When it comes to implementing a successful engagement strategy, HR teams can’t afford to ignore employee expectations. Yet, research suggests that too many organizations forget or overlook this pillar of engagement. For example:
If you’re an HR professional or business leader, statistics like these should alarm you. Clearly, something about the process of managing employee expectations is going awry. And if you care about engagement, the sooner you address this disconnect, the better.
A Related Issue: Labor Market Trends
To understand this challenge, it’s helpful to consider the bigger picture. For example, in the UK and elsewhere, the talent pool is shrinking, despite a sharp decline in permanent staff recruitment. This decrease is fueled primarily by demographic factors — experienced workers are retiring early, the birth rate continues to fall, and immigration rules are changing. Plus, the pandemic has caused many people to rethink their career goals.
As a result, when organizations need to recruit, finding the right people at the right time is becoming increasingly difficult. And in terms of retention, it means employers must work much harder to keep their best and brightest people engaged and on board.
In other words, recent labor market dynamics have shifted power from employers to the workforce. Individuals now have enough latitude to be more selective about their career moves. They’re also likely to expect more from their current role — for example, higher wages, better recognition, or stronger professional growth opportunities.
With all this in mind, organizations need to understand what people expect from their employment experience, and proactively address these expectations. This makes it easier to create a positive work environment and improve employee satisfaction. Both of these metrics are essential for effective talent attraction and retention. So, how can HR successfully manage employee expectations?
6 Ways to Manage Employee Expectations
To elevate employee engagement across your organization, first step back and evaluate existing HR strategies and programs. If you’re falling short in any of the following areas, this is the time to rethink the tools and techniques that support your engagement efforts, as well as broader leadership and management practices:
1. Communicate Clearly and Consistently
Access to relevant, useful, accurate information is essential, right from the start of the employment journey. When you approach candidates and new hires with clear, open communication, their job expectations are much more likely to align with yours. What’s more, it sends a powerful message about the importance of transparency and inclusion in your work culture.
Be sure you center communication activities around your organization’s vision, mission, and values. You’ll also want to be sure important company policies are readily available.
In addition, showcasing updates and insights from senior leaders is a highly effective way to reinforce priorities and build trust. In fact, as our 2023 staff satisfaction survey shows, many employees value communication from senior leaders as part of a positive workplace experience.
2. Revisit and Revise Job Descriptions
As mentioned earlier, inaccurate job listings are all too common. The problem may not be intentional on an employer’s part. Regardless, it can derail the employee experience from day one.
Candidates naturally form expectations based on the job posting that prompted them to apply. So, when actual responsibilities don’t match, new hires aren’t likely to stick around. And even for those who stay on board, this mismatch can permanently jeopardize trust and goodwill.
Now, imagine how badly your employer brand would be damaged if numerous employees experienced the same kind of disconnect. This is why HR teams must ensure that job descriptions correctly outline roles, responsibilities, and performance expectations. And ideally, these descriptions should help people envision what it’s really like to work at the company.
HR must also recognize that developing a job description isn’t a one-shot process. For best results, you’ll want to review descriptions regularly and update them as business needs change. All this will help new employees understand what’s expected and avoid misunderstandings over time.
3. Prioritize Performance Management and Feedback
When organizations are able to measure, evaluate, and improve workforce performance, they operate more efficiently and profitably. And the best way to ensure that employee expectations are on point is with support from a robust performance management program.
Underpinning this program with an integrated performance management system makes it possible for HR to establish company-wide workforce goals, track progress, and provide regular feedback. It also helps support line managers in conducting more meaningful employee evaluations.
By working in concert to set clear objectives and provide constructive feedback, HR and line managers can continuously guide and improve employee performance. Plus, they can effectively manage expectations about job roles and career progression.
4. Ensure Fair Business Practices
An HR professional’s core duty is to maintain fair, consistent decision-making across an organization. This includes adhering to fair and unbiased practices in areas such as annual performance and salary reviews, promotions, and disciplinary actions. Ensuring fairness and consistency helps manage those all-important employee expectations. It also helps build trust.
HR can’t afford to ignore the element of trust. When it comes to successful engagement strategies, the employer-employee relationship is critical. And as with any relationship, it depends on a solid foundation of trust. But trust isn’t just switched on like a lightbulb — it is earned in numerous ways, over time. Fairness directly contributes to this process.
5. Provide Ample Training and Career Development
As our research on successful company cultures reveals, staff members want more than just competitive salaries. They also expect to develop new skills, so they can grow professionally.
This is why the best employers invest in building workforce competencies and knowledge through various learning opportunities — training, mentorships, stretch assignments and more. By committing to a culture of learning, organizations demonstrate their faith and confidence in employees’ future success. As a result, these organizations enjoy higher retention rates.
6. Pay Attention to Exit Interviews
Lastly, exit interviews offer a perfect opportunity to discover if departing employees feel their expectations have been met. When people decide to move on, they’re typically more comfortable providing unfiltered feedback, for better or worse.
By conducting exit interviews, you can gather valuable insights that help the organization compare actual employee experiences with expectations. By analyzing and acting on this intelligence, your HR team will be better able to identify areas for improvement and manage future employees’ expectations.
A Final Word on Managing Employee Expectations
These suggestions offer a framework for HR planning. Still, this is only a starting point. Every company, culture, and workforce is unique. So, wherever your organization may be on the employee engagement spectrum, remember that improvement is an ongoing process. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are employee expectations. Just stay focused on improvement and keep moving forward.