This right here. I have seen this so many times over the years, and it really does lead to having an environment in which people do not have psychological safety.
“One of the contributors to a loss in trust and increased cynicism is what’s known as ‘shifting goalposts’. As we struggle to meet demands (both at work and at home), it is vital for employees to understand what those demands involve, to develop goals for delivering and meeting expectations, and to feel a sense of relief, fulfillment, and pride when that task is completed and submitted. Shifting goalposts occur when expectations and agreed-upon goals are changed and increased to include more work or different expectations than agreed upon and are often seen just as the goal was about to be reached or delivered. This inconsistency is perceived as injustice and makes one’s efforts feel futile and not valued.”
The interesting thing to think about is not just in regards to your own managers. This extends out to clients, partners, customers, etc. When they are allowed to constantly shift the goalposts and your response to your employees on the front lines of those relationships is “eh, you know how they are”, consider the fact that you are not keeping them safe. It’s not just an irritation, it’s creating an environment that is not psychologically safe for them. It is doing harm.
This gets old, and as the quote above says, it contributes to a loss of trust and cynicism. It might also lead to a ton of burnout too.