Managing Employee Expectations

Many managers are often anxious to “motivate” their teammates so that they perform better and achieve more. This is because they think employees come with little or no motivation. But that is really not the case, at least not in all sectors.

The new generation of workforce usually comes with loads of “prepaid” (to use a telecom analogy) motivation to work hard and achieve great things. This generation has been raised in more hopeful times (post-liberalization), and that’s where their ambitious go-getter attitude comes from. Most of them have been conditioned to do whatever it takes to make a mark and hit it big in a short time. They don’t lack motivation, as was the case in the stagnating 1970s and 1980s, when the country was struggling with crippling forms of socialism.

Nowadays, managers get more motivation in their teams than they can handle. Today’s workforce (and more so tomorrow’s) wants everything as of yesterday. The need of the hour, therefore, is to manage expectations and not motivation.

There are three key aspects of work life that I see surging with a surfeit of expectations: company infrastructure, career development and compensation. Let’s discuss how to handle and manage expectations around these.

Office opulence

Company infrastructure such as office space, cubicle comforts, conference rooms, cafeterias, chairs , sofas, gyms (much like our roads and flyovers) are constantly falling short of what employees expect. If you add IT infrastructure to the list—higher speed, more bandwidth and the best of applications—employee expectations are literally skyrocketing. And then there are companies which are trying to outdo each other by building swankier new offices, offering gourmet food, massage parlours, sports facilities, and justifying all these as “retention” measures.

But does all this really help? Are people in five-star offices more “motivated” than others? Should we continue to justify and glorify “hygiene factors” as motivators? It is my belief that ultra-luxury offices not only “spoil” but dilute a serious work culture. It is time to differentiate between necessity and luxury. Instead of an extra table tennis table or a gourmet canteen, organizations should aim to use their funds prudently and build more energy-efficient, eco-friendly and functional workspaces.

I believe organizations should not “spoil” employees with super-swank offices and campuses (and on-site golf courses!), since such spaces create the climate of a hotel or a college campus—as they are designed to. You cannot then blame youngsters if they start treating the office as a lounge bar or a hang-out rather than a workspace.

Career craze

Career growth is another area where we are bursting at the seams, and this problem is our own creation. Organizations are guilty of evolving a rather limited construct of what is a career. Frequent and periodic promotions to the next band or grade with fancy designations have been the only understanding of career growth that we seem to have created. No one thinks twice about asking for the next promotion or a fancier title. When the going was good, companies used “promotions” almost like a drug to produce a “high” in employees. Now employees demand promotions and title changes all the time. But, sadly, there are no more fancy titles that can be pulled out of the HR hat. Organizational pyramids are choking at the top with artificial titles and overlapping job descriptions. Excessive use of “promotions” as the sole means of “motivation” has reached its limit and must be ended.

I believe it is time we set new expectations and make employees see the many splendours of long-term career growth: more enhanced skills and capabilities, opportunities that stretch and push one beyond the comfort zone, the challenges of handling a tough assignment independently or simply enjoying significant jobs. (Also read: Value proposition starts with emotional connect)

Money mania

Compensation, of course, will always remain a tricky and emotive issue. Ironically, shortage of employable talent in a country of surplus headcount has made many of us merely react to the wage-market dynamics. Collectively, we need to resist undue wage inflation. We can take pride that our wages have now started getting closer to the more advanced nations in a select few jobs/high-growth industries. But everyone knows this is unsustainable. Like the famous parable around Kalidas—we are cutting the very branch we are standing on. Cost-competitiveness has been at the heart of India’s more recent global success.

If we continue a reactive approach to wages, we could seriously erode our competitive edge. Individual firms and industry associations have to take a leadership position around wage inflation and educate the workforce to accept what has come to be known as the “new normal”. I am not advocating uncompetitive wages. I am only appealing for caution, prudence, and setting expectations around the “pace” at which wages can grow. If we don’t halt some of our knee-jerk reactions and refuse to pay compensation almost like “ransom” (especially in high-growth industries), we will put the future of our economy at stake. (Also read: What are your salary expectations?)

Setting and managing expectations is tough. And true leaders are tough-minded. They know that employees expect what companies tell them to. Much like some art film directors who seek to influence and shape audience tastes (instead of merely catering to them), good leaders experiment boldly and drive the imagination of employees beyond the ordinary masala of clichéd corporate practices. Like some low-budget movies succeed because they produce neat films with good stories and credible action, new directions in people practices too will succeed if delivered honestly. It’s time to boldly define and shape employee expectations. Managing expectations and setting them more realistically is the need of the hour—not fuelling more of the so-called motivation.

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