8 Tips for Effective Communication of Employee Expectations

by Julia Capeloto

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Do you know what’s expected of you at work?

According to a recent Gallup poll, about 50% of people know what’s expected of them at work, across all job levels, including management roles.

When I first read that stat, the number seemed really low to me, so I took an informal poll of 20 people in my professional network across different levels and industries. And of the 20 people I spoke to, 65% know what’s expected of them at work. That number certainly feels better, but is still not great.

One quote from someone I spoke to really stuck out to me:
“I was hired for a specific role, but what I do has expanded so much, that I am not exactly sure anymore.”

This is a key theme I found from talking to people when expectations aren’t clear, which often has to do with either receiving a promotion at work, or with the company going through growth, a reorg or other transitional period.

When I think about my personal experience at previous jobs, I can certainly relate to feeling confused at times — either when my job description was poorly defined, or when my role organically changed due to business changes at the company but never had a conversation with my manager at the time about how my role was changing and why.

Unclear expectations can lead to frustration for all parties involved and affects entire team dynamics. It can increase conflict, decrease morale and damage company culture. As a result, time and money is often spent wasted on work, and employee engagement levels drop. Once engagement levels drop, performance and company loyalty are likely to drop as well. Nobody wants this.

So how can we be more clear on setting expectations?

Taking a look at job descriptions is a good place to start. It’s important to make sure that job descriptions match the work that employees are actually doing, and that they fit with the organizational structure set at the company. But job descriptions can only go so far in describing a role — the rest requires ongoing conversations and awareness between a manager and her employees.

Moving beyond the job description, here are some points to keep in mind as we work to set clear expectations and create a positive work environment.

  1. It’s a two way street. Both the employee and manager need to be proactive. Managers should tell employees directly what is expected of them, but if that isn’t happening, employees need to take destiny into their own hands, speak up and ask questions.
  2. Clear as crystal. Communicate expectations clearly so there is a shared understanding at the end of meetings with employees.
  3. A nod is not enough. Receive a verbal commitment from an employee at the end of a meeting to ensure she understands what is expected of her.
  4. Go beyond what IS expected. In addition to clearly communicating what is expected of employees, great managers also explain why the work is important to the team and company at large, and how the work should be done (e.g., standards to uphold).
  5. It’s ok to ask for help. Create an environment where people know it’s ok to raise their hand and speak up — whether they aren’t happy with their role, or feel confused, or have questions about what they are working on.
  6. Know what’s happening. It’s important for managers to know exactly what their employees are working on, so any adjustments can be made in real time.
  7. Spell out behaviors. For example, if it’s important for employees to be team players, define what “being a team player” means, provide examples and include the behavior in performance reviews.
  8. Don’t wait until formal performance review meetings. Engaged employees want frequent check-ins and want to hear ongoing feedback. Create a schedule that works for both the employee and manager — could be daily, weekly or monthly, depending upon the job. And in those meetings, great managers help set work priorities and performance goals.

The workplace is fluid and ever changing based on evolving business needs. The key to success is a high degree of alignment between the company, managers and employees.
Getting expectations right through ongoing conversations, makes your team more effective and helps people pivot in times of change. Setting clear expectations is a commitment — it takes time and requires planning. But the time you invest will have a big pay off in the end. Being clear on expectations, leads to happier employees, increased productivity and increased retention.