being. Moreover, setting unrealistic goals can also cause employees to lose focus, become disenchanted, and lack the motivation to complete tasks.

Overwhelmed workforce

Setting unrealistic goals for a team can seriously impact its productivity. Employees who are overworked and stressed out may be unable to complete tasks on time or with the required quality. As a result, it can lead to increased costs and lost revenue for the team. Additionally, unrealistic goals may result in employees being overwhelmed and under-motivated. Meanwhile, it decreases productivity and causes continued losses for the team.

Unrealistic goals may also result in an overrun of costs, which can further add to the burden of the workforce. Therefore, instead of setting goals that are realistic for a team, leaders must set clear targets that are achievable but challenging. This way, employees can focus on their work without feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of achieving unrealistic goals. In such scenarios, even the managers might find themselves doing a lot of firefighting and taking up additional burdens to achieve team goals.

Read more: 6 Ways To Help Overwhelmed Employees On Your Team Jump Back


Setting goals that are too high can lead to a range of problems. Setting goals that are unrealistic can lead to demotivation and a loss of motivation. If you set goals that are too high, it can be easy to lose sight of your objectives and goals. It causes a lack of success and confidence in yourself as a manager or employee. Instead, set goals that challenge but are still achievable. Setting unachievable goals might push you to do more initially, but it can cause lead to a feeling of never achieving anything. When teams chase unrealistic goals, rewarding and recognizing good performers is hard.

Read more: Fueling success: The importance of employee motivation in the workplace

Higher stress and tensions

Setting unrealistic goals can lead to an increase in stress levels. When setting goals at work, it is important to set reasonable goals that are achievable and realistic. It will help you avoid the stress of constantly pushing yourself to achieve them. Long-term effects of stress can cause sleep deprivation and other health issues. Therefore, taking steps to reduce workplace stress and be thoughtful about your goals is vital. An excellent goal-setting practice is to set SMART goals. By selecting these goals, you ensure you will work towards something measurable and realistic. However, qualitative goals such as “I want to be better” or “I want to work harder” are impractical.

Read more: 7 Effective Ways To Manage Stress At Work For Managers

Team members leave

Setting unrealistic goals can lead to team members leaving. Unachievable goals can cause burnout, boredom, and quitting, which can result in team members going. To prevent this from happening, goals should be achievable and account for any personal weaknesses or pitfalls. By setting realistic goals, it is possible to prevent team members from leaving. Expanding the timeline, establishing outcomes and action steps, and making work easy and fun can help make goals achievable and avoid team members leaving. When setting unrealistic goals, it is essential to remember that turnover is a natural reaction to unrealistic expectations. Otherwise, team members might take the path of quiet quitting too.

Too often, we set goals for ourselves that are unrealistic or unachievable. To avoid setting unrealistic goals, you need to assess your goals carefully and determine if they are achievable. Start by looking at your goal in terms of the desired outcome. Is it specific and detailed? Also, consider the goal’sgoal’s timeline, how much effort you’re willing to invest, and how much support you’d like to receive. With this information in hand, it’s easier to set meaningful and attainable goals.

Review your previous goals and performance

To avoid setting unrealistic goals at work, it’s crucial to regularly measure performance and evaluate plans and results. A goal-setting process must be realistic, fair, and sustainable. It must be based on an understanding of the team and its goals as well as the goals of individual teams and individuals. Setting challenging but achievable goals is vital for success, and data helps that do best.

Design milestones

Setting goals is essential to achieving success in work and life. However, setting unrealistic goals can lead to frustration, disappointment, and eventual failure. It is crucial to set goals that are realistic based on the resources and time available. A plan should be clearly defined from the start, so there are no surprises or missed deadlines. It is important not to rush toward results immediately and focus on long-term success. Instead, milestones that track progress along the larger objective over smaller units of time. For instance, if you aim to finish research for an upcoming project over the next month, you can set milestones to reach every week.

Follow the SMART terminology

Setting SMART goals at work is vital to ensuring your goals are realistic and achievable. SMART goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. For example, setting a goal to increase sales gives no clarity. But setting a goal to increase sales by 20% over the next quarter makes much more sense.

To ensure that your goals are reasonable and achievable, set goals that are balanced between short and long-term goals. By setting both short and long-term goals, you create a timeline for achieving your objective that is realistic and manageable.

You can check out the various goal-setting frameworks here to know more: Top 9 Goal-Setting Frameworks Every Team Manager Must Know

Setting goals is vital for any team. And setting goals for your team is even more important. However, setting goals that are unrealistic or too ambitious can set the tone for trouble. To set goals that work for you and your team, it’s essential to first set goals based on real-world data and experience. With the above tips in mind, we hope you will ace goal-setting with your team.

Are you afraid your goals might be unrealistic too?

Identify errors now with Risely’s goal-setting assessment for managers

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