May 15, 2022

Effectively managing employee expectations means being in touch with people’s needs

By Katasha Harley, Chief People Officer at Bravely

One of the key workplace lessons for me over the last two years has been about authentic connection, purpose, and our shared humanity among coworkers. Instinctually many human resource leaders knew to lean into caring for others. The organizations who are doing it best are those where people managers’ and leaders’ capacity and empathy have grown and they have remained vulnerable throughout these tumultuous times. If we can remain open to what it means to work in relation to each other, that’s one benefit that we can be proud of in what otherwise feels like an ongoing time of change and challenge.  

The corporate world has its own way of speaking, with a tendency toward jargon. Unintentionally or otherwise, this habit creates confusion and murkiness around what it is we’re actually trying to say, and can strip our teams of their humanity. One of the phrases we hear a lot in the HR space is “employee expectations,” especially in regards to how leaders manage these expectations. These conversations have been coming up a lot lately in response to the Great Resignation, with leaders seeking advice on how to manage the growing expectations of existing and incoming employees. But what if instead of “expectations” we talk about the needs of our employees and the needs of our organizations, openly, transparently, and with clarity? By acknowledging the desired outcomes of both parties, we can make clean, honest negotiations about our finite time and energy and find ways to collaborate on our mutual goals. 

Where do your goals overlap with your org’s? 

When people can identify the overlap between their personal goals and the business goals of their organization, satisfaction, engagement, and productivity increase. With workplace happiness being challenged and redefined, the workforce at large is in dire need of a narrative reframe toward a more compassionate, human-centric workplace of the future. When employees see themselves in the goals of the company and can connect to their own purpose, that overlap gives employees an incredible momentum. 

Empower employees to embrace their agency.

The Great Resignation has fueled many conversations among business leaders, especially when it comes to the perceived loss of control in employee experience. Employees have come to understand what is important to them in their lives, and it turns out that coming to an office five days a week might not be high on their lists. While employees have a responsibility to know what they value, what their purpose is and contribute to the success of the organizations they work in , leaders everywhere have a responsibility to listen to the people who make up their organizations and do what they can to meet their employee’s needs. There is a balance in the dance of giving employees what they need to find purpose and forward momentum in their roles, and holding them to certain business outcomes. When employees feel connected to the mission of an organization, they are far more likely to be engaged, drive performance, and contribute to a healthy work culture.

The dynamics of workplace power structures are changing. It’s no longer possible for organizations to make decisions in service of the bottom line without regard for employee health. We’re seeing that people are placing their value in more than just compensation and time off. According to recent MIT Sloan research, “A toxic corporate culture is by far the strongest predictor of industry-adjusted attrition and is 10 times more important than compensation in predicting turnover.”

Be authentic with what you need and discerning in how you show up. 

Do employers mean it when they say they want everyone to bring their full selves to the table? Employees get to choose how they show up at work— and it’s essential for employees to have discernment around what they choose to bring to the workplace. 

According to a 2019 Harvard Business Review Report, “even at ‘inclusive’ companies, women of color don’t feel supported.” Imagine the impact that the past two years have had on their work experience. Employees at every level should feel encouraged to ask themselves who they are and how they want to show up at work; personally, culturally or otherwise. Our differences make an organization stronger, and it’s up to each of us how that difference shows up — but only if our organizations are invested in us  making that choice. 

This is a movement, not a moment. 

We’ve all just been through a mortality event over the past two years. The pandemic has brought to light just how delicate life is and shown us that we are all doing the best with what we have. There is no return to the way things were, only forward motion toward a future of work that we can all rally behind. How will leaders connect and support employees in a way that honors the full spectrum of the human experience instead of denying it? The shifts we make at work impact the world at large. We’re at risk as a society of shoving down the grief to pressure ourselves on in the name of our business outcomes. When we talk about the expectations between managers and employees, how do we also include the expectations we have of each other as humans? 

We are in a work movement akin to the civil rights movement or the suffrage movement, and there is a groundswell of momentum to create long term change for the future of work. This current time in the world of work is ripe with opportunity for transformation and if we can seize the opportunity to shape the future of work, we will see the long term benefits for generations of workers to come. Let’s not let this time be merely a moment. By understanding the shifts of the 2022 workplace, HR leaders have an opportunity to lean in more organically to understand what’s at stake on a world stage.

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