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Setting Clear Expectations for Employees

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
Staff writer
Business News Daily Staff
Updated Jun 25, 2020

As a manager, you need to let your employees know your expectations of them clearly and simply. Here is how you can set clear expectations for your employees.

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, 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 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 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 employees are less engaged at work when they do not have a clear understanding of what’s required of them. Previous Gallup 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 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.”

What are employee expectations?

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 for employee behavior, workers should expect certain behaviors and opportunities from their employers. Wee said that the following expectations are not only essential for employees to have for their management, but also required by law: 

  • Proper training, support and leadership
  • 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 said it is reasonable for employees to expect the following:

  • 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

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

“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.” 

What are team expectations?

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 for the behaviors that occur while the team accomplishes said tasks.

Wee said that established team expectations are necessary for the group to be productive and work cohesively. She listed these 10 team expectations that 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.

What are performance expectations?

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 an employee’s position affects their performance expectations, Wee created this table to illustrate the performance expectations for different job levels:

Position level of employeePerformance expectations
Senior-level manager or executiveFocus on departmental performances
Manager or supervisory positionFocus on unit and functional results of the work team
Professional or technical positionFocus on project-related performances
Individual contributorFocus on assigned tasks and contributions to the work team
Major project member or departmental initiatorFocus on the major projects/departmental initiatives specifically

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

How do you communicate and manage expectations?

After you set clear expectations, there are a few steps you can actively take to communicate and manage them. Most importantly, communication of employee expectations should be as clear and specific as possible. For you to manage expectations, everybody needs to be on the same page as to 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, give the employee an opportunity 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.”

Steps to set expectations for new and existing staff members

To improve the chances of employees meeting or exceeding your expectations, follow these steps when you plan and set them.

1. Determine what your expectations are.

Before you can have a conversation with your staff members, you need to have a conversation with yourself and write down what your realistic expectations are. For example, you may expect staff members to do the following:

  • Complete projects within the given timeframe.
  • Have a positive attitude.
  • Take initiative on starting new projects and coming up with new ideas that can benefit the company.
  • Come to work on time.
  • Follow the dress code.
  • Remain professional at all times when communicating with clients and other staff members.
  • Follow up with clients within two business days.
  • Respect each other.

2. Minimize confusion by making expectations clear.

Clear communication from leaders is imperative for success. If staff members don’t fully understand what you expect from them, it’ll be difficult for them to meet your expectations. You can do these things to make them clear:

  • Lay out exactly what your expectations are in paperwork for new hires.
  • Provide existing employees with a digital or print guide as an amendment to your employee handbook or their job responsibilities.
  • Don’t just hand staff members your expectations guide – meet with them to discuss what they are.
  • Address any questions employees have about your expectations.
  • Ensure they understand what your expectations are.

3. Let staff members know why your expectations are important.

When employees understand why expectations are important, it can help them see the bigger picture and feel like their role in the company matters.

  • Don’t just tell staff members what your expectations are – communicate why they are important.
  • Help staff members see how the company as a whole can benefit when they meet or exceed your expectations.
  • Beyond communicating the importance of your expectations, break down the “why” in as much detail as possible to minimize confusion.

4. Provide examples of why expectations are important.

Offer concrete examples as to why you’ve set certain expectations, and explain to your team how these expectations connect to the big-picture goals of the company.

  • Being on time for work ensures operations run smoothly.
  • Adhering to the dress code casts the company in a professional light among customers.
  • Displaying a positive attitude at work helps employees deal with stress and keeps morale up.

5. Get an agreement and commitment.

Formalize the expectations by requiring employees to sign off on them. When employees sign off on your expectations, it makes them feel more serious. In the event they don’t meet your expectations, you will have the documentation to hold them accountable and make a case as to how they have fallen short of the agreement.

Marisa Sanfilippo and Chad Brooks contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Image Credit:

Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
Business News Daily Staff
Skye Schooley is a staff writer at and Business News Daily, where she has written more than 200 articles on B2B-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and business technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products that help business owners launch and grow their business, Skye writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.