Business Journal

Many Employees Don't Know What's Expected of Them at Work

by Marco Nink

Story Highlights

  • Many managers don't help employees set and achieve goals
  • Three key elements influence employee performance
  • An effective approach: Have employees help create their goals

It's tough for employees to meet performance goals when they don't know exactly what's expected of them.

And far too many employees fall into that category. Based on Gallup's work with companies worldwide, only about half of employees strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work.

Helping employees to set and achieve goals is a manager's key responsibility, but Gallup analysis in Germany shows that many managers don't really own this task. To free employees to take initiative and inspire high performance, managers need to set clear expectations, hold employees accountable for meeting them and respond quickly when employees need support. But managers also should hold themselves accountable for meeting employees' performance needs.


Inspiring Employee Performance

When it comes to knowing what's expected of them, employees need more than a job description: They must know when they're performing well and when they're not. The best managers clarify expectations and support employees by helping them structure their work and prioritize their tasks. They help employees measure the difference they make and hold them accountable for their results. Additionally, they are available to answer employees' questions and provide ongoing support, feedback and communication so that employees always know whether they're meeting expectations.

Three Elements of Employee Performance

  • Achievement: Inspiring high performance starts with establishing clear expectations and goals. Employees need clear direction from their managers on what is expected of them, how much and when.
  • Accountability: After managers set expectations, they don't just walk away and hope for the best. They know the tasks and projects their employees are working on, hold them accountable for meeting expectations and provide regular measurement of and feedback on their performance.
  • Accessibility: To motivate achievement and accountability, the best managers are available whenever an employee needs support. They listen, and when an employee encounters a problem, they actively help him or her solve it. These managers are approachable and responsive.

These three elements have important effect on employee engagement, which plays a crucial role in helping companies grow. Gallup measures engagement using the Q12 survey that includes 12 items that link to important business outcomes, such as improved productivity, profitability and customer ratings. It provides a clear picture of a company's work environment and each manager's success in meeting employee needs.

When Gallup analyzed the link between achievement, accountability, and accessibility and employee engagement, we found that the more successful a manager is at fulfilling employees' needs on each of the three elements, the more likely employees are to be engaged:

  • Among employees who strongly agree with the statement, "My manager helps me set work priorities," 38% are engaged. Among employees who disagree, only 4% are engaged.
  • Among employees who strongly agree with the statement, "My manager holds me accountable for my performance," 28% are engaged. Among employees who disagree, only 6% are engaged.
  • Among employees who strongly agree that "I feel I can approach my manager with any type of question," 31% are engaged. Among employees who disagree, only 2% are engaged.

Managers' Scorecard

When it comes to supporting employees and inspiring high performance, managers in Germany are doing well at meeting most employees' needs for accountability and accessibility. Managers know what assignments their employees are currently working on: Seven in 10 German workers (71%) strongly agree that their manager is fully aware of their projects and tasks. Almost two-thirds of employees (65%) strongly agree that they communicate with their manager daily -- either face to face, by telephone or through digital media -- and another one-fifth (21%) strongly agree they do the same weekly. Managers also respond promptly to employee requests: 60% of employees strongly agree that their manager responds to their calls or messages within 24 hours.

Managers in Germany are less effective when it comes to supporting employees' achievement needs, however. About one-third (32%) of employees strongly agree that their manager helps them set performance goals, and about four in 10 (38%) strongly agree their manager supports them in setting work priorities.

Benefits of Engagement

Meeting employees' achievement needs is important to encouraging high performance. When managers help employees set work priorities and performance goals, they give employees more freedom in meeting these objectives, enabling them to take initiative and work autonomously. Employees also gain satisfaction from creating their work procedures themselves and from being involved in these decisions.

Employees who create their goals with their manager will follow through on them with more enthusiasm. If managers fail to meet employees' needs or to involve them in setting expectations, employees are less likely to be engaged -- and their companies are less likely to reap the benefits of engagement.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 4-Dec. 3, 2014, with a random sample of 1,000 employed adults. All respondents were living in Germany and selected using random-digit-dial sampling. Interviews were conducted with respondents on landline and cellular phones. Samples are weighted by gender, age, education, region, profession (job type and role), employment status (full time and part time) and adults in the household. Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recently published data from the German Statistics Office.

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