The Expectation Gap


By Geoff Nichols

If you supervise others and have had a conversation with one of your employees about promotions or salary increases, you have probably heard these phrases, “I come to work every day, on time, don’t cause trouble and do everything I’m asked to do, so I don’t think it’s fair that I received only an average increase.” Or, maybe you have heard this one: “If you pay me more, I’ll do more.”

These, and other similar comments from many employees I have talked to as a manager for 15 years and from many first-level supervisors I have met as a management trainer over the last 20 years, reflect what I call the “expectation gap.” This can be summarized in one sentence: Employees often expect high raises for work employers regard as the expected standard of performance.

In the first phrase above, “I come to work every day…” the employee’s list of reasons why he or she should have received a promotion are what most employers believe is simply doing what the employee was hired to do and is paid fairly to do. This level of work reflects what the job description and the policy handbook specify and they in turn represent standards which are defined as minimum acceptable levels of performance and conduct – not the basis for higher increases and promotions.

The second phrase, “If you pay me more, I’ll do more,” illustrates the expectation gap more starkly. Here, the employee expects the employer to pay them a higher salary in advance of higher levels of performance. However, the employer expects the employee to perform at higher-than-standard levels for an extended period of time (6 – 12 months) before providing higher levels of reward.

It’s easy for employers to blame employees for being unrealistic or feeling somehow entitled to higher rewards just because they showed up. And it’s easy for employees to blame employers for being greedy and always wanting more from employees without paying more for it. I believe it’s best to focus on one question – how can we close the expectation gap for everyone’s benefit.

Having been an employee, a manager, a business owner and a consultant, I have these suggestions for employers to avoid or reduce expectation-gap problems:

  • Accept that many employees do not understand that their job description and the policy handbook are minimum performance and conduct standards. So state this clearly up front to employees and advise them that successful completion of their duties and compliance to organizational policies warrants standard (minimum to mid-range) raises – not the highest-level raises.

  • Clearly state what it takes to earn above-standard raises, bonuses and promotions.  Define these in measurable or observable terms and give multiple examples of what you mean. Repeat these messages several times to each employee throughout the year in different, positive ways. Saying it once each year at performance evaluation time is not nearly enough.

I also, have these suggestions for employees to get more of what you want:

  • Accept that employers have a right to set performance standards, pay rates, benefits and raises at levels they think best to be competitive. You have the right to ask what all of these are and how you can get more in raises, bonuses and promotions, then decide if these terms meet your needs or not. You can also try to negotiate more.

  • Make sure you meet all requirements of your job description and policy handbook and then look for ways to provide your employer additional value. Try solving problems or making suggestions without being asked, doing more or higher quality work or helping other employees. In order to attain higher rewards, you must first consistently deliver higher-than-expected performance. This is an unwritten rule that applies in virtually all organizations.

Employees should document how they exceed performance standards, make suggestions, solve problems and help others without being asked. Then they should make sure their manager knows about these efforts. All organizations and managers highly value and reward employees who provide high performance. However, some managers may take high performance for granted. If so, the employee with this kind of documentation has a great marketing tool when interviewing with other employers who will pay them more for higher level work.

By Geoff Nichols

© 2015 Alliance Training and Consulting, Inc.




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