How to Set Clear Expectations for Employees

Imagine you’re hosting a staff meeting and the entire team is present. You ask the question to each employee “what is expected of you at work?” To this, half of the room has an answer, the other half gives blank stares. A recent study by Gallup shows that nearly half of all U.S. employees don’t know what’s expected of them at work.

As a manager, your job is to tell your employees your expectations. So is the problem that employees aren’t listening? Or is the problem that managers aren’t setting clear expectations? 

In a recent article published by Business News Daily, Belinda Wee, an associate professor at Husson University’s School of Business and Management, said managers must communicate, in both speaking and writing, the level of performance they require from each employee. Expectations must be both written and verbalized on a regular basis. 

“Every employee wants to be successful at work, and this can only be achieved if they know what is expected of them from their organization and their team,” said Wee. “Regular discussions between employees and their supervisors should be conducted, including reviewing performance contributions, goals to set for the coming year, and their professional development opportunities.”

While no one likes a micromanager, most of us appreciate knowing when we are on the right track. Ensuring clear expectations can have long-lasting effects on your business. Here are a few steps you can take to ensure you’re setting clear expectations for your team. 

Know Your Own Expectations

Before you can communicate them to someone else, you must be sure you know your own expectations. Employee expectations are more than just a job description or a task list. What expectations do you have that may be less obvious or should be clearly articulated to your team? Consider these factors when determining what your expectations are: 

  • Industry expectations
  • Internal and external company image
  • Client, customer, and vendor relationships
  • Employee knowledge of products or services
  • Company policies
  • Individual performance and team success 
  • Social media behavior

Making Your Expectations Clear 

Once you are confident in what you do and don’t expect from your employees. It’s imperative to communicate and manage these expectations clearly. Not sure where to start? Begin by covering these basic 5 areas of communicating your expectations.

  1. Write expectations clearly in all new-hire paperwork/manuals 
  2. Provide existing employees copy of the employee handbook or their job responsibilities.
  3. After providing written material, meet with employees to discuss and answer questions 
  4. Address any issue employees have about your expectations.
  5. Ensure each employee understands what his or her expectations are and their role in the company.

Communicating with your team is important but doesn’t have to be the same with each employee. Some team members may prefer frequent face-to-face meetings to discuss expectations, whereas others might prefer an email or even a text. 

Three Keys to Expectations: 

If you have communicated your expectations to your team and they are still missing the mark, it may be because you’re missing one of these keys to clear expectations: 

  • Get Detailed:

When in doubt, spell it out. The most frustration occurs when employees start to fill in the blanks. For example, asking an employee to answer the phone doesn’t supply enough detail. Asking him or her to answer the phone within three rings, using a specific greeting and a pleasant tone of voice is more likely to meet the expectations you have.

  • Explaining the Why:

If you have a dress code or a language expectation at work, explain to your employees why these things are important. Taking the time to explain the why helps them to see the bigger picture and the role they play. 

  • Be An Example:

If you expect your team to be on time to work, don’t walk into the office late. If you expect a positive attitude, be the first one to offer a smile and lead by example. Being an example of your own expectations is the best way to show your team what you expect. 

Remember Expectations Go Both Ways 

Just as there are expectations for employee behavior, employers should also be held to meet expectations from their team. These expectations may include: 

  • Proper training, support, and leadership
  • Timely and accurate payment 
  • Safe and healthy working environments
  • Full disclosure and explanation of the job responsibilities, company policies, and procedures
  • Regular feedback 
  • Access to the resources they need to perform their work tasks efficiently and properly
  • Fair and consistent communication and application of policies (e.g., performance, discipline, conduct) across the team
  • Credit and acknowledgment for work achievements

“If the employer expects loyalty from their employees but does not reciprocate, this can be seen as unfair and unprofessional,” said Wee. “Dealing with employee expectations means the employees must be assessed objectively, reasonably, and fairly.” 

We all have expectations. More often than not, these are convenient assumptions that can cause major challenges down the road. Make sure that you clearly identify your own expectations, and then communicate those clearly to your team. When it is doubt, spell it out and include as much (or at little) detail as necessary to ensure understanding. Make it a priority to have clear expectations early and often.