How to Manage Employee Expectations

An employee manual can help to manage employee expectations Here’s a loaded question: Do you know what your employees expect? Of their jobs? Of the business? Of you? And if you do know (or think you know), are you doing anything to actively manage those expectations?

If your employees’ expectations haven’t caused any noticeable problems, no one would fault you for adopting an “if-it’s-not-broken-don’t-fix-it” attitude. But what you can’t see, or choose not to see, can rear its ugly head one day, so heads up! Managing employee expectations, says India editor Anirban Roy, is one of the biggest challenges a manager or business owner can face. Roy reminds us that we all have expectations, spoken and unspoken, realistic and unrealistic. In the face of heightened competition and financial challenges, we expect more and more of employees, as a group and as individuals. Likewise, employees want and expect more—more money, more appreciation, faster promotions. What can you do to make sure those all sync up?

Roy succinctly summarizes how to effectively manage expectations: Set them early; revisit them periodically; and provide honest feedback. Underneath these broad strokes, he says, are some must-do practices for managing expectations:

    • Be real and be specific, as in targets and timelines; quantify wherever possible.
    • Provide feedback all along the way, not once a year or when a project is all done.
    • Be transparent and straightforward, even when the news isn’t good.
    • Communicate about changes in the industry or company. Give employees a chance to adjust their expectations.
    • Provide a steady stream of factual information about what’s happening. This way, you don’t leave room for a lot of conjecture and interpretation.
    • Show your appreciation—honestly and regularly.
    • Develop clear career paths.
    • Ask for opinions, ideas, and feedback often. Then, be ready to share this information.
    • Lead by example. There’s no better way to set expectations than by demonstrating them yourself.

Dawn G. Lennon, principal of Big Picture Consulting, calls managing employee expectations an art and lists a number of universal employee expectations for employers. Employees expect the business to:

    • Stick to the job description
    • Train and develop them
    • Provide supervision and guidance
    • Have fair policies
    • Treat them with respect and care about them
    • Provided opportunities
    • Do what it says it will do!

All too often though, Lennon says, expectations go off the rails on both sides, and this sets the stage for dissatisfaction or worse. To effectively manage expectations, she suggests a tool box consisting of education, explanation, information, dialogue, feedback and inquiry. Read more here.

Besides expectations regarding job performance and quality of life in the workplace, there are also more concrete, fundamental expectations that apply across the board to all employees—things that fall more into the “policies and procedures” category. These can be spelled out more definitively, and it’s important to do just that, even for the smallest of businesses. suggests creating an employee handbook for the purpose of communicating the “rules of the road” for your workplace. The benefits? Consistency, clarity and even legal protection, should it ever come to that. You should clearly spell out what you expect of your employees (and what they can expect of you) in terms of things like hours, benefits, drug and alcohol abuse, attendance, safety, communication, bonuses, and conduct-related topics such as sexual harassment. The site cautions to be careful with the language you use, in that you don’t inadvertently create obligations that can trip you up later on. Two big problem areas: Disciplinary procedures and (unintended) promises of continued employment.

A recommended resource for generating your own handbook is Create Your Own Employee Handbook: A Legal & Practical Guide, by Amy DelPo and Lisa Guerin. It contains step-by-step instructions, policy language and forms you can use. And by all means, have everything fully reviewed and signed off on by your legal counsel.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

How do you manage their expectations? Do you have an employee handbook?

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