Do Employees Know What You Expect?

4 min read
Jan 3, 2014

* Part 2 of our 2013 TINYpulse Employee Engagement Study breakdown.

In Part 1 of our breakdown, we learned that 58% of employees don't know their company's mission/values. This came as a huge shock, since companies with a strong, clear mission statement and well-defined values see greater success and stronger retention. A lack of focus on values, on the other hand, impacts the culture and direction of the company over the long term. But what about the day-to-day?

The second key trend that we discovered related to employees' everyday experience. We wanted to know how well employees understood their specific roles and responsibilities. After all, for some companies it may seem a bit etherial to focus on a vision or mission rather than daily or weekly goals. If that's the case, day-to-day tasks should be very clearly spelled out, right?

What we discovered was that 80% of employees claimed that their manager did a good job of clearly defining their responsibilities. At first glance, this seemed to be a pretty strong number. We then asked the question, "what about the other 20%?" Are 1 in 5 employees really showing up to work each day wondering what they're supposed to be doing? If so, what are they saying? So, we took a deeper look.

The Other 20%

By and large, companies who use TINYpulse are dedicated to improving transparency, opening lines of communication, and finding ways to improve. They are proactive in addressing the festering issues that disrupt workflow and cause frustration or unhappiness for their workers. For this reason, we were extremely surprised to realize that 20% of their employees did not have a clear understanding of their specific duties.

When asked whether their manager had done a sufficient job of explaining their responsibilities, here is how some employees responded:


While this is only a small sampling of the dozens of similar responses one company received, the outcomes are predictable: Confused employees complete poorly performed work, experience low satisfaction, and eventually leave. By failing to clearly define the roles of each employee you not only set these workers up for failure, you risk losing them altogether. And since the cost of replacing an employee can be up to 150% of the employee's annual salary, it is in your best interest to keep your team intact.

In addition, a lack of clearly defined roles and responsibilities can lead to huge failures at the company-wide level. In his book, "Linchpin," Seth Godin describes one such incident at online giant Explaining how these failures occur, he writes: "Three words can kill an organization. As the world moves faster and engagements become more fluid, the category of 'not my job' keeps getting bigger and bigger." How do you prevent such a breakdown from occurring at your company?

How to Fix It?

First, ask your employees if they know what's expected of them. Simple, right? The truth is, your company may be doing very well or extremely poorly at defining responsibilities. Eliminate the guesswork by using an employee survey tool. We're partial to TINYpulse, but any tool is better than not asking at all. Employees will appreciate the open communication and knowing that management is dedicated to improving.

Once you’ve identified your 20% (or 16%, or 35%,) gather your management team and determine whether they – and you – have a clear vision of each role’s duties and responsibilities. After all, if management doesn’t know the duties of each role, how can your employees possibly know? This may be the perfect time to step back and look at which duties can be shifted from one worker to another in a way that harmonizes with unique skill sets or existing responsibilities. If you get stuck, ask the employees themselves which tasks they would like to see shifted or developed differently. The majority of your workers will be able to provide insight that your management team may be missing.

Once your management team has taken time to define (or refine) roles, take the time to meet with employees individually and discuss changes. Help employees establish clear goals for their individual roles. Not only will these workers appreciate the clarity that comes from understanding what's expected of them, they may also find that their load has lightened or their processes have become more streamlined. In either case, their chance for success has increased.

The Takeaway

Creating proper expectations for your entire company can be simple. Find an engagement tool to help you ask your employees if their role is clearly defined, then make the changes necessary to ensure that your 20% becomes 0%.

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