A Guide to the First Element of Employee Engagement: Setting and Communicating Expectations

This is an in-depth guide on Gallup’s first element of employee engagement:

  • “I know what is expected of me at work.”

The above statement seems straightforward and one that most people should be able to agree with confidently. But you might be surprised how many employees are fuzzy on exactly what their role is, often through no fault of their own. 

Ensuring employees know what is expected of them goes beyond a basic job description or daily to-do list. Meeting this element of employee engagement requires clear and ongoing communication across the board. 

This first element is a basic need for employees.

If an employee cannot agree with this statement, it is impossible for them to succeed in their role. 

Learn more about the importance of this engagement element and how to ensure your employees know your expectations. 

The Importance of Communicating Expectations

The importance of clearly communicating expectations may seem obvious, but many companies and managers neglect to do it anyway. 

Even if you already know that communicating expectations is important, you might not realize just how important and far-reaching.

Day to Day Responsibilities

First, and likely the most obvious reason element #1 is important, employees need to know what they’re supposed to do daily. While some leaders may assume that certain responsibilities are implicit, everything must be explicitly stated. 

When daily duties are unclear, things slip through the cracks. Employees turn a blind eye, assuming the task doesn’t fall under their duties. And when you ask an employee to do something they do not believe is part of their responsibilities, it creates tension and confusion. Employees may even point fingers at one another, making for an unpleasant work environment. 

Ultimately, when you don’t properly communicate daily expectations, things don’t get done, and no company can function like that. 

Role in the Organization

Workplace expectations aren’t just about tangible tasks. Workers also need to know where they stand with the company.

  • Am I a manager? 
  • Do I oversee any other employees? 
  • What is my title? 
  • Who should I report to?

Any employee who agrees with engagement element #1 should be able to answer all these questions easily. They need to know their position in the company’s hierarchy to follow and give orders appropriately. 

When expectations are not communicated, employees may unknowingly step outside their defined role. Clearly defining someone’s role within an organization not only helps them but also their coworkers. 

For example, if you rely on one of your four accountants to manage the other three, that accountant needs a title that distinguishes them from the others. This prevents employee frustration and hostility. 

Purpose at the Company

Gallup explains that a key driver of employee engagement is purpose. Without purpose, employee engagement plateaus. 

Employees who feel they have no purpose at their company or their work is not valued are less likely to put in substantial effort. Defining one’s hierarchical role and daily tasks can help give purpose to their job. 

However, managers can do more to help employees see their purpose outside these elements through communicated expectations. 

Feeling of Clarity

A confused employee cannot be confident, and it’s difficult to be dedicated to your work when the expectations are cloudy. 

  • Am I doing a good job?
  • Did I make the right decision for the company? 
  • Who am I supposed to ask about this?
  • Why am I doing this task right now?

If employees feel like they don’t know what’s going on, they can’t engage with the company properly. Instead, they’ll feel disassociated and discombobulated. 

What Clear Expectations Look Like

So, how can we ensure our employees know what we expect of them? Below are the best ways to set expectations and communicate them to employees.

Outlined Responsibilities

A daily to-do list does not equal clear expectations, but it’s a start. Employees might know their title and position in the hierarchy but not what they should do every day when they come to work. 

So, to-do lists and checklists are helpful. When making these lists and assigning duties, be abundantly clear. Even if something seems stupidly obvious, write it down. Never assume that anything is implicitly understood. 

Defined Excellence

How can we succeed if we don’t know what success looks like?

If you want your employees to do an excellent job, they need to know how you define “excellent job.” You may have dedicated and strong employees who simply don’t know how to go above and beyond and, therefore, cannot. 

Provide examples of excellent work when possible and set a standard of quality for employees to follow. You need to be the one to set the bar so your employees can reach it. 

Attainable Goals

Humans are more productive and engaged when they have something to strive for. Telling people to do an “excellent job” is not enough. It doesn’t give them a sense of purpose or show them the impact their work has. 

Managers should set realistic but not necessarily easy goals for employees. A public goal-tracking strategy is often effective, rallying the team toward common goals. And when you do this publicly, your best employees can set a wonderful example for everyone else. 

Explained Impact on Workflow

This aspect of communicating expectations is one of the most effective ways to give an employee purpose. Here’s a simplified example of how this works:

If you ask an employee to push a red button every 30 minutes, they may grow bored with this job and disengage. But if you ask them to do this and explain that, every time they push this button, it saves a tree in the rainforest, this once meaningless and monotonous task becomes important to them.

When we don’t know the how or why behind the things we do, we can’t be passionate about them. Show and tell your employees how their work helps their individual coworkers, the team, the company, and the mission as a whole. 

Regular Feedback and Communication

Not everyone understands and interprets messages the same way. You may set an expectation you think is clear, but an employee may misunderstand it. It’s okay if this happens, but this is why regular feedback and constant communication are crucial. 

Regular one-on-one meetings and team discussions can remedy these minor miscommunications before they compound. You’ll better understand how your employees view their roles and expectations and be able to keep everyone on track. 

Revisiting Expectations

Lastly, you need to revisit the expectations and goals. Managers can do this alongside employees below them and/or executives above them. This ensures the expectations align with the company’s needs and everyone is on the same page.

How often you revisit these expectations depends on the pace of your business. However, we recommend doing this at least once a year but not more than once a quarter. 

Regular meetings are productive, but adjusting expectations too frequently can frustrate employees and give them that whiplash feeling. 

Engagement Starts With Clear Expectations

“I know what is expected of me at work.” Are you confident that every single one of your employees can confidently answer this? If not, it’s time to improve your abilities in setting and communicating expectations.

This is the first basic need for employees. Without it, employee engagement cannot improve. If you need expert help engaging your employees, contact Lori Moen at Catalyst Group ECR for guidance!

To continue to improve employee engagement, check back here next week for our in-depth guide to Gallup’s Element of Employee Engagement #2: “I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.”