Nov 7, 2022
"Expectations are premeditated resentments." They can cause disappointment, but they don't have to. Expecting something doesn't mean it will happen, so it correlates to the action one needs to take toward a goal. I've realized many pieces of expectations are ingrained in our daily work lives, and I wanted to break them down for personal understanding.
As one grows up in their career, it becomes crucial to manage expectations correctly. As I put more consideration into things that factor into my work success and happiness, I was surprised to realize that there are many layers of expectations we need to deal with daily. These can motivate and frustrate you as they touch our primal social animal's needs. But as a multi-faceted problem, it's not only about expectations towards others but also oneself. I'll attempt to define the layers of work expectations with which I'm typically involved.
This is a hard one to deal with but the one you have more control of. As a Designer, the tendency of one to be a so-called perfectionist can stifle motivation very quickly. And what is perfectionism if not a high expectation bar one holds upon themselves?
As I progressed over my career and realized the role of Design changing from "pushing pixels" towards systems/holistic thinking, I needed to deconstruct my definition of perfect. From aesthetically pleasing and ideal grid alignment to, "what problem are we trying to solve here?" this mindset change was slow and somewhat painful. What I learned was taking a step back each time I felt frustrated for delivering below my expectations and reminding myself of the actual impact my work brings to the project/team/company. Anchoring the expectations on yourself in something that affects the bigger picture.
Upwards expectations' are when you expect certain things from your manager, mentor, company's leadership team, and the CEO. I wonder if most people think the same way, but when I joined a company, I decided to invest my time and belief that we're in this together and with a higher purpose. This is the area learnings are directly tied with experience and time at the job. I say this because you need to have been through different management and companies to have a meaningful baseline of comparison.
There's a healthy balance between having your hopes and dreams tied to a company (to the extent of calling it family) and being cynical about corporations as machines that exploit employees for pure profit. There's something in between. Companies exist to make a profit, period. From small to enterprises, money is the reason for them to be. That can sound harsh, but it's not. Many companies are structuring themselves with employees at the center, as much as their customers and shareholders. Many act responsibly when making hiring decisions and putting sustainability into their processes and products. Those companies can create a culture that, from C-level, through middle management and individual contributors, act transparently.
Transparency is a factor for healthy expectations at work. Sometimes hard decisions need to be communicated. Severe messages need to be sent across, but disclosing things as early as possible and being transparent and kind towards others goes a long way toward creating a workplace where expectations are realistic and healthy.
Relationships come with expectations, all of them. With the quick adaptation to working from home that COVID forced most of us to go through, communication became a focal point for work expectations. Especially in day-to-day interactions with your direct peers.
Moving from Brazil to Germany years ago, I remember how hard it was to adjust to a multicultural environment. Not because I held back to my own biases and ways of doing things but because it took more work to read the cues and learn the pace and style of everyone I was interacting with. And that was on a face-to-face setup. I can only imagine what it was like for colleagues who started new jobs during the pandemic's peak, where remote and WFH was the only work mode available. Creating work relationships and even engaging people turned into a real challenge. I sensed that quite a lot as a people manager. I've seen people that would typically have the so-called ramp-up time a lot longer than usual. People that struggled to read others' cues and to build a realistic expectation of how others could help them adjust.
Now, with a controlled pandemic in a different world, companies are trying to find their new work models, and I perceive a clear bitter aftertaste from COVID times, where people are struggling to build back their trust in others. The wrong way to fix that is to enforce a particular work routine, especially a strict one, where everyone should expose themselves to face time to create better. People change, and so managers should, especially when it comes to defining what a successful team is like. We can help create collaborative environments where people are welcome to participate in whichever way makes them comfortable. You can and should lead by example, being open with your expectations and encouraging your team to do so with their colleagues.
I bet you have heard the advice of keeping your expectations low to avoid frustration and disappointment. I don't believe in that. Expectations also mean hope. Hope that things will turn out well and that you'll be understood and respected by others. Balanced with actions and transparency, they can fuel people into making great things. Work can be so much more if we practice that and if managers have expectations as an integral part of their leadership practice.