How to successfully manage the expectations of others in the workplace?

  • 4 min read

At work and at home, people have certain expectations of us. These expectations develop because of our behaviour. Whatever we do consistently, people come to expect more of the same from us. If we continuously take on more than we should, then that becomes the expectation. Repeatedly taking on more than we can realistically complete will lead to us becoming overworked or receiving unfair treatment if we can't say no.

Managing the expectations of our manager/supervisor is challenging. If your boss expects you to execute all your tasks successfully but does not allow you enough time to complete those activities, then this leads to an unrealistic situation and one that will eventually lead to failure. 

If we are stressed because we have unrealistic expectations placed on us, we need to take action to regain some control. So how can we do that?


Communication is key. If we don't say anything about what we are doing and the impact it is having on us, then change will never happen. We must tell those we work with what we can realistically take on and what we cannot.

Plan your meeting 

Before setting up a meeting with your manager to discuss your challenges, you need to be clear in your head about what you need from your manager to be successful. Identify the challenges you are facing and, if possible, provide them with some solutions. Make sure you know what a successful outcome looks like to you.

Provide evidence 

To shift tasks or request additional resources, you need to provide evidence that this will work. By providing proof of what has worked in the past or for other people, your boss will receive your solutions more positively.

Track your time 

It is also helpful to track the time spent each day on all the tasks you do. When you know what you are doing and how much time it takes you to do each activity, you can be more realistic when setting deadlines. If an assignment is taking longer than it should, you can ask for help to improve your effectiveness in that area.

Offer solutions 

We know our own working style and preferences best. When we are in control of the solutions, we are more motivated to make changes. Try to make some suggestions to help you manage your boss’s expectations. Your boss will appreciate the effort and will have the opportunity to offer insights and improvements to your solutions.

Ask for support 

Make sure you are clear on what you need from your manager going forward. Do you know what their priorities are? How does what you do line up with those?

Dump what you can

Identify tasks that you do not need to do. Frequently we take on assignments that we should not. We do this to help those around us or because there is no one else available to do them. However, we can delegate many such activities to more appropriate people down the line. 

To identify what work you should and should not be doing, pinpoint your job's core activities. These should take up to 80% of your time. If you cannot assign that 80%, you need to remove those not in your remit.


Delegate what you can delegate. Also, realise that this may take longer as staff get up to speed on assigned tasks in the short term. 

When we effectively delegate, we don't just make our own job more manageable, but we offer our staff opportunities and development. We help them to contribute more to the team and the organisation. 


What is the key to your success in your job? Once you have identified this, you need to make sure you set the time to do these tasks. Those that are not key to your success can be either dumped or delegated. 

When scheduling tasks, make sure you allow enough time to focus on your high priority tasks. I batch together those of less value or which take a short amount of time. I call this my "finish off to-do list". I allow half an hour to clear as many of these low value or regular maintenance tasks as I can at the start of the day. I move all incomplete items at the end of the half-hour to the next day. This way, these minor tasks get done and they won't derail me sometime in the future. I can then focus on the functions and activities that are key to my success.

Learn to say no

If we can't say no to every request, we will find ourselves taking on more than we can do successfully. If we do that, then we are the ones who suffer as a result. We need to make sure that we are clear on what we can do and what we cannot. If saying no is difficult, then practise asking questions and sharing what priorities you have. If the downstream impacts are clear, you can get support for those most important tasks from your manager and the organisation.

In Summary

To successfully manage others' expectations, we need to be clear on:

  • What can we realistically take on?
  • What can we not/should we not do?
  • What are the negative impacts downstream if we cannot handle all those activities?
  • What are our priorities/core tasks/high importance items?
  • Where do we spend our time during work hours?

When we can clearly articulate answers to the above questions, we can schedule and prioritise our work more effectively. If we have this information and are unable to meet our deadlines successfully, we are responsible for communicating these issues to our manager. When we are communicating regularly, our manager can support us to be successful in our job. 

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