Work can be very demanding. Sometimes, it’s difficult (or impossible) to meet all of the deadlines that we’re given. In these types of situations, people are often advised to talk to their managers and ask for an extension. But according to a recent research study, women are less likely to ask for an extension than men. This was found to be true of all women, regardless of the amount of time they’d been at the job or their level of experience.

Women were more concerned about appearing to be incapable or inadequate. They were also more concerned about inconveniencing others by not getting their part of the project done on time.

This reluctance to negotiate about deadlines can be damaging to the employee. It can cause increased levels of stress, and (if deadlines are missed) negative performance reviews. It can also be damaging to the company. When employees must rush to get things done by a certain date, mistakes are more likely to be made and the quality of the work may drop.

So what can be done to alleviate this problem? Researchers Whillans and Donnelly suggest that management should institute the following policies:

  • If a deadline is flexible, make sure to communicate that to your employees – Maybe you’d like a certain project to be done in a week. But if you know that it would actually be fine if your employees took a couple extra weeks to get it done, make sure they know this. Don’t keep it a secret.
  • Tell your employees that it’s OK to ask for an extension when they need it – Make sure your employees know that you won’t be angry or disappointed if they feel like they need more time on a certain task. Asking for an extension doesn’t indicate that an employee is incompetent or lazy – it means that the employee is dedicated to doing quality work.
  • Create a formal policy that states that employees will not be penalized for asking for an extension – With a formal policy in place, employees will know that they will not be punished if they feel the need to ask for an extension. Researchers found that in companies that had this type of formal policy, there was no longer any difference between the number of women and men who requested extensions.

Whillans, A. & Donnelly, G. (2021, November 1). Women, men and deadlines. The Wall Street Journal, p. R9.