When we conduct workplace assessments, lack of clarity of expectations about roles, responsibilities, and performance is often one of the top areas of concern in workplaces that have a negative culture or where workplace conflict is prominent.

While employees do not like ‘micromanagers’ they equally do not perform well if there is lack of clarity of roles and responsibilities.

The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the “Standard”) recognizes Clear Leadership and Expectations as one of the 13 Factors affecting psychological safety and health. According to the Standard, Clear Leadership and Expectations is present “in an environment in which leadership is effective and provides sufficient support that helps workers know what they need to do, explains how their work contributes to the organization, and discusses the nature and expected outcomes of impending changes.”

When expectations are clearly established and communicated in the workplace, employees not only know what they need to do but also have a way of knowing whether they are meeting expectations, and they understand why those expectations have been established.

When these factors are lacking, the result is uncertainty which can lead to decline in trust, resiliency, and employee morale as employees feel stressed and sometimes powerless. Lack of clarity of expectations can also fuel conflict between employees, and between employees and leaders because employees experience stress, irritability, and nervousness leading to greater opportunities for conflict. Lack of clarity of expectations is also often tied to ineffective communications, which is another key source of conflict.

It is therefore not surprising that lack of clarity of expectations is a prominent factor in workplace assessments and employee engagement surveys that reflect negative workplace culture. If you want to improve your workplace culture, and support and promote psychological safety and health in your workplace, you need to ensure that expectations are clearly established and communicated.

How do you know if you are setting and communicating expectations clearly? According to Mindscountii, an organization with clear leadership and explicit expectations would see that:

  • in their jobs, workers know what they are expected to do;
  • leadership in the workplace is effective;
  • workers are informed about important changes at work in a timely manner;
  • supervisors provide helpful feedback to workers on their expected and actual performance; and
  • the organization provides clear, effective communication.

If you want to improve the likelihood of employees meeting expectations, and provide the certainty that goes along with clear expectations, try to follow these steps:

  1. Determine your expectations of employees and teams before you communicate them to others. You cannot be clear with others about your expectations unless you are clear with yourself. Think about what meeting expectations would look like.
  2. Minimize confusion by making expectations easy to understand and apply and communicating them clearly and consistently. Employees cannot meet expectations they don’t understand. Support written communication with in-person discussion whenever possible and entertain questions and feedback to promote ‘buy-in.’
  3. Let employees know why your expectations are important to the organization. When employees understand why expectations of them are important, they are more likely to meet them.
  4. Provide examples of why the expectations matter to help employees connect their role to the overall organization.
  5. Obtain agreement and commitment to the expectations from all to support accountability.

Setting and communicating clear expectations will improve and support employee morale, performance and loyalty, and will have a positive impact on workplace culture by reducing sources of stress and conflict. It is well worth the time and effort.

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