How To Manage Expectations at Work (and Why It's Important)

Updated February 3, 2023

Establishing workplace expectations can help align your professional goals with your abilities and create more trusting professional relationships with coworkers or supervisors. Through expectations, you can help establish boundaries, set goals and learn more about those with whom you interact. Managing expectations at work may also be important to help create a positive, healthy work environment where you can thrive and increase your skills.

In this article, we show you the importance of managing expectations at work, how to manage those expectations and highlight some important tips for maintaining and managing work expectations.

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What is managing expectations at work?

Managing expectations at work refers to the methods you use to establish boundaries and goals regarding working with others. Creating these guidelines can help you define your personal duties, specific skills you expect to gain, how you interact with coworkers and managers and your career trajectory. For example, if you want a raise in the coming quarter, you may ask your manager to assign you additional projects before your next review in order to increase your skills and knowledge.

As a manager, you may create, implement and manage team expectations and techniques in order to establish a positive, collaborative workplace. This may include modifying company culture, policies and processes to emphasize communication and collaboration. Managers also manage their own expectations at work by setting goals similar to those they assign to staff.

Why is managing expectations at work important?

Managing expectations at work may be important in order to create a structured work-life balance. Some benefits of managing those expectations include:

  • Establishing healthy relationships: Healthy work relationships may help you grow in your field and make new connections with others pursuing similar goals. Understanding your skill sets and those of others may also help establish a healthy working relationship.

  • Maintaining mental health: Positive mental health is also important in the workplace because it may influence your work quality and satisfaction. Understanding your expectations from coworkers, managers and the industry you're in may help you maintain good mental health by reducing stress.

  • Providing insight: Expectations may help offer greater insight into specific projects and tasks, which may help reduce confusion regarding job duties or goals.

  • Empowering yourself with structure: Setting expectations may also help you empower yourself and increase your confidence in your skills and position with the company.

  • Enhancing communication: Setting and managing expectations can also help you enhance your communication skills by collaborating with team members and providing and receiving feedback.

  • Creating accountability: By establishing specific expectations at work, you can create accountability standards for yourself and your team members. This can include outlining duties and timeframes for your tasks and sharing with team members working on the same project for better team cohesion.

  • Setting realistic goals: Expectations may help establish realistic goals for yourself or the team. By creating expectations that align with your skill sets, you can identify achievable project milestones.

Related: Interview Question: "What Are Your Job Expectations?"

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How to manage expectations at work

Here are some ways you can manage expectations at work:

1. Communicate expectations early

The most important part of setting expectations and respecting others' expectations is communicating this information early in the relationship. By introducing your expectations in the beginning stages of a professional relationship, you can help establish consistent guidelines.

For example, if you hire a new employee, you may inform them that the company doesn't allow phones in personal workspaces. This helps them understand from the beginning what you expect and establishes communication about that expectation as soon as possible.

Related: 8 Steps To Take When Your Job Is Not What You Expected

2. Reinforce expectations with reminders

You might need to reinforce expectations from time to time in order to ensure boundaries remain intact. Coworkers or supervisors might not remember the specifics of your expectations, such as adjusted work hours on certain days, so reminding them beforehand can also help if there are project deadlines or onboarding phases to accommodate.

For example, if a coworker asks you to help with a new portion of the project and it's your day to leave work early, gently remind them of your differing schedule for that day and offer to help with the project on your next available day.

3. Align expectations with abilities or skills

Aligning expectations with skills and abilities ensures team members can meet expectations associated with their skill set. If you're setting personal expectations, it's equally important to keep them realistic so you can achieve the goals you're pursuing.

For example, if you set an expectation for yourself to be at work early every day until the end of your current project, ask whether you're able to clock in early. Also, consider asking yourself if you can handle a few extra hours of work per week. This can help you create a realistic strategy that you're able to follow.

Related: 7 Expectations of Managers (With Tips To Live Up To Them)

4. Hold yourself and others accountable

Accountability is a key factor in healthy, successful expectations and boundaries. Keeping yourself and others accountable may help create a system that positively encourages feedback on how to improve work. Consider asking questions and discussing solutions about how to meet individual and group expectations in the future. Also, determine what factors played a role in any setbacks and create goals to ensure everyone can reach them.

Related: Positive Working Environment: Definition and Characteristics

5. Communicate with supervisors

Your supervisor can be a great ally in providing constructive feedback for establishing and maintaining expectations and boundaries. Communicating your needs and the needs of the team to the supervisor helps them establish their own expectations, which you can then align with your own.

For example, if a supervisor expects your team to complete a project within a week, but you have upcoming paid time off, you can work with them to determine how to complete the project and meet your time off request.

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