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by Rob Porter | April 11, 2024


Certain management styles can lead to increased employee stress and frustration. Most commonly, management might create situations in which employees feel rushed or confused over their priorities and deadlines. This might stir up a false sense of urgency, which can cause all kinds of problems for the team. Here are some red flags to watch out for, along with some strategies you can use to dispel that pesky false urgency.


We’ve covered this toxic trait in the past, and it can be extremely frustrating for people who just want to get their work done. A leader who micromanages their team will absolutely destroy the trust between themselves and their team. Employees who are constantly being micromanaged will also feel pressured to work faster and complete their tasks right away. Not surprisingly, this false sense of urgency can lead to sloppy work, mistakes, and failed projects.

Lack of Priorities

A good boss knows which tasks are most important, and which ones can be put on the backburner. They’ll often help you prioritize your work so important tasks are completed in a timely fashion, and so you’re not wasting time working on low-priority tasks. When a leader tells you that every task needs to be done “right now,” in nearly all cases they’re just creating busywork for you. In this scenario, you’ll be held responsible if you “accidentally” left a high-priority task for last, and that’s not fair.

Phantom Deadlines

You might have heard this before: “Get that done right away, please.” This type of direction can only lead to problems, as not only does it create another false sense of urgency, but it’s also unclear. What exactly does “right away” mean? In the absence of clear deadlines, employees will rush through their tasks to meet their boss’ demands. In certain cases, the deadline could move suddenly, multiple times even, which is confusing and frustrating. All of this can lead to errors, stress, low morale, and burnout.

So, how shall we deal with busywork and fake urgency? Well, you could spend countless hours developing nerves of steel as you deal with being micromanaged through confusing tasks and ever-changing deadlines, but by doing this you’ll run the risk of burning yourself out and becoming disillusioned with your work. Worse yet, it could lead to serious mental health issues. The best way to deal with busywork and fake urgency is to take a more thoughtful approach.

Increase Your Awareness

The first thing you want to do is learn to determine whether or not your boss is actually creating a false sense of urgency or handing you busywork. The possibility exists that a sudden and tight deadline could be the result of a rush to catch up to a competitor, or a miscommunication from upper management. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s unreasonable to feel stressed or frustrated, but it does mean that your boss isn’t necessarily to blame for it.

The bottom line is when it comes to identifying fake urgency, we’re looking for patterns. There will be times when there is a real sense of urgency at work, but if your boss is constantly pressuring you to complete tasks “right away” or moving deadlines around, that’s when it becomes a problem. It’s important to have clear direction and priorities, and if your boss isn’t providing either, it’s up to you to take the initiative. This leads us to our next strategy.

Set Priorities

In the absence of established priorities, chaos ensues. If your boss hasn’t provided a clear deadline or a prioritized list of tasks for you and your team, the first thing you should do is ask for clarification. This can be as simple as knocking on your boss’ door and asking. You may also send an email or a message if you feel more comfortable going that route. Remember, it’s quite possible that your boss simply forgot to provide certain details, so don’t automatically assume that you’re on the receiving end of false urgency unless it becomes a pattern.

When it comes to changing deadlines and new “urgent” tasks, the same philosophy applies—ask your boss questions that will help you gather more information. For instance, you might ask “With the tighter deadline, should this task be my number one priority?” or “Is [New Task] more urgent than [Current Task]?” For any team to succeed, good communication is key. By taking the initiative and communicating with your boss, you may contribute to improved communication in the future.

Be Proactive

Taking things a step further, you could suggest some solutions to your boss. There are plenty of project management platforms out there that you can take advantage of if it’s becoming too difficult to keep track of tasks and deadlines. Since you’re taking the initiative with this…ehem…initiative, you could even volunteer to run the project management platform so your boss can focus on their own tasks. Here, you’ll want to have regular conversations with your boss to ensure that all tasks and deadlines are current and accurate.

If for some reason a project management platform won’t work, you could also ask your boss to be the point person for tasks and deadlines for your team. Your boss may see this as an opportunity to save their own time and energy, and if you’ve proven yourself as a capable and reliable employee, there’s a good chance your boss will take you up on your offer. In any case, solutions such as these may help to curb micromanagement and the incessant talk of urgency.

Keep in mind that while these strategies may not completely reverse any bad habits your boss might have, they will lessen the effects of busywork and fake urgency. If you’re as cool as a cucumber in tough situations, one of the best things you can do is support your team. If you gain clarity on a task or deadline from your boss share the information with your team, and if you see someone stressing over a task or a deadline, reassure them or provide assistance if you’re able to. It may sound cliché but being that pillar of support can and will elevate the rest of the team, and your boss will be impressed with your ability to take the initiative.