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How to set clear employee expectations

Last updated

16 December 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Shawnna Johnson

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Establishing and communicating clear employee expectations can help them perform at the top of their game, stay engaged, and contribute to the organization’s success. These expectations represent a shared understanding of what is expected from employees regarding behaviors, values, and policies, plus how each person’s work contributes to the company’s overall goals and successes.

Managers play an important role in ensuring their employees understand these expectations and how they are measured.

Read on to explore employee expectations, their benefits, and the best way to set and communicate them.

What are employee expectations?

Employee expectations are the general responsibilities, standards, and performance criteria an employer sets for an employee.

Expectations can be defined for the individual, team, and organization. They include what employees are responsible for, how they should go about their job duties, and expectations around projected goals, behaviors, and productivity.

Employee expectations are set by the company’s management or leadership team. They are tailored to job titles and job descriptions, and they may be defined formally in the job description or employee handbook. They are also shared informally during 1–1 discussions or in team meetings.

No two workplaces are the same, and employer expectations differ depending on the company’s culture, values, and industry. Generally, every employee is expected to do the following in the workplace:

  • Work with integrity and honesty.

  • Represent the company respectfully.

  • Follow set procedures and policies when dealing with workplace issues or problems.

  • Conduct themselves professionally, even when off-duty.

  • Maintain good attendance.

  • Perform their job to an acceptable standard.

  • Display a respectful and positive attitude at work.

What are performance expectations?

Performance expectations are the behaviors, outcomes, or results you expect from employees in their roles and responsibilities. They should align with the company’s goals, competencies, and values and reflect the quality and level of performance required.

Employers set performance expectations to put everyone on track to fulfilling specific company goals and to promote workplace accountability between employees.

Measuring these expectations can help determine when a goal or outcome is achieved. Failing to achieve goals may have consequences.

What are team expectations?

Team expectations apply to every employee in a team. They differ from team goals in that they apply to how employees behave while working collaboratively to accomplish goals. Team members should hold each other accountable for their expectations to ensure everyone is working in a way that facilitates collaboration and success.

Here are some examples of team expectations:

  • Taking responsibility for your work

  • Sharing ideas that help the team work toward goals

  • Treating other team members with respect and kindness

  • Giving encouragement and assistance to other team members when needed

Benefits of setting clear employee expectations

Here are some of the benefits of setting clear employee expectations:

Increased productivity and performance

Setting clear expectations allows employees to work efficiently. It helps them focus their efforts and provides clarity about their responsibilities.

When employees understand their specific roles within a larger context, they are less likely to go off-task or duplicate their coworkers’ activities. This is especially important in collaborative projects as it enables everyone’s individual efforts to integrate together seamlessly.

Employees who are aware of their expectations will also have access to the right coaching and resources and be more likely to complete their projects on time. All this leads to increased workplace productivity. Managers should clear up any uncertainty or confusion regarding their expectations and ensure their employees have the resources they need.

Improved communication and collaboration

Employee expectations improve communication and collaboration within an organization, bringing tangible benefits.

For example, clear expectations help employees understand their roles and responsibilities. This clarity eliminates ambiguity and misunderstandings. Everyone knows the team’s main objective and their individual role in achieving it.

Employees are also more likely to seek clarification, express concerns, and share their insights, boosting collaboration and helping toward collective success.

Improved employee engagement

Employee engagement refers to employees’ emotional connection and dedication to their work. Setting clear expectations helps build trust between employees and the organization, which also improves employee engagement.

How do you measure employee performance against expectations?

After setting your expectations, you’ll need to monitor employee performance to identify any gaps as well as achievements. Doing so will help you to identify any problems and adjust your expectations accordingly. It will also provide you with opportunities to share feedback with your employees.

Below are a few ways you can measure employee performance in relation to expectations:

Performance reviews

Many companies conduct performance reviews regularly to give their employees feedback. These reviews highlight and celebrate employees’ strengths and help them improve on their weaknesses.

Performance reviews also allow a two-way conversation between an employee and their manager where both parties can discuss their expectations.

These reviews should be carried out at least annually; however, it’s best practice to hold performance reviews twice a year or at the end of each project or milestone.


Asking employees to write a self-assessment can be an effective way to evaluate their performance compared to the expectations you have set for them.

Employees may have greater insights into their performance and can provide you with an honest self-evaluation. All you need is a form with relevant questions and spaces for employees to provide their responses. You can set multiple-choice questions, short, open-ended questions, or both.

Typically, employees complete their own self-evaluation prior to their manager’s overall performance review.

Examples of employee performance expectations

Here are some illustrative examples of employee performance expectations:


Employees should be able to make good business decisions when needed. They can facilitate meaningful changes to the company and help motivate the entire workforce.


An employee should embrace change and support programs that bring new ideas that contribute to the company’s progress.


Reliability is being able to perform tasks consistently while being readily available. Employees should respond promptly to their manager’s requests and fulfill their commitments on time.


Productivity is the expectation for work output. Employees should do a reasonable volume of work each day and demonstrate their results in performance reviews. Measure productivity for the best results.

Setting expectations for new and existing staff members

An employee’s morale increases when they understand their expectations and how to succeed in the organization. Higher morale results in greater team unity, productivity, and innovation. Here are some of the steps to follow when setting employee expectations:

1. Determine your expectations

Decide on your expectations of staff members before meeting with them. They should be based on 

  • The company’s standards and culture

  • The employee’s job function and role

  • Team effectiveness

  • The goals and outcomes you want your employees to achieve

2. Keep expectations realistic

When setting expectations for your employees, you must ensure they are reasonable. For example, it’s not realistic to expect them to often be available outside of normal working hours unless it’s an essential function of the role.

Unrealistic expectations can lead to employee burnout. If you are too demanding, your employees might feel you disrespect them. They may lose trust and even quit. The primary goal for setting employee expectations should be to improve performance, employee engagement, and retention. Maintaining a healthy work environment will become difficult if your expectations are unreasonable.

3. Set expectations early and often

Managers can take advantage of the hiring process to set expectations early. The job description should detail specific performance expectations. You can also ask the candidate some unique and creative interview questions to help you determine if they are right for the role and can meet the job requirements.

You can establish clear expectations for a newly hired employee during the onboarding process. At this stage, you can clearly define and outline the role’s duties and responsibilities and what you expect. An efficient onboarding process helps employees boost their performance and become productive quickly.

4. Minimize confusion by making expectations clear

Staff members will find it challenging to perform at their best and meet your expectations if they don’t understand them. Here are some ways to make your expectations clear:

  • Write down your expectations on paper for new hires

  • Provide employees with a print or digital guide that outlines your expectations

  • Meet with employees to explain your expectations

  • Address any questions and issues your employees have about your expectations

  • Ensure every employee fully understands your expectations

  • Be willing to adjust expectations as appropriate

5. Tell employees why your expectations are important

When your employees understand why the expectations are essential, they can see the bigger picture and feel more invested in the company. You can achieve this by:

  • Explaining the significance of your expectations rather than just telling them what you want (explain the “why” in as much detail as possible to reduce confusion)

  • Showing employees what the company stands to gain when they meet or surpass your expectations

  • Give specific examples of your expectations and let your employees know how they help the company meet its goals. You could show them that

  • Coming to work on time helps things run smoothly.

  • Respecting the dress code creates a good impression for clients.

  • Active communication fosters collaboration and ensures everyone is on the same page.

6. Get an agreement and commitment

After thoroughly discussing your expectations and allowing employees to ask questions, get their agreement in writing to ensure clarity and accountability moving forward. This signed agreement can be a discussion point when expectations aren’t being met.

7. Set expectations that follow the SMART goals framework

SMART goals help drive results at work and assist managers in setting their expectations successfully.

SMART stands for:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Relevant

  • Time-bound

Your employees won’t know what is expected of them if your expectations are unclear. They may become less motivated, which can lower their productivity and job satisfaction.

Here’s an example of an effective expectation for customer service employees that fits the SMART framework: “Respond to customer inquiries within 24 hours.”

Managers should define clear metrics for their expectations to ensure employees are performing at their best. Metrics are benchmarks linked to specific goals.

For example, if you want to increase the company’s social media engagement, be specific about the task and expected outcome. Don’t use vague or general terms. Instead of saying, “Increase social media engagement,” you could say, “Increase social media engagement by 40% by the end of the second quarter.”

However, it can be difficult to attach metrics to expectations that don’t directly relate to numbers and dates. In such cases, find a way to connect your expectations to the company’s or team’s goals.

8. Regularly review employee performance

Performance reviews give managers the opportunity to give employees feedback on their work. You should evaluate an employee’s performance regularly based on the role’s expectations.

Conduct regular meetings with your employees where you review their performance and discuss whether they are meeting expectations. Frequent check-ins can help employees grow and progress. They can adjust their behaviors to meet your expectations, and you can also adjust your expectations if they are unclear or no longer relevant.

9. Be open to collaborating on expectations

Listen to your team and allow inclusive leadership. Team communication creates opportunities to collaborate and also helps you set expectations that keep everyone on the same page. Employees tend to have valuable insights about work goals and can contribute their experiences to the team strategy.


How do you enforce employee expectations?

Holding regular meetings with your employees will enable you to discuss expectations, assess how they are being met, and identify areas for improvement. Make sure your expectations are realistic—otherwise, enforcing them may be challenging. Unrealistic, unfair expectations may even lead to dissatisfaction among employees, creating a range of other difficulties, including poor .

You’ll find it easier to enforce expectations if you give your employees the best chance of knowing and understanding them. Communicate your expectations to new hires as early as possible. You can even outline them in the .

What are employer expectations?

Employers are also subject to certain expectations, and some of them are required by law. For example, employers should provide the following:

  • A safe and healthy workplace environment

  • Proper support, training, and leadership

  • Accurate and timely payment of salaries

  • Access to the resources that enable efficient job operations

  • Regular feedback on employee performance

  • Full explanation and disclosure of company policies, job responsibilities, and procedures

  • Acknowledgment of and credit for work achievements

  • Consistent communication and fair application of policies

Employers that fulfill their staff’s expectations can typically enjoy higher employee retention and greater overall success.

How do you set clear expectations for remote employees?

To ensure remote employees collaborate effectively as part of the wider team and contribute to the organization’s overall goals, you need to set them clear expectations. Common employee expectations like showing up on time and behaving professionally in the workplace don’t apply in the same way to remote workers, so the expectations you set for them will be a little different.

For example, you might find it beneficial to set expectations for remote communication and behavior on video calls. Additionally, you’ll probably need to set clear expectations around working hours to ensure your remote employees get the most out of their time.

You’ll need to make an effort to schedule regular remote meetings with these employees to communicate and review expectations. It’s also important to equip remote employees with the tools they need to fulfill your expectations and thrive in their roles.

Take care not to micro-manage remote workers, as they will need the freedom to approach their work in a way that suits them while maintaining a high performance. You’ll need to show trust and let them know that you’re always available to provide assistance and answer questions. Monitoring performance metrics will help reveal how your remote employees are working and whether they are fulfilling your expectations.

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