A leader is responsible for ensuring that employees direct their energy towards the goals the business has set. Many leaders ask themselves how they can motivate and inspire. Fewer reflect on whether they are placing clearly defined demands and expectations on their co-workers. They may therefore be overlooking a vital factor in creating commitment and results.
Clearly defined demands and expectations are key factors in creating commitment, which in turn has a positive impact on result achievement. This is clear from recent research. According to this year’s Occupational Health Survey, 46% of employees in Norway feel that their immediate manager is clear in expressing their expectations and demands.
This is a significant proportion, but it also means that over half do not perceive the same level of clarity. The remaining 54% are either unsure, or feel that their manager is clear in their expectations and demands to only a low or a very low degree.
The survey also shows that there are differences between the private and public sector. While 49% of employees in the private sector feel the immediate manager is clear in this area, the corresponding figure in the public sector is 42%.
It’s about employeeship
“We can expect that most employees have a good knowledge of specific tasks they have to do during their working day. When we refer to demands and expectations in this context, it’s also about employeeship. That is, not only how we relate to our work tasks, but also how we treat our colleagues or behave towards customers or users,” says Kristin Dille, an Organisational Psychologist at Stamina Census.
Demands can be divided into two categories. The first are demands which employees perceive as being interesting and meaningful, the ones they are happy to get their teeth into and naturally comply with. The second are demands that are perceived as being more of a burden or not particularly relevant.
Asked why she thinks managers are cautious about setting clear demands, Dille mentions the relatively flat, non-hierarchical structure of Norwegian workplaces. Her advice to managers is to start from the role, rather than the person. A manager’s starting point must be his or her role as a leader, and placing demands on the employees. These are not demands being placed by one private individual on another.
The vast majority of people have experienced having to do work tasks in which they find little meaning. An employee who perceives that a task must be done in such or such a way because their immediate manager says it has to be done like that, and without the task fitting into the bigger picture, is very likely to struggle with motivation over time.
“A task or a demand has to be put into context if it’s to have any meaning. So it’s important that the manager can explain how a demand fits in with the organisation’s objectives. It’s largely about communicating well,” says Dille.
She stresses that regular follow-up and dialogue are key. A co-worker who perceives a task as being dull or unrewarding can find meaning in it if the manager explains why the task is useful and important to the business.
“Demands that make people feel useful produce committed, proactive employees who deliver better both in terms of quality and quantity. With demands that are perceived as meaningless, it’s harder to find the self-motivation to do them, and they will probably take longer to do as well,” Dille explains.
It’s important that the manager can explain how a demand fits in with the organisation’s objectives. It’s largely about communicating well.
-Organisational Psychologist Kristin Dille
A balance towards autonomy
The results of the Occupational Health Survey substantiate research findings regarding the importance of having meaningful work tasks. 53% of employees who participated in the survey thought that having meaningful tasks was one of the three primary factors for them to enjoy their work. How the demands are set is, however, quite important as well, even when their purpose is carefully explained.
“Having demands too clearly explained can negate the perception of influence over your own working day. Demands must be set in dialogue with the individual. Some appreciate clear, specific demands, while others feel motivated by being given a goal and the chance to determine for themselves how that goal can be achieved,” Dille explains.
What three factors do you perceive as being important for you to enjoy your work?
That I am seen, listened to and taken seriously by my colleagues and managers 53%
- That I have meaningful work tasks 53%
- That I enjoy going to work 48%
- That I have a salary that reflects my work and effort 45%
- That I feel I have a good balance between work and private life 33%
- That I have opportunities to develop 27%
- That I get good information about any changes in work tasks or working methods 20%
Positive for the working environment
An employer that places demands on how employees can contribute to the organisation’s best interests and cooperate well, can reap the reward of a better working environment. This in turn can help to reduce sick leave.
Women appear to fall sick more than men due to a poor climate of cooperation. According to the Occupational Health Survey, 20% of respondents have been or have considered being absent from work due to unpleasant or conflictual conditions in the workplace. There are significantly more women than men who have been absent or considered being absent from work due to unpleasantness or conflict at work; 24% of women come into this category, and 17% of men.
The survey also reveals significant differences between employees in the public and private sector. There are significantly more employees in public services who have been or have considered being absent from work due to discomfort or conflict at work.
“Clarifying the demands on how you can be a good, cooperative colleague seems to be important in reducing sick leave,” says Dille.
If half the workforce perceives that there are no clearly defined demands on them, Dille says that the result could soon be that people set their own goals for their work. When employees have different perceptions of what’s expected, discord and informal managers will soon appear. In turn, this can have an adverse impact both on deliveries and the working environment. However, if employees feel they are working towards the same goals, it will be easier to encourage and correct one another along the way.
“Setting demands is quite simply a good tool for reducing psychosocial risks,” Dille concludes.
Which three conditions do you think are most important to a good working environment?
- Good cooperation with my colleagues 55%
- That I have a meaningful working day 41%
- That I have the opportunity to take initiatives and can influence my own working day 36%
- Friendly colleagues 29%
- That my employer makes it possible for me to do my job well 28%
- Good dialogue with my manager and support in my working day 28%
- That I get feedback that enables me to develop 22%