Workplace Reality Check: Are Your Expectations Reasonable?


Maybe you’re new to a job and it’s more demanding than you thought it would be. Why doesn’t your boss ease up? Maybe your career isn’t advancing as fast as you expected. Why doesn’t management see your obvious talent and potential? Maybe you’ve logged a few years in a role and know it inside out. Where’s the huge raise you deserve? You might find answers to these questions by taking a good look at your expectations.

Align Expectations with Achievements

Simply fulfilling the duties of your role is not an automatic ticket to substantial pay increases and promotions; you’ll earn the money and accolades you hope for by consistently achieving more than is expected. This involves demonstrating extraordinary diligence, resourcefulness and commitment, being creative and constructive when challenges or problems arise, and taking the initiative to identify opportunities or improvements that benefit the company. Significant raises are given for value you’ve demonstrated over time; not for potential, unproven value.

When your expectations do not correspond with your proven effort and matching accomplishments, you risk coming across to your manager and coworkers as having an inflated sense of entitlement. There’s nothing wrong with ambition – when paired with a good work ethic and continuing skills development, it can take you far. But allowing yourself to adopt an overly-entitled approach at work can be a real drawback to your genuine success.

For example, if you get stuck on the idea you aren’t getting all you deserve and your job owes you more, ensuing resentment may lead you to exhibit behaviour that makes it difficult for others to work with you. You may experience an increasing level of discomfort accepting responsibility for your mistakes or difficulty following direction and receiving feedback. Your own interests and preferences can start to take over those of the team. If any of this sounds familiar, take heart: it’s never too late to correct your course.

Shine a Light

Let’s start with the basics: you have either earned more than you’ve got, or you haven’t.

If you feel you’ve proven yourself over and over, prepare a list of concrete examples of your contributions and accomplishments and ask for a meeting with your manager. Rather than going in with a series of demands, aim for a discussion about your career goals and ask for advice on how to achieve them.

Collaborate to create a list of specific milestones required to get you where you want to be. Shine a light on what you’ve already accomplished, while recognizing there may still be other goals to reach.

The discussion should be eye-opening for you and your manager, with you coming out of it knowing what you need to do next; and your manager better understanding both your goals and the value you bring.

However, it may be that upon closer self-scrutiny, you realize you haven’t demonstrably earned more. Don’t be discouraged. It’s easy to slip into an “I deserve more” mindset—after all, we’re bombarded with this message in advertising and popular culture every day. But anyone can take simple, effective steps to improve their circumstances at work.

For example, when a problem develops, quickly move past being critical and put most of your energy into helping find a solution. Look around at your coworkers and see if there’s anyone you can assist or collaborate with to make current projects run more smoothly.

Take a look at how you might improve your own output. And while it sounds obvious, make sure you reliably do what your manager asks you to do. It’s a matter of respect for their experience and responsibility. If you have concerns about their directions, discuss them respectfully in private and be ready to suggest some carefully considered alternatives.

Any employee who feels underappreciated, overworked, or that their career has stalled, should be able to turn to their manager for guidance, advice and support. It’s important to bring issues of this nature to their attention. Be prepared for constructive feedback—a good manager will offer insight into which of your personal and professional skills need development, and may suggest some courses or opportunities to learn. It doesn’t hurt to listen, or act on their recommendations.

If you feel you cannot approach your manager, ask yourself why. It’s easy to discount them when feeling discontented, especially if you know they have a different perspective of your value than your own.

Regardless, start here and be open to their input. You might just learn something that will make all the difference in how you move forward. It can be tempting to discuss the outcome with a buddy or your spouse – someone “on your side”, but if you feel the need, you will get a better insight from a trusted advisor or mentor who can offer a neutral viewpoint.

By continually working to ensure your expectations are realistic, your goals clear, and arming yourself with practical skills for increased success, you can shed feelings of resentment or disappointment, realign your relationship with your coworkers and manager to be more productive, and derive greater satisfaction from your job. And with that, will come the recognition you will have truly earned.

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