How to manage the expectations gap and avoid being disappointed in a new role

I recently read The Employee Experience, which focuses on attracting and retaining top performers. One of the most important lessons for me is the benefit for both employees and employers of paying attention to what the authors define as the expectations gap.

An example of an expectations gap is starting a new job with a set of expectations for what your new role will provide and within a few months concluding that your expectations won’t be fulfilled. When this happens, it’s natural to lose motivation and interest, and to consider looking for another role.


Expectations are what we like to have happen. When we set an expectation, we also set the risk for being disappointed if it’s not met. One way to mitigate disappointment is to be mindful and fully aware of the kinds of expectations we’re setting.

Two kinds of expectations are preference-based and value-based expectations.

One example is setting the expectation that you’ll only take a role in your area of expertise that’s daytime, nine to five, with no evening, shift or weekend work. This example has both preference- and value-based expectations. The value-based expectation is the desire to be home when children are not in school. Whether the day starts at 8 or 9 a.m. is a preference.

Setting specific role expectations requires being clear on what you want and determining if your employer is committed to helping you fulfill your expectations such as career advancement, professional development and mobility.


Employers can reduce the risk of an expectations gap by being clear on the kind of expectations they’re prepared to support.

As an employee, you can be clear on what you expect that’s aligned to your values, such as working in a psychologically-safe workplace. A value-based expectation, it’s not an option. If you couldn’t feel safe and the employer isn’t interested in supporting your safety, it likely would be best for you to move on and, if appropriate, report your concerns to your department of labour.

When you start a new role, it’s helpful to review with your manager the kinds of expectations you’re hoping will happen. This can help get you and your direct manager aligned on what will and will not be possible.

One key lesson from the authors of The Employee Experience is the wider the expectations gap, the more disengaged employees will be.


We all own our career choices and our decisions as to the kinds of employers we apply to and accept roles with. What may not be intuitive or clear is the benefit for talking about our expectations up front, so we can get them aligned with the employer. We may simply not be a good fit with some employers because our expectations are not aligned with them. This is fine, and is much less disruptive when we discover this before we take a role.

It’s also okay not knowing all our expectations for a new role. However, we should be clear whether any expectations that are aligned to our values can be fulfilled.


  1. Determine your expectations for a role – Write out the three or four things that are most important to you. Getting a role that’s not aligned to your expectations can be a recipe for heartbreak.
  2. Articulate your expectations – Whether you’re taking on a new role or in a role now, once you’re clear on your expectations, articulate them to get feedback on how realistic the employer or manager believes they are for them to support and follow through on. Honest, two-way communications can help you make informed decisions that may in some cases have you adjust your expectations or influence the employer to take steps to fulfill them. The purpose is to try to align expectations.
  3. Point out expectation gaps – Whenever you notice gaps in expectations you believe are the responsibility of your employer or manager, it’s your role to point them out. Do this in a positive manner; avoid negative comments. Simply point out your concern and ask if they’re aware of the gap and how they would like to address it.


Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

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