Clarifying expectations: The key to productivity

May 06, 2024

3 mins

Clarifying expectations: The key to productivity
Selin Bucak

Freelance Journalist

Imagine it’s the end of the year and you’ve just come out of your performance review with your manager. However, you’re in shock because you’ve been told that your work needs improvement and you haven’t hit your targets. Targets you were never told that you had! Sound familiar? For many employees, this is a common occurrence. In fact, a recent Gallup study showed that nearly half of workers in the US don’t know what’s expected of them at work. Another survey found that 69% of managers were uncomfortable communicating with their staff and 37% were uncomfortable giving direct feedback if they believed the person would react negatively.

A lack of clear communication of expectations not only impacts employees but affects a company’s bottom line as well. A survey conducted by the Economist’s Intelligence Unit found that 44% of workers believe that miscommunication led to a delay or failure in completing projects, 52% reported that it led to stress and 31% said it lowered morale.

Uncertainty is the silent killer

According to HR consultant, Dr. Charles Tawk, uncertainty about job expectations often stems from inadequate communication, ambiguous guidelines, or evolving roles. “This lack of clarity can negatively impact performance as employees struggle to prioritize tasks, leading to decreased productivity, job satisfaction, and potentially affecting team morale,” he warns.

Managers need to promote an open dialogue with workers, clearly define performance goals, and provide detailed job descriptions to candidates and new hires. Tawk advises they also clarify their expectations through regular feedback sessions. Various communication channels are also necessary for accommodating diverse preferences and conducting regular check-ins.

Although most of the responsibility falls on managers to ensure effective communication within their team, there are a few things that employees can also do. They can start by proactively seeking clarification when needed, asking questions, expressing their concerns or suggestions openly, and actively participating in feedback sessions, Dr. Tawk suggests. Setting clear expectations for employees has become even more important since the pandemic, with more workers moving to hybrid or remote working models.

“Unclear expectations, especially as organizations continue to figure out their remote work policies can lead to decreased employee motivation, increased stress, and a general sense of dissatisfaction,” says Kyle Samuels, founder and CEO at Creative Talent Endeavors. In his opinion, when employees are unsure about what’s expected of them, they can’t effectively prioritize their work or measure their success. In turn, this ambiguity can hinder their ability to contribute meaningfully to their teams and projects, impacting overall team performance and morale, adding that “It’s hard to focus on the work when you feel like expectations are changing frequently, and sometimes contradictory.”.

According to Samuels, with the rise of remote and hybrid work, the lack of face-to-face communication can also exacerbate certain issues and make it harder for managers to covey expectations clearly. It also makes it more difficult for employees to seek clarification.

Also, in a diverse environment, where different races, genders, and ages who have differing political or religious beliefs work together, there can be varied interpretations of expectations. “What seems clear in one cultural context might be ambiguous in another. Unlike before the pandemic, employees are not shy about stating their opinions on hot-button topics, but they feel entitled to speak their minds at work,” Samuels explains.

Tips to improve communication

HR experts and business analysts alike believe that clear communication is the key to improving performance at work, and the data supports this. Last year, the State of Business Communication survey found that increased productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee confidence were the top three benefits of effective communication, ranking at 72%, 63%, and 60%, respectively.

For managers and employees looking to improve communication, Samuels shares five tips.

  • Structured onboarding: Ensure that every employee, regardless of location or background, has a structured onboarding process that clearly outlines their role, responsibilities, and the company’s expectations. Also, be very transparent about upward mobility at the organization and if remote employees have fewer opportunities for promotion than in-person employees who get more face time.
  • Regular check-ins: Implement regular one-on-one meetings between employees and their managers to discuss progress, address any ambiguities, and realign expectations.
  • Clear documentation: Maintain up-to-date documentation of job roles, project objectives, and performance metrics. This documentation should be easily accessible to all employees.
  • Cultural competence training: Offer training to help employees and managers understand and navigate the complexities of a diverse workplace. This can foster a more inclusive environment where communication is clear and effective.
  • Feedback loops: Establish open feedback mechanisms that allow employees to express concerns or confusion regarding their roles and responsibilities without fear of negative consequences. This is harder to do at smaller companies as anonymity is tough when you only have a small group of employees, but it can work at larger companies.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

Follow Welcome to the Jungle on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram, and subscribe to our newsletter to get our latest articles every week!