Don’t expect the unexpected


From the moment an employee is hired to do a job, everyone has expectations.

An employer will quite rightly expect the employee to do the job they were hired to do.

The employee expects to be given a meaningful introduction to the business and their role and be paid fairly in return.

If they do better than expected, then they might hope for a promotion or a pay rise in due course.

So how many employment relationships are ended because both parties weren’t talking openly about what their expectations were?

The answer is we don’t know, although I expect someone at the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment to keep a count of how many employment disputes may have been resolved earlier before they had irretrievably broken down.

Evidence tells us that employment relationships end for a multitude of reasons. But more often than not, many end because the two parties have not been clear in their expectations or one party has such lofty expectations that no demi-god would even be able to fulfil them!

Like any relationship, an employment relationship requires honesty, good faith and expressions of hope of a future together. That requires an understanding of what both parties expect from each other.

So why is it so tough for employer and employee to talk about their expectations?

If they expect something better, then it might sound like we are really avoiding a discussion about what is not working for us.

When an employee first starts in their job, the employer will provide a job description or a list of duties which describes what the employee is expected to do on a regular basis. But it doesn’t always tell the employee how they are meant to do it.

The Employment Relations Act 2000 talks about “an inherent inequality of power in employment” reflecting the employee’s reliance on the employer making good on their promise to reward the employee for the performance of work. That doesn’t mean the employer shouldn’t talk to the employee about what is expected of them and neither does it prevent the employee asking what they expect from the employer.

What does setting expectations involve? At the job interview, it means employers should give a “warts and all” job preview and talk about the challenges that are affecting the business. Similarly employees should be open about matters that might impact on their ability to do the job.

For example, if there is a medical condition, make it clear how that medical condition can be managed.

If a trial period is involved, then both parties should be talking about what is going well or not and the same should be discussed during performance reviews after the trial period has concluded.

It is even more important when both parties are talking about their hopes for the future. There is nothing wrong with an employee saying: “I am struggling and I need time away from the business.” Or perhaps that they want to take a less substantial role in the business if there was an opportunity to do so.

So, come on people, let’s talk!


About Author

Blair Hingston

Human Resource administrator, Everest Group Limited. Everest Group, Creating Exceptional Workplaces,