How to Evaluate Employee Expectations

A manager has a one-on-one meeting with her employee to discuss employee expectations

What is one thing that would make your work more fun? If you pose this question to your employees, you might be surprised at what you find out. 

For example, when I asked one of my employees this question, she shared that she receives hundreds of paper business cards from the sales team every week that she enters into a database. This manual and labor-intensive task took her 6-8 hours every week. After receiving her feedback, I spent a few minutes researching and found an inexpensive solution that freed up 4-6 hours of her weekly time — a business card scanner. When the scanner was delivered to her desk, she burst into tears. Her emotional response was not because of the $79 I spent to buy a scanner. She was touched because I listened to her and took the time to address an issue she had shared with me.

Research has shown that people-centric businesses—organizations that understand their employees’ expectations and put their employees first—are more successful. They boast higher profits, greater employee retention rates, reduced turnover, and overall higher employee satisfaction.

Are you working for a business that looks only at the bottom-line return and sees employees still as a line item on the profit and loss statement? Or, do you work for a business that has recognized the importance of applying a people-centric focus?

If you work for the latter, bravo! But if you work for the former, consider these approaches to evaluating your employees’ expectations and creating a people-centric business.

How to evaluate employee expectations

1. Use data to put people first 

At the highest level, gaining “human insights” is critically important. What do I mean by that?

For decades many businesses have studied, analyzed, and researched countless data points specific to customers and consumers. This included customer behavior studies, purchasing patterns, trends, and expectations down to particular personas so that companies could put themselves in their customers’ shoes and create solutions in the form of products and services that people wanted.

However, rather than only focusing on customers, businesses should apply this same approach to their employees. To be a forward-thinking organization, it’s imperative to understand your employees’ hopes, dreams, and expectations.

The times are long gone when businesses can confine the people that work for them in the roles of employees (meaning only thinking of them in the context of what happens at work). Becoming a people-centric business means that companies need to invest time and energy in getting to know their employees more closely—on a personal level.

2. Develop people-centric leaders

Let’s make this more practical: How can your business be more in tune with its employees? A key element is managers and frontline supervisors. Indeed, research on how employee expectations have changed over the last two years has found that people-centric leaders are high on the wish list of today’s employees. 

Research published in “Project Management and Leadership Challenges Volume II” found that 54% of employees who believe their manager cares about them as a person were engaged at work. In comparison, only 17% of employees who did not think their manager cared about them holistically were engaged. This means that managers who express a genuine interest in their employees see engagement rates that are more than 300% higher than managers who do not. 

Managers who express a genuine interest in their employees see engagement rates that are more than 300% higher than managers who do not.

While this sounds simple, many managers are reluctant, uncomfortable, or scared to have personal conversations with their employees. An effective way to bridge this gap is by making it a habit to ask the same ice-breaker question weekly. While the front-end of the question always stays the same, managers should vary the back end of the question from week to week. For example:

  • What is one thing that would make your work [more fun]?
  • What is one thing that would make your work [more productive]?
  • What is one thing that would make your work [less stressful]?
  • What is one thing that would make your work [more engaging]?

I have used variations of this question for years with my direct reports, such as in the instance noted above. To make this approach successful, you must:

  1. Commit to consistency and ask your direct reports weekly. While it might not instantly lead to feedback, if you continue to ask weekly, you will eventually receive incredibly valuable input.
  2. Act based on the feedback you receive. This doesn’t mean that you must solve all the issues, but you should look into all the information you receive and provide timely feedback (within a week or two) whether you have positive feedback or not. 

I have found that nine of 10 times no money is needed to address the things that employees bring forward. And while it isn’t possible to address or resolve all issues that employees will share with you, I can guarantee that you will earn a lot of bonus points by trying and being transparent in your feedback. And when you’re ready to have more personal conversations, it creates an excellent foundation of trust.

3. Assess how your business is addressing employee expectations

You can only make improvements if you’re willing to critically evaluate how your business is addressing your employees’ expectations. To better understand what employees expect at work, UKG has developed a tool—the Triple E Gap Analysis—which provides a tangible way to identify critical barriers and discrepancies between what your organization is doing and offering and what employees want and expect.

The six-minute assessment offers actionable feedback on gaps in areas such as enabling workforce support and flexibility, delivering on promises, and culture and communication. The topics you identify can form the basis for transformative change to address employee expectations head-on and create an environment that attracts and retains top talent.

Think back to my original ask: What is one thing that would make work more fun? When we listen to our employees, both the business and its people win.