Managing Expectations Is More Challenging in the New Work Environment

Managing Expectations Is More Challenging in the New Work Environment

As part of their ongoing research into employee engagement, Gallup analyzed the factors that influence engagement and found that while “no single element is of chief importance because each organization or workgroup continuously changes … setting clear expectations may be the most foundational element”:

Only about half of all workers strongly indicate that they know what is expected of them at work. Expectations — or a lack thereof — have the power to make or break worker engagement. Even if employees feel energized and motivated, those who lack clear expectations and spend too much time working on the wrong things can’t advance key initiatives to create value for an organization.

The desire for clear expectations is a shining example of a shared need across generations, from millennials to traditionalists. All workers, regardless of age or stage in their career, want to know what’s expected of them in the workplace. And the lack of clear expectations can cause anxiety and confusion in workers.

But with clear expectations, employees thrive. For example, Gallup finds that 72% of millennials who strongly agree that their manager helps them establish performance goals are engaged. And across all generations, individuals who strongly agree that their manager helps them set performance goals are nearly eight times more likely to be engaged than if they strongly disagree with the statement.

Clear objectives and expectations are critical not only for employee engagement, but also for managing performance. Nonetheless, I think it’s important to acknowledge that setting those expectations is more challenging in today’s complex work environment, because the right answer or path forward in employees’ work is not always obvious.

Our research at CEB has found that employees’ roles are more complex today than ever before: The amount of collaboration and coordination required in most jobs is increasing, as is the pace of organizational change. Managers who attempt to compensate for this complexity through an overly directive approach, or by oversimplifying their employees’ roles (“Just do this thing, and it’s all you need to worry about.”) ultimately do their team and the organization a disservice. Instead, managers can reduce anxiety and confusion and enhance performance by helping their employees navigate the complexity of the organization. They can do this through activities such as providing context, facilitating relationships, and offering advice.

(CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can read more about how to use role design to generate the kind of enterprise contribution that is increasingly valuable in today’s work environment.)