When it comes to implementing a successful engagement strategy, an aspect that HR simply cannot afford to ignore is the expectations of employees.

But, it’s an element of engagement that appears to either be overlooked or simply forgotten by many organisations. For example, a survey by HR Dive discovered that 48% of employees they surveyed left a job specifically because it didn’t meet their expectations. In addition, our own recent research into the state of onboarding discovered that nearly a fifth of all employees believe they were misled by their employer’s original job listing.

How HR can successfully manage employee expectations Cezanne HR blog

Clearly, something is going awry when it comes to managing employee expectations effectively, and it’s something HR need to address – fast. And with good reason…

The UK’s talent pool is shrinking

Although there’s been a sharp fall in recruitment of UK permanent staff in recent weeks, it doesn’t change the fact that, overall, the UK’s workforce is getting smaller. Experienced workers retiring early, a falling birth rate, changes in post-Brexit immigration rules and a post-COVID-19 rise in employees re-examining what they want from their careers are all contributing to a shrinking workforce.

That all means when organisations – and their hard-working HR teams – do need to hire, finding the right people with the right skills and experiences at the right time is going to be incredibly tough. It also means that, from a retention perspective, businesses must work harder than ever before to retain the people they deem vital for continued success and growth.

For employees however, the power dynamics of the employment market have shifted in their favour. This means every employee can be more considered when it comes to choosing their next career move and demand a more personalised employment experience.

With all that in mind, HR should – as part of any good engagement strategy – understand and manage what their employees expect of their jobs, their leaders and the business. Done correctly, and an organisation will likely find it easier to maintain a positive working environment and support greater employee satisfaction – both great for candidate attraction and retention.

So, how HR can successfully manage employee expectations?

For any business to manage the expectations of its employees effectively, as an HR professional, you should look to implement several positive activities alongside more broader employee engagement initiatives. These include:

1. Clear and regular company communications

Establishing open and transparent communication channels is one way to manage your employees’ expectations. When this is done right at the beginning of a person’s employment journey with your business, they’ll have a much better understanding of what to expect from their employer, and what their employer expects of them, too.

Activities could include promoting your company’s vision, values and culture, ensuring important company policies are readily accessible, and sharing regular messages and updates from your senior leaders. In fact, regular communications from senior leaders are something many employees value as part of positive workplace experiences, as our 2023 survey into employee satisfaction discovered.

2. Refining your job descriptions

As mentioned earlier, inaccurate job listings appear to be a common occurrence, and these can derail the employee experience right from the off. A potential employee will build their expectations of a role based on the job advert they responded to. So, if the actual workplace experience doesn’t match, or the stated duties are not accurate, it’s unlikely an employee will stick around for the long-term, and could also damage your organisation’s reputation in the process.

As an HR professional, you should ensure your company’s job descriptions are accurate and clearly outline job roles, responsibilities and performance expectations. Ideally, they should also give a flavour of what it’s really like to work with your business.

In addition, regularly reviewing and updating your job descriptions can also help align expectations as your business changes, too. All this will help new employees understand what’s expected of them and remove potential misunderstandings.

3. Placing a focus on performance management and regular feedback

One of the best ways to ensure everyone in your organisation knows what’s expected of them is to have a robust performance management programme in place. When a business has the means to measure and evaluate the performance of their workforce, it becomes easier to operate both efficiently and profitably.

Implementing a strong performance management system – underpinned by integrated performance management software – allows HR to set performance goals, provide regular feedback, and support line managers in conducting more meaningful performance evaluations. By setting those clear expectations and providing regular constructive feedback, both HR and line managers can guide employees’ performance and effectively manage their expectations regarding their job performance and career progression.

4. Ensuring consistent and fair practices across the business

As an HR professional, it’s your duty to maintain consistency and fairness in your decision-making processes. This includes adhering to fair and unbiased practices in areas such as job promotions, annual performance and salary reviews, and disciplinary actions. Ensuring fairness and transparency helps manage those all-important employee expectations and helps to build trust within and organisation, too.

And that element of trust shouldn’t be underestimated. When it comes to building successful engagement strategies, the employer-employee relationship is critical. As with any relationship, it needs to be built on a solid foundation of trust – it can’t however, just be ‘switched on’. It’s a topic we cover in more detail in this blog post.

5. Providing training and career development opportunities

As our own research into successful company cultures discovered, employees want more than just a job with a competitive annual salary. The chance to develop new skills and enhance career prospects also rates highly on their wish list when it comes to their expectations as to what a job should provide, so HR should provide the opportunities for them to do exactly that.

Enhancing employees’ skills and knowledge through training and development programmes is one way you manage their career expectations successfully. This can also help build up that element of trust mentioned earlier, by demonstrating your organisation has faith and confidence in their future.

6. Conducting regular exit Interviews

Lastly, the end of an employee’s career with your organisation is the ideal time to discover whether their expectations have been met or not. With their focus on a new role, it’s likely departing employees will feel more relaxed and comfortable discussing their experiences and providing more unfiltered feedback. So, don’t forget to conduct exit interviews!

Conducting exit interviews with your departing employees will help provide you with valuable insights into their experiences versus their initial expectations. By analysing this feedback and acting on the information you receive, you’ll be better able to identify areas for improvement and proactively manage the expectations of future employees.

Paul Bauer author image

Paul Bauer

Paul Bauer is the Head of Content at Cezanne HR. Based in the Utopia of Milton Keynes (his words, not ours!) he’s worked within the employee benefits, engagement and HR sectors for over four years. He's also earned multiple industry awards for his work - including a coveted Roses Creative Award.