DecisionWise recently worked with a company that was experiencing an annual attrition rate of nearly 50 percent. With over 10,000 employees, that figure was a scary – and costly – number that caught the attention of more than just the HR department. There were obviously misaligned expectations.
To find the answer to this problem, we were asked to conduct follow-up interviews and surveys with those who had left the company. We polled 4,544 employees across more than two dozen countries and came up with some interesting results.
First, turnover during the first six months of employment didn’t appear to be a problem, hovering between 8 to 10 percent overall. For the most part, employees were happy with their jobs.
When the Honeymoon Period Ends
During the first six months, employees were in the “honeymoon period.” They were learning the ropes of their jobs. They were being formally trained and mentored. Many felt grateful to be working for their dream company. Everything was working out as they had expected from the job — or it could be that they simply hadn’t yet formed any clear expectations.
But something happened between months seven and nine that caused many employees to rethink their employment decision: they began to see the job they thought they signed on to do was not the job they actually did. Further, it appeared there were misaligned expectations regarding performance.
[ctt template=”4″ link=”UN814″ via=”no” ]…they began to see the job they thought they signed on to do was not the job they actually did.[/ctt]
About half the employees who left during that six-to-nine-month time slot said the biggest reason they left was because the job didn’t meet their expectations. They didn’t always express it in those words; they used phrases like:
- “I thought I would have been promoted by now,”
- “I wasn’t given the hours I thought I would,”
- “If I had known this is what I’d be doing every day, I wouldn’t have taken the job.”
Moreover, nearly half these employees stated their supervisors never reviewed the expectations of the job with them. Only 40 percent felt the training they received met their expectations, which subsequently impacted the company’s ability to retain good people. Customer service and quality indicators tanked as well.
Mind the Expectation Gap
Each time our researchers compare industries and job duties across organizations, and contrast their levels of engagement in their work, we find the results intriguing.
Some of the individuals participating in our employee engagement surveys work in what many would consider some of the most difficult or unpleasant conditions possible.
Many work 75+ hours per week. Some work with prisoners who do all they can to intimidate, threaten, and harass. Others volunteer in locations where poverty, disease, crime, and extreme living conditions are the norm. Some spend months at a time on oil rigs in the middle of the ocean. They do backbreaking work for twelve-plus hours per day in extreme temperatures, seven days a week.
Yet, they are highly engaged in their work—and they love what they do!
On the other side, we see organizations where employees work 40 hours or less each week, have unlimited paid time off, take months of parental leave to tend to family, drop off their pets and laundry at the company reception desk, and eat two gourmet meals per day in the company-sponsored cafeteria.
Yet, they are completely disengaged.
As we culled through our database of 24 million responses, one factor stood out more than any other: profoundly misaligned expectations.
[ctt template=”4″ link=”dJr7b” via=”no” ]Those who were disengaged complained about unmet expectations (even though some of these expectations were rather unreasonable).[/ctt]
Those who were disengaged complained about unmet expectations (even though some of these expectations were rather unreasonable). They expected something that simply wasn’t there and, either consciously or unconsciously, they disengaged.
Those who found engagement in their work typically got exactly what they expected from the job and, consequently, were fulfilled. They got what they signed up for.
Misaligned Expectations Can Happen In Any Type of Relationship
As any couple could tell you, expectation gaps don’t just exist in businesses.
Researchers at Ohio State University conducted studies funded by the National Institute of Mental Health to get their arms around this fact. Their study involved 82 couples within their first few months of their first marriage. Researchers videotaped these pairs as they discussed difficult problems confronting their relationships. They also conducted eight tests at six-month intervals for four years, including examining these couples’ relationship skills. Of particular interest was whether expectations for marriage happiness (high or low). Pre-conceived expectations as to how spouses should behave also played any role in the overall levels of marital bliss.
Among the 82 couples, 17 were divorced by the end of the study. Of the remaining 65 couples, results showed those with high expectations for happiness in the early stages of marriage (but poor relationship skills) experienced sharp declines in marital satisfaction over the first four years of marriage. No real “aha” moment there. But, surprisingly, those with low expectations and low skills didn’t show equivalent declines in satisfaction.
Did you catch that?
Those who entered the relationship with a) high expectations, and b) a limited ability to fix bad relationships were in for a bumpy ride. But those with lower expectations and poor communication didn’t experience much of a drop in satisfaction.
So what can we extrapolate from those findings? Should we lower our expectations for our spouses, and forget about developing any relationship skills? OK, not quite.
When Employee Expectations and Experience are Aligned
We can apply this observation on relationships to the Employee Experience as well.
If all along the employee thinks, “This isn’t what I signed up for,” a few stale donuts and a ping pong table in the break room won’t fix that. Yet it’s clear why a firefighter will put his life on the line every day for strangers. It’s part of the job he wanted and expected.
As leaders, we can avoid misaligned expectations and create a more positive work experience with happier, engaged employees. Employees who find satisfaction and fulfillment in their jobs ensure that the expectations for the job are closely aligned with the employee experience.