It's a situation I've heard discussed several times. Let's say some factory workers make 300 widgets a week. There's a big product release next week and they need to have 1000 widgets ready. So the workers double down, skip lunch, pull all-nighters and manage to get 1000 widgets made in a week. The bosses now expect the workers to produce 1000 widgets every week.

Is there a name for this phenomenon?

  • Aside from "time to start sending out your resume" I can't think of anything. ;)
    – Kingrames
    Jul 10, 2015 at 15:00
  • Unsustainable as an adjective comes to mind. Doesn't describe the whole concept though.
    – maxwell
    Jul 10, 2015 at 15:32
  • the word "sprinting" comes to mind?
    – Sun
    Jul 10, 2015 at 15:54
  • 2
    The term Stakhanovite has historical resonance, as it describes a movement under Stalin to make the John Henry–like productivity of a coal miner a standard for all coal miners to try to match—and workers in all parts of the economy to emulate. Predictably, the movement was a huge success: In 1935, Stakhanov had reportedly mined 102 tons of coal during a six-hour shift; but in 1936 another miner beat that mark with 607 tons of coal mined in one shift. Imagine how either of these guys would have fared in a hot-dog eating contest.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jul 10, 2015 at 17:25

6 Answers 6


"Making a rod for your own back."

To do something that is likely to cause problems for you in the future.

"People say that if you let your baby sleep in your bed with you for the first few months, you're just making a rod for your own back."


You can alternatively say "Making a stick for your own back."

This phrase is not exclusive to the circumstances that you have outlined in which one raises another's expectations to one's own detriment, but would certainly be suitable for such an occurence. Indeed, the example quote from thefreedictionary.com does describe such a situation.


This is called setting unrealistic expectations. That's the phrase to search for, it's practically idiomatic. ngram


I think the concept you are describing refers to what in economics is generally referred to as economy of scales where an increase in production can be achieved without increasing fixed cost but only variable costs:

Economies of scale:

  • The cost advantage that arises with increased output of a product. Economies of scale arise because of the inverse relationship between the quantity produced and per-unit fixed costs; i.e. the greater the quantity of a good produced, the lower the per-unit fixed cost because these costs are shared over a larger number of goods. Economies of scale may also reduce variable costs per unit because of operational efficiencies and synergies. Economies of scale can be classified into two main types: Internal – arising from within the company; and External – arising from extraneous factors such as industry size.



rebaseline comes to mind.

Since the bosses now expect the workers to produce 1000 widgets every week instead of the baselined target of 300 widgets.

  • transitive, business, to provide (a project etc.) with a new baseline. (wiki)

I think that's too large and nuanced a concept for one word or phrase to encompass, but there may be appropriate phrases for parts of it that you may find useful. (Besides the obvious expletive powered ones!)

First off, doing more than you needed to is called overachieving. One specific act of overachievement can be said to be going above and beyond.

Being tasked with more than you can actually deliver is to be overstretched, while working right up until you're exhausted is to be stretched thin.

When something is unique, and unlikely to be repeated, it's referred to as a one-off.

Doing something detrimental to yourself, intentionally or otherwise is shooting yourself in the foot.

When you set out to do one thing, but another detrimental thing happens instead, you can say that the venture backfired

Being forced to choose between two equally bad outcomes is to be damned if you do, and damned is you don't. The actually choice it's self is a dilemma.

When an employer makes unreasonable demands, you can say that they're turning the screws, illustrating the act by referring to an old torture device: the thumbscrew. The interesting parallel here is that the thumbscrews were turned incrementally, slowly crushing the victim's fingers.

To take on something that you can't really deliver is to bite off more than you can chew.

Working overtime is often called crunching or cramming, both bringing to mind the act of smashing right up into a deadline.

To begin a heavy effort activity in earnest can be indicated by rolling up your sleeves.

Committing to the new schedule is a foolish act. It's an act of folly. It is overoptimistic, unsustainable and doomed.

There's also an element of learning the wrong lesson here, which is where someone makes the wrong conclusions from observing an experience.

Making bad management decisions is just mismanagement.

So in conversation we could cherry pick and try something like:

Rolling up their sleeves to crunch for a week and double output backfired for a groups of employees whose bosses then turned the screws and foolishly expected the same going forward.

Or maybe:

One surprisingly common act of mismanagement is dooming your workforce to meeting their stretched thin overachieving one-off performance the rest of the time. Employees that shoot themselves in the foot this way are then incentivized to underperform and lower expectations instead, benefiting no one.


On reading the situation you have described the word that strikes me most is "OVERESTIMATE"/ " OVERESTIMATION" - A feat not achievable under normal conditions.

If we are allowed borrow a phrase from the field of literature the situation may be termed as "Impossible probability"

To be prosaic, the expectation is 'far-fetched, wild and impractical', French term of 'abracadabrant'.

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