14 useful tips for setting employee expectations at work

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 11 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Organisations often expect their workforce to behave and act a certain way and to perform certain duties and responsibilities. Setting these expectations ensures that everyone follows appropriate procedures and the organisation achieves shared business outcomes. As a manager, setting clear expectations may be challenging, but with some guidance, you may establish clear guidelines. In this article, we discuss 14 tips for setting clear employee expectations at work.

14 useful tips for setting employee expectations

Here are 14 tips for setting employee expectations at work:

1. Set expectations early

If you want employees to meet and exceed expectations, let them know their responsibilities from the first day on the job. Make discussions about expectations, workplace culture and goal setting part of their onboarding process so that they're fully aware of what the organisation wants from them. Provide accurate job descriptions and not just a list of responsibilities. Tell employees what each role actually entails and provide actionable steps for each duty. Do this by describing a typical work week or month in the role.

Related: What is expectation management? (Plus how to use it)

2. Emphasise objectives

Clearly defined objectives and key results are excellent tools for setting expectations for employees. These objectives ensure staff know how to move forward from point A to point B to achieve shared outcomes. It also gives them actionable goals to work towards, which increases their productivity and output. This eliminates the need for micromanagement and encourages employee autonomy. When establishing objectives, don't simply define the objective. Decide on measurable key results to ensure staff have mileposts that guide them towards the goal. Remember to review your objectives each quarter to take note of areas that require improvement.

3. Make employees accountable

When staff are accountable for their actions, they work harder and make smarter decisions to achieve set goals. This makes it crucial to let staff members know they're responsible for what they do within the workplace. Whether it's assigned tasks or projects or goals they're required to achieve, ensure they recognise they're accountable for completing these. This way, if anything goes wrong or they fail to meet expectations, the organisation may take actionable steps to hold them accountable.

Related: Definition and examples of accountability in the workplace

4. Provide meaningful feedback

Another easy way to set clear expectations for employees is to give meaningful feedback. Providing feedback clarifies staff expectations and helps them learn from their mistakes. It also contributes to their ongoing development, which boosts their confidence. As a general rule, give employees feedback every three to six months to keep them focused and motivated. Ensure the feedback is relevant and raises issues early so you might make changes accordingly.

Related: How to give critical feedback effectively and its importance

5. Conduct performance reviews

Performance reviews are formal assessments where managers or employers evaluate employee performances while identifying their strengths and weaknesses. These reviews are an excellent tool for setting and maintaining expectations for employees. This is because they let staff know where they've performed as expected and where they've fallen short, allowing them to make changes where necessary to meet employer expectations. When conducting performance reviews, gauge the employee's development, progress, strengths and weaknesses.

Related: Performance review tips for employees (and why they matter)

6. Set expectations down in writing

Once you have clear expectations for employees within the organisation, get them in writing. Writing down expectations for staff ensures professionals have documents to refer to regularly as a reminder. It also helps reduce surprises when it's time for bonuses, performance reviews and evaluations. Identify what objectives and goals you want to accomplish and write them down. Ensure every employee has a copy of these objectives and goals so they know what's expected of them. Some of the expectations to set down in writing include:

  • display a respectful and positive attitude

  • work with integrity and honesty

  • represent the organisation in a responsible manner

  • maintain good attendance

  • perform jobs to acceptable and reasonable standards

  • conduct yourself in a professional manner

  • follow and comply with set policies and procedures, especially when dealing with problems

7. Tailor your expectations

Every professional has different skill sets and abilities, making it vital to tailor expectations to suit each employee. There's no point in establishing general expectations that are attainable by only a few staff members and unattainable by the rest. This hinders teamwork and sets employees up for failure from the start. Before setting clear expectations for professionals, identify the unique skill sets of each employee within the organisation. Factoring in these skills, set performance objectives they're sure to attain.

8. Repeat your expectations

Repeat your expectations regularly to remind employees of their duties and responsibilities. It's normal for professionals to lose track and forget what's expected of them. Communicating often and reminding them of their expectations keeps them on track and ensures they stay on top of their duties. Have one-on-one discussions with individual employees to remind them of the organisation's goals and objectives. Conduct these discussions weekly or bi-weekly and have a candid interaction with each employee to keep them aligned on expectations and progress.

9. Set team expectations

Employees are likely to collaborate on a project or task with colleagues at some point. This makes it crucial to set clear team expectations to promote and enhance successful teamwork. While individual expectations are similar to team expectations, establishing them separately is key to ensuring groups are productive and work cohesively. Examples of team expectations you might set include:

  • be respectful of one another and be sensitive and courteous to everyone's concerns

  • be accountable for your work

  • be confident enough to ask for help when necessary

  • be open to sharing ideas with team members for improvement

  • be flexible about task assignments and jobs

  • be willing to help each other and eliminate the 'everyone-for-themselves' mindset

  • be positive, cheerful and encouraging to team members

  • be reliable and self-motivated

  • be open to constructive feedback without being negative or aggressive

Related: Team-building skills: definition and examples

10. Let staff members know why expectations are important

When employees understand why expectations are crucial to the organisation, it helps them see the wider context of their work. They also feel valued and that their input is essential to the organisation's success. This motivates and encourages them to perform as expected to achieve shared outcomes. Communicate the importance of the organisation's expectations and help staff members see how the organisation as a whole benefits when they meet or exceed expectations. Break down the 'why' in as much detail as possible to minimise and eliminate confusion.

11. Give examples of why expectations are important

To let staff members know why expectations are essential, give specific examples to ensure they understand what you mean. Offering concrete examples helps staff connect their roles to the organisation's goals. Some great examples you may provide include:

  • Adhering to the dress code showcases the organisation and brand in a professional light to customers, creating a good first impression.

  • Arriving on time for work ensures operations run smoothly.

  • Being respectful towards colleagues guarantees smooth collaboration on projects.

  • Displaying a positive attitude at work helps keep staff morale up.

  • Following and complying with set policies and procedures prevents liability and other legal issues.

12. Formalise the expectations

An easy way to ensure employees perform as expected is to formalise the organisation's expectations. Have staff members sign off on set objectives, goals and responsibilities to act as a commitment. This makes expectations feel more serious and gives you a document to hold staff accountable if they fall short of expectations. Don't force any employee to sign off on the expectations. If they feel they can't meet their expectations, they're allowed to resign or quit.

Related: Guide to understanding the expectations of a manager

13. Address employee questions and concerns

After laying out exactly what your expectations are in paperwork for new and existing employees, ask them if they have any questions regarding their expectations. Some staff members may need further clarification or have difficulty understanding specific expectations. Take time to address all their questions and concerns to eliminate and minimise confusion. Ensure they understand the expectations so they might meet and exceed them. Create a sense of community where they may freely ask questions without being judged.

Related: How to measure employee engagement and why it's important

14. Co-create expectations

If you want employees to meet and even exceed their expectations, include them in the creation process. They may develop great ideas that contribute to the organisation's growth and success. They may also tackle problems, issues and areas you hadn't thought of in the first place. Co-creating expectations with employees gives them a sense of control, encouraging them to accomplish far more than any list assigned to them.

Explore more articles