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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Manage Work Expectations By Knowing What's Most Important to You

by Shel Horowitz

Everyone has expectations; the people who do best in a work environment are those who are able to understand and articulate what expectations are most important, and to put themselves in situations where those expectations can be satisfied.

Using a diagnostic booklet called “Managing Work Expectations, Transforming Attitudes: A Personal Learning Guide for Increasing Commitment and Job Satisfaction,” Ingrid Bredenberg, of Human Resource Innovations in Montague, helped FBC members plot high, medium, or low expectations across ten categories: structure, diversity, recognition, autonomy, environment, expression, teamwork, stability, balance, and career growth.

Not surprisingly, in this driven group of entrepreneurs, the majority scored high in numerous categories. But the real issue, says Bredenberg, is not your own expectations, but making sure the people under you communicate what they need and feel that their concerns are heard.

“70% of people who leave a company never tell why they're leaving. They go off angry, upset, and the company remains uninformed about what they might have done differently. When you think about the cost of replacing” an employee, which Bredenberg estimated at 29-46% of annual salary for low-to-mid-level employees and 2-3 times salary for senior executives, that translates into a concrete dollar consequence of not understanding expectations.

Why do people leave? Attenders had several ideas:

  • A better offer
  • They didn't feel appreciated
  • The work wasn't challenging
  • No possibility of advancement
  • Personality conflicts

Bredenberg summed it up: “The job was not living up to their expectations--but maybe they never even asked. Or their supervisor said no, we've always done it this way, if I do it for you I'll have to do it for everybody.”

Why don't people express their expectations? Attenders suggested fear of conflict, fear of disappointment, lack of feeling entitled, or simply an inability to identify or articulate them. And those unexpressed or unmet expectations almost guarantee lack of motivation.

“People with clearly defined, well communicated expectations find more satisfaction and success in their work, It's not always that the expectations are met. If they can feel safe about communicating them and then perhaps meet their own expectations or other ways to meet their needs,” they'll do just fine.

While many of the booklet questions were relatively hard to apply to an entrepreneur, attenders clearly saw how they could use this tool with workers a bit farther down the corporate ladder. In fact, several people requested extra copies of the booklet, to take back to employees.

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