“Expectations are often seen as premeditated resentments.” This statement highlights the double-edged nature of expectations. While they can lead to disappointment, they need not inevitably do so.

Expecting something is no guarantee it’ll happen, but it correlates closely with the actions we take towards our goals. In my experience, expectations are deeply embedded in our daily professional lives. My aim here is to dissect them for better personal understanding and management.

As we advance in our careers, managing expectations becomes increasingly critical. Reflecting on factors that influence my work success and happiness, I was struck by the multifaceted nature of expectations we encounter daily. These expectations can both motivate and frustrate, tapping into our innate social needs. The challenge lies not only in managing expectations of others but also those we set for ourselves. Let’s explore the different layers of work expectations I typically encounter.

Inward Expectations

Inward expectations are challenging yet within our control. As a designer, the inclination towards perfectionism can quickly dampen motivation. Perfectionism, after all, is nothing but a high bar we set for ourselves.

Throughout my career, as the role of design evolved from pixel-perfect precision to holistic, systems-oriented thinking, I’ve had to reassess my definition of perfection. This shift from aesthetic excellence to problem-solving was gradual and challenging. Whenever I found myself frustrated for not meeting my own high standards, I learned to step back and consider the broader impact of my work. This approach helped anchor my personal expectations to the larger objectives of the project, team, or company.

Upward Expectations

‘Upward expectations’ refer to what we anticipate from our managers, mentors, company leaders, and CEOs. Joining a company, I often believed we were collectively working towards a higher purpose. Learning in this area is closely tied to experience and tenure. A meaningful baseline for comparison emerges only after exposure to various management styles and organizations.

It’s vital to strike a balance between idealizing a company (to the extent of considering it a family) and cynically viewing corporations as mere profit-driven entities. Companies, inherently, are established to make a profit. Yet, this reality isn’t necessarily negative. Many organizations are now centering their operations around employee well-being, alongside customer satisfaction and shareholder interests. They’re integrating sustainability into their processes and products, thereby fostering a culture of transparency and responsibility.

Transparency plays a key role in setting healthy workplace expectations. Difficult decisions and messages must sometimes be communicated, but doing so early, transparently, and kindly can create a workplace where expectations are realistic and constructive.

Outward Expectations

All relationships, professional or personal, come with expectations. The shift to remote work due to COVID-19 highlighted the importance of clear communication in managing expectations, particularly in daily interactions with colleagues.

My move from Brazil to Germany years ago was a lesson in adjusting to a multicultural environment. The challenge was not just overcoming personal biases but also in understanding the nuances of different communication styles. This challenge was magnified for those starting new jobs remotely during the pandemic, where forming work relationships and setting realistic expectations became increasingly difficult.

Now, as we navigate a post-pandemic world, companies are redefining their work models. There’s a lingering uncertainty from those times, with many struggling to rebuild trust. The solution isn’t to enforce rigid work routines but to foster flexible, collaborative environments. As leaders, we should lead by example, setting clear expectations and encouraging our teams to do the same.

Closing Thoughts

The common advice is to keep expectations low to avoid disappointment. However, I believe expectations embody hope—the hope that things will turn out well, that we will be understood and respected. When balanced with action and transparency, expectations can inspire remarkable achievements. Work becomes more fulfilling when we recognize and integrate expectations into our leadership practices.