Managing expectations in the workplace

Posted by on Jun 14, 2013 in Work Relationships | 10 comments

I’ve heard it said that expectations are premeditated resentments. I believe much of life’s discomfort and unhappiness happens in the space between expectations and reality- especially in the workplace.

This week I got a call from a friend who was struggling at work. Things weren’t working out as she expected and as a result she found herself stuck in a spiral of jealousy, negative thinking, and comparing. It was no surprise to me that I’m the one she called for insight as I’ve found myself in the same mindset.

We bring our expectations to work with us every day. We may expect our hard work will be rewarded with a promotion or raise and experience frustration if we don’t feel we were adequately rewarded. We may have high expectations of ourselves and we take on more than we can handle. We may expect our co-workers to behave in a certain way and get annoyed with their entirely human foibles.

When we let our expectations define our experience, we’re far more likely to be disappointed, unhappy, and we begin to resent those around us. Often the situation is not as bad as we think it is, it’s just different than our expectations.

I’ve found positive and negative expectations are equally harmful to my happiness. When my expectations are high I’m likely to be disappointed if things don’t work out the way I expect them to. When my expectations are low I’m likely to experience exactly what I expect and feel somewhat justified but ultimately unhappy.

Like all things in life, the key is balance. To be successful and happy at work we must manage our expectations.

How to manage expectations in the workplace

work in progressImage courtesy of blumpy

Check your expectations

When you find yourself feeling frustrated, angry, resentful, or disappointed check  your expectations. Instead of focusing your thoughts and emotions on the situation or individuals, check your expectations and see if they are the real source of your discomfort. If so, there are positive steps you can take to improve your experience!

Adjust your expectations

Are your expectations realistic? Sometimes our expectations are influenced by what we want instead of reality.  Are you expecting someone to do something they aren’t capable of doing- yourself included? Do you expect a particular outcome that involves the participation of multiple unrelated individuals? You can adjust your expectations if you realize most things are out of your control (or anyone else’s!).

Ask for it!

Often we expect people to behave a certain way and we take for granted they know what we want or need to help us be successful. The truth is most of us are putting 90% of our energy into managing our own day and even when we try to assist others, we don’t really know what they want, need, or expect of us. Ask for what you want (and be specific!) and you’re more likely to get it.

Take responsibility

You and you alone are responsible for your happiness. You are responsible for your life and your experience. You can avoid disappointment by taking responsibility for your expectations. So someone else didn’t meet your expectations- so what? What are you going to make your own life great today?

Accept disappointment

Things aren’t always going to go your way- I’m sure you know that by now. You can improve your experience by accepting that sometimes you’ll be disappointed and that’s okay. Someone will make a mistake- maybe it will be you. Sometimes you’ll fail and get back up again. Disappointment is just another experience in life. If you wallow in disappointment it will bring you down- accept it and move on.

Work in the moment

Expectations are all about outcomes- the results we hope to achieve. What if you shifted your focus from the outcome to the simply doing your best in the moment? I’m a lot happier at work when I focus on what I am doing in the moment instead of what happened before or what I want to happen next. In this moment, right now, I can be great at what I’m doing and that’s all that really matters.

Live and love life on life’s terms

Chances are there’s a lot of good stuff in your life. Okay, so you have some legitimate complaints and maybe some stuff that needs change, but at some point in life you have to stop and just live the life you have. Let go of your expectations and just enjoy life- faults and all!

I love your comments! Are your expectations making you miserable at work? How do you manage your expectations?


  1. Gosh I’m so glad I’m not in the workforce anymore Chrysta. But you know since having been away for so many years now I have learned so much.

    I certainly don’t want this comment to end up preachy but I’ve learned that although we may expect certain things to happen we have to know that these things are out of our control and the man upstairs may have other things in store for us that we can’t see ourselves.

    I know that when I look back at my working career there were jobs I really wish I hadn’t had but at that particular time in my life that’s where I needed to be. I saw that years later but not at that exact moment. I know everything happens for a reason but accepting them and not having those expectations is just down right hard.

    You always share great advice though in how to view things and move through them so I appreciate it even though I’m not the one in these positions anymore.

    Have a beautiful weekend Chrysta!


    • Thanks for your awesome comment, Adrienne!

      I love that you shared how you got perspective looking back at situations that may have seemed negative at the time. Expectations are tough to overcome, but also the source of so much of our frustration and disappointment with life. Things are rarely as bad as we make them out to be, right? If only we could have that perspective you mentioned in the moment- hey, maybe we can! :)

      Thank you for your wisdom! Have a grateful day!


  2. Sounds like life as a whole, not just work.

    • Thanks for your awesome comment, Farouk!

      So true, expectations cause unhappiness in all areas of our lives if it’s not managed.

      Have a grateful day!


  3. Great message and advice, Chrysta! It’s so true that our expectations are often at the root of our unhappiness. I recently was reminded of that in a personal situation, when I got sorely disappointed about a development that went awry. When I realized how much of my disappointment was about expectations, I was able to work through that much faster. Thank you for your very tangible steps on managing expectations. The point about asking for what we want instead of expecting others to know our desires is especially spot on. We often don’t realize we have expected others to be mind-readers. Thanks again, Chrysta!

    • Thanks for your awesome comment, Alice!

      I don’t think we can ever stop having expectations, but like you mentioned, identifying expectations as the root of unhappiness can make it easier to move forward.

      When I was a new manager I really struggled with clarifying my expectations. I thought I let my employees know what I expected but often I hadn’t been specific enough, or failed to ask for the employee’s experience to fully understand what challenges and limitations they were facing before clarifying my expectations. Specific, measurable communication is so important!

      Thanks for sharing your experience! Have a grateful day!


  4. I will admit I have mixed feelings when it comes to the matter of high/low expectations. Just speaking for myself, I push myself harder than anyone else ever would, so I feel I’d be short changing my potential if I don’t hold high expectations for whatever I choose to under take. That said, neither do I use expectations as an excuse. If I fall short, I celebrate what worked, and learn from what didn’t. For me, this is the best possible win/win.

    • Thanks for your awesome comment, Marty!

      You bring up a really important point about expectations- before I do something I must first believe I can do it, and that could be considered an expectation of sorts.

      Though I know, too, that there have been times I expected myself to be able to do something that I just couldn’t do no matter how hard I tried, and that lead to disappointment. Disappointment is not necessarily a bad thing but I do try to avoid setting my self-expectations too high and, in doing so, over-extend myself.

      You have a very healthy attitude about expectations and I’m so inspired! Thanks for sharing!


  5. Hey Chrysta,

    I remember those days in the workplace wondering about my expectations.

    Your advice is good because it puts the responsibility on us to make sure we’re communicating expectations. So much can sometimes be assumed and we all know what they say about assuming :-)

    I have to say a lot of what goes on in the workplace is one of the reasons I’m working at home. Thanks goodness I made that decision.

    A nice post Chrysta.


    • Thanks for your awesome comment, Liz!

      After publishing this post I wished I had included a tip about never holding other people accountable to your expectations. All too often in the workplace we have expectations that others simply can’t live up to and then we hold our co-workers accountable to what’s going on in our heads- it’s kinda ridiculous when you think about it like that!

      Working from home is a wonderful alternative to dealing with the many challenges of working with others in the workplace. It’s certainly not easy!

      Have a grateful day!


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