With no clear understanding of their role, an employee could end up being more disruptive than constructive. Just like every component of a well-oiled machine has a specific purpose, employees of a well-run organization need to understand their purpose and be equipped to function as a critical component of their team and overall organization.
This article explains why setting clear employee expectations is necessary to ensure that employees are aligned with organization goals. It explains when to communicate expectations and why the process is not the same as performance management, although it does require agreement on performance goals.
A Gallup study found that nearly half of all U.S. employees don't know what's expected of them at work. That’s a lot of confused and probably unproductive people. What’s more, employees who don’t understand what’s expected are likely to be less engaged.
Feeling lost and ineffective at work is not a pleasant feeling for anyone, and it certainly won’t improve team productivity. So, it’s incumbent upon an organization and its leaders to clearly communicate to an employee their role and what is expected of them.
Some common employee expectations are the following:
Holding oneself accountable for responsibilities and duties
Completing work within a timeframe
Being a positive influence on others
Participating in team projects
Adhering to company values, policies, and rules
Handling work conflict in a professional manner
These are common expectations typically assumed and often laid out in a job description. But how does an organization communicate more role-specific expectations that motivate an employee to perform at their best?
Ensuring that expectations are consistently met requires regular discussions between employees and their supervisors, including reviewing performance contributions, setting attainable short-, mid-, and long-term goals, and empowering employees to achieve those expectations through professional development opportunities.
That sounds a lot like a performance appraisal, but there are key differences between the performance management process and setting expectations.
Performance management and performance appraisals—where an employee’s performance is assessed and a plan for professional development is created—sets expectations in an overall sense. It focuses on the employee’s overall growth rather than on more micro-level behavior.
For example, if an employee works with clients, there may be certain expectations about how the client is treated, protocols to follow, and legal requirements to adhere to. These are not necessarily things that would be discussed in a performance review unless they are ignored, but they are things that an employee needs to know at the outset to prevent calamities.
Other examples of expectations include how employees should represent the company image, how to manage vendor relationships, what level of knowledge they need of products or services and company policies and performance, how to ensure safety in the workplace, and even how they use social media.
Related: “How to Lead a Performance Review”
When setting expectations for employees, organizations must also respect their end of the bargain and clearly communicate how they will meet the expectations of their employees. For example, the following are minimum expectations that employees should anticipate from their employer, which are required by law.
Proper training, support, and leadership
Timely and accurate payment of wages
·A safe working environment
Full disclosure of the job responsibilities, company policies, and procedures
Regular performance feedback from supervisors or managers
Other nice-to-haves are:
Access to resources needed to perform tasks
Fair and consistent application of policies (e.g., performance, discipline, conduct) across the organization
Credit for work achievements
If an employer makes no effort to meet the expectations of its workers, it is unreasonable to expect them to reciprocate.
In addition to the expectations between employer and employee, there are also expectations that team members will have for each other. For example, respect each other, be courteous and sensitive to everyone's needs and concerns, be accountable for your work, be flexible about job and task assignments, be willing to help, respect safety rules, be open to constructive feedback, be willing to share ideas for improvement, and be cheerful, positive, and encouraging to other team members.
The process of setting expectations should start during the hiring and interview process. A candidate needs to know what the expectations are to decide whether the job is the right one for them.
If expectations are clearly laid out during the interview process, it may save everybody time and money. That said, the subject of expectations should also be addressed during the onboarding process for new hires.
Decide what the performance expectations are for an employee. Remember, they must be achievable, measurable, and time-bound.
Set benchmarks for short, mid, and long-term goals
Clearly communicate to the new employee the importance of their role and how their responsibilities will impact the organization and their specific team and department.
Be specific and clear about how performance with regard to the expectations will be measured.
Explain what tools and resources the employee will use to fulfill the expectations, including training and professional development.
Give the employee an opportunity to ask questions and clarify any unclear points.
Everything should be communicated both verbally and in writing.
To learn about professional development programs for employees, read “Building a Professional Development Plan”
In addition to formal onboarding, ongoing communication regarding expectations is necessary because the workplace is fluid. As priorities and projects change, so will the short and mid-term expectations. Weekly one-on-ones, or less frequent check-ins if that would suffice, give both employees and managers an opportunity to ensure they are still in alignment.
Most employees don’t like to be micro-managed, but they do appreciate feedback and guidance to stay on track with old and new projects. A Gallup study found that most employees experience a severe lack of feedback and communication from their manager. Most strikingly, the study found that “even employees who say they tend to receive negative feedback wish they'd get more feedback.”
Some expectations are universal and better if laid out in an employee handbook. For example, adhering to the dress code, what to do if you are sick, the procedures for taking time off, etc.
An employee handbook will make onboarding more streamlined and will add structure to the work culture. The handbook should be easily accessible to all employees and should be sent to all new employees on their first day if not before.
It’s important to require employees to sign off on the employee handbook and their specific expectations. If an employee signs a mandate, they are more likely to take it seriously, and you will have documentation to hold them accountable.
Well-defined and realistic expectations produce effective teams with a clear understanding of their role and the purpose they serve. When business owners and team leaders take the time to set expectations, they improve staff retention and create conditions for growth, empowerment, and better employee engagement.
A professional career coach or human resources expert can help business leaders define and set clear employee expectations for new and existing staff. Doing so will create a healthy company culture built on better working relationships.