Managing Up: How To Set Expectations With Employers During COVID-19

By Lauren Frazer

Updated March 29, 2021 | Published October 28, 2020

Updated March 29, 2021

Published October 28, 2020

Lauren Frazer is a senior editor for Indeed’s Career Guide with over 15 years of experience in content creation, editorial and marketing. Based in New Hampshire, she thrives upon helping job seekers learn what they need to develop and grow.

When you’re looking for a new job, making a great impression can help you secure an offer. However, when you have specific needs that may feel risky to negotiate with the employer, when and how is the best time to let them know? Doing this balancing act is especially important as we continue to weather the impact of COVID-19. For example, you may have a child learning from home who requires you to be present in the afternoon, necessitating a flexible schedule rather than a standard 9-to-5 workday.

So the question remains: when and how is best to tell employers about your needs—and will communicating those needs negatively impact your job? In this article, we will explore the best ways to set expectations with potential, new and existing employers so you have a job that works for you.

What is managing up?

“Managing up” is a term that refers to managing your manager. In other words, while it is your manager’s responsibility to offer you the structure, resources and direction you need to do your job successfully, it may also be necessary at times for you to offer the same to your manager.

One of these cases is setting expectations with your leaders about what you need in order to do your job well. Doing so may be necessary during the hiring phase to ensure the new job can provide the work-life you require—especially as we continue to weather and adjust to the impact of COVID-19 on our everyday lives. Below are several ways you can practice managing up with both existing and potential employers.

Setting expectations during the hiring process

There may be several opportunities during the job application and hiring process to communicate your work requirements and expectations. This typically includes pay and benefits, scheduling and availability, work style and more. While it is important that you explain your needs from the beginning, it is best to go into more detail about your situation after you’ve secured an offer. Here are some tips for communicating your needs to a new or potential employer:

Preparing for conversations with the employer

It is best to take some time at the beginning of your job search—or at least before you start interviewing—to identify your needs. Doing so can help you clearly explain your work-life requirements to employers along with a proposed plan, which shows proactivity, responsibility and accountability. To begin, consider starting with the following questions:

  • What are my current day-to-day responsibilities that cannot be shifted?

  • How might my current daily schedule be impacted by a job and vice-versa?

  • Do I require a flexible schedule? Why or why not?

  • Do I require a remote job? For how long?

  • Which hours do I need to block off during the day? Can this be shifted?

  • What kind of pay and benefits do I require considering my current situation?

  • Do I require part-time or full-time work given my current situation?

  • Are there any perks, benefits or offerings employers can offer that would make my schedule more flexible?

After you’ve identified your needs, put together a proposal based on what you know about the employer and their needs as well. For example, if you’re a parent working from home with children learning remotely, you might need to block the mornings off from your work schedule to ensure that each child is set up for their virtual school day. As a solution, you might offer an alternative work schedule that starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m.

You should also consider putting together a backup plan. For example, if an employer is not willing to offer the fully-remote position you requested, you might consider asking them to try a hybrid model by splitting in-person and remote hours 50/50. It helps to have evidence that any needs you present will not affect your ability to do the job.

Communicating your needs to potential employers

In initial talks with the company’s recruiter and hiring manager, provide a brief overview of your current needs without going into detail. Doing so can help you understand whether the opportunity is even a possibility for your situation. For example, if you require a remote position for safety and flexibility during COVID-19 but are interviewing for a mandatory in-person position, it's best to know upfront that it won't be a good fit. Here are some questions you might consider asking employers during interviews:

  • What precautions have you put in place to protect employees from COVID-19?

  • What is your plan if an employee tests positive for COVID-19?

  • How many employees are in the work area at one time?

  • What is your sick leave policy if I or a loved one contracts COVID-19?

  • What are employee requirements for social distancing and how will you enforce them?

  • Tell me about job security, in the event that the office needs to close due to COVID-19. Can you provide a remote option for employees?

  • Do you have a temporary remote work policy during COVID-19?

  • Will you consider a long-term remote option for employees?

  • What systems are in place for your remote employees to communicate and complete work?

  • How do you see your current remote work model evolving with COVID-19?

  • Do you have an expected return-to-work date in mind?

  • What are your reasons for requiring employees to be on-site?

  • Will you provide employees with regular COVID-19 testing?

  • How will you notify employees if there is a COVID-19 positive individual at work?

  • Do you offer any supplemental benefits or additional time off? What are they?

Read more: 20 COVID-Related Questions To Ask Employers

As mentioned above, it is best to save your hard requirements until after you’ve secured the offer. This provides you the power to negotiate various aspects of your offer package, including your pay, benefits, schedule and more. Take the time during your conversation to explain both your requirements and ideal solution, being flexible and open to other possibilities from the employer. During this phase, it is important that you distinguish between your wants and your needs. You may have to sacrifice some “nice-to-haves” in order to secure what you absolutely need in your job.

If the employer is unable to meet your requirements or does not receive your proposal well, it may simply not be a good fit for you. While having a job is crucial to supporting yourself and your family, finding a position that meets your basic needs means you’ll likely be able to keep it on a longer-term basis and perform better as an employee.

Key takeaway: Interviewing is nerve-wracking without having additional requirements and requests. The bottom line is, communicating your needs to employers upfront shows that you are proactive, communicative and genuinely care about performing well in your job. Any employer that doesn’t respond well to reasonable requirements (given you are flexible and open to other options) may simply not be a good employer to work for.

Setting expectations with existing employers

In your current job, it may also be necessary to manage up as your situation related to COVID-19 shifts. Expectation setting is an ongoing process that requires transparency and communication. Here are several tips for setting expectations with a new or existing employer:

1. Be consistent and communicative. Updating your direct manager as soon as possible on your situation can help them offer you any available solutions and resources as well as set expectations with the leadership they report to. If you require time off or a shift in your schedule, provide as much advance notice as possible.

Most employers don’t mind offering flexibility as long as you’re keeping up with your work. Consider setting up a weekly one-on-one check-in to ensure your manager is updated on your work and needs.

2. Stay informed on company offerings. Many organizations are offering irregular incentives, benefits, flexible schedules and more during COVID-19. Check with your HR team and manager to ensure you’re updated on all opportunities currently available to you.

3. Be transparent. Everyone’s lives have been affected by the global pandemic one way or another. If you’re struggling with work, goals, scheduling, feeling isolated or overwhelmed or any other issues that affect your satisfaction at work, be honest with your employer. They may be able to offer resources or general flexibility to help.

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