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Lead Your Team Managing

Setting Expectations for Employees

image for Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock
Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

Setting expectations for your employees is an essential responsibility that many business owners gloss over. Clear employee expectations benefit not only your staff, but your business as a whole.

Belinda Wee, Ph.D., an associate professor at Husson University's School of Business and Management, said management must communicate, both verbally and in writing, the level of performance they require from each employee in order to receive their desired results.

"[Setting employee expectations can] eliminate or reduce confusion and increases the chances of employees being successful in achieving the goals set for them," Wee told Business News Daily. "Employees who achieve their goals enhance the success of the entire organization."

Although no one likes a micromanager, most professionals appreciate knowing they are on the right track. Setting expectations and communicating employee responsibilities to each new hire can have a long-lasting effect on your business. However, a recent study by Gallup shows that nearly half of all U.S. employees don't know what's expected of them at work.

The study's authors believe that when employees do not have a clear understanding of what's required of them, they are less engaged at work. Previous research found that only 33% of U.S. employees and 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. While there are 12 elements of employee engagement, the study suggested that setting clear expectations could be the most foundational one.

"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."

Sadie Banks, assistant general counsel and human resources consultant at Engage PEO, said that, in addition to standard performance appraisals, there are many workplace factors in setting expectations. 

"Industry expectations; internal and external company image; client, customer and vendor relationships; employee knowledge of products or services; company policies and performance; and even social media all play a part in setting expectations for employees," said Banks.

Wee said every employee should expect to maintain the following behaviors in the workplace:

  • Display a positive and respectful attitude.
  • Work with honesty and integrity.
  • Represent the organization in a responsible manner.
  • Perform their jobs to a reasonable, acceptable standard.
  • Maintain good attendance.
  • Conduct themselves in a professional manner, even when off duty.
  • Follow set policies and procedures when dealing with problems or issues.

Just as there are expectations of employee behavior, there are certain behaviors and opportunities that every worker should expect from their employers. Wee said that the following expectations are not only essential for employees, but also required by law: 

  • Proper training, support and leadership from management
  • Timely and accurate payment of wages
  • Safe and healthy working environments
  • Full disclosure and explanation of the job responsibilities, company policies and procedures
  • Regular feedback on performance from supervisors or managers

Additionally, Banks advised it is reasonable for employees to expect the following:

  • Access to the resources needed 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

Each company may set additional expectations of their employees and provide more for them in return, but it is a give-and-take. Employee expectations are double-sided.

"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." 

Most employees will find themselves working on a team at some point in their career. Team expectations are similar to individual expectations, except that team expectations are something every team member should be accountable for while also holding others accountable.

Wee said team expectations are not the same as team goals. Goals are typically tasks that need to be accomplished, whereas team expectations are the behaviors that occur while the team accomplishes said tasks. Wee said that team expectations are necessary for the group to be productive and work cohesively.

She listed these 10 team expectations as something every team member should be accountable for:

  1. Respect each other, and be courteous and sensitive to everyone's needs and concerns.
  2. Be accountable for your work.
  3. Be flexible about job and task assignments.
  4. Be willing to help each other instead of displaying an "it's not my job" attitude.
  5. Ask for help when needed.
  6. Work safely together.
  7. Be open to constructive feedback without being defensive or negative.
  8. Be self-motivated and reliable.
  9. Share ideas for improvement.
  10. Be cheerful, positive and encouraging to other team members.

It is important to set clear employee and performance expectations for each new person during the onboarding process. Be specific and clear as to what the expectations are and how you will measure them. Banks said performance expectations should be measured by the company and communicated by management or leadership. 

"The overall purpose of having performance expectations is to move toward a specific company goal and create workplace accountability from one employee to another," she said. "It is a method applied by a company to assess the progression and position expectations as performed by individual employees."

Each employee also needs to understand the importance of their role and how their responsibilities impact their organization and department.

"Performance expectations go beyond a job description and include a range of expected outcomes – for example, the impact of the work on the organization, expectations on level of service rendered to clients and co-workers, and the organizational values demonstrated by the employee," said Wee.

Since the position of an employee affects their performance expectations, Wee created the following table to illustrate the performance expectations for different job levels:

Position level of employee Performance expectations
Senior-level manager or executive Focus on departmental performances
Manager or supervisory position Focus on unit and functional results of the work team
Professional or technical position Focus on project-related performances
Individual contributor Focus on assigned tasks and contributions to the work team
Major project member or departmental initiator Focus on the major projects/departmental initiatives specifically

Some experts highly recommend using SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound) goals when setting employee performance expectations. This will help you tailor performance expectations to each individual.  

After you set clear expectations, there are a few steps you can actively take to effectively communicate and manage them. Most importantly, communication of employee expectations should be as clear and specific as possible. To manage expectations, everybody needs to be on the same page about what is required of them.

When you meet with employees to communicate and manage expectations, Banks recommends that you always be clear on attainable objectives, provide an opportunity for the employee to ask questions, and discuss the tools necessary to accomplish each task. It also helps to explain the purpose of each task and casually check in with your employees, showing them that you are reachable and attentive.

Wee recommends meeting with employees regularly to discuss ongoing projects and holding one-on-one meetings to display caring and professional leadership. However, since every employee is different, you may have to use different methods of communication to best reach each one. For example, some team members may prefer frequent face-to-face meetings, whereas others might prefer a more hands-off approach.

"To communicate and manage expectations effectively, it is important to know what is expected from the employees and teams and set realistic, reasonable tasks and deadlines," Wee said. "The success of the organization hinges on having good communication practices, resulting in lower employee turnover."

Additional reporting by Chad Brooks.

Skye Schooley

Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. After receiving a business communication degree from Arizona State University, she spent nearly three years living in four states and backpacking through 16 countries. During her travels, Skye began her blog, which you can find at www.skyeschooley.com. She finally settled down in the northeast, writing for Business.com and Business News Daily. She primarily contributes articles about business technology and the workplace, and reviews remote PC access software and collection agencies.