Employee Expectations in Modern Business

Written by
George Dickson
George Dickson

You know what you expect of your employees, and you're probably good at communicating those expectations. If you're not, take two minutes to check out these quick tips for improving communication in your organization.

Now, if you are good at communicating your expectations, congratulations! You're halfway to an excellent communicative relationship with your team. To get the rest of the way there, you need to ask yourself a question, and this can be a difficult one to answer:

Do you know what your employees expect of you?

Employees have their own expectations, and if those expectations aren't met, some of your best will eventually look elsewhere. Even if you're soliciting feedback, social dynamics can obscure the responses.

While individual employees may not always be vocal about their expectations, several studies have focused in on what employees really want in the modern business world. If you want to improve employee engagement and retention, you'll need both a deeper understanding of employee expectations, and modern business best practices that fulfill them.

What do modern employees expect?

SHRM's Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Report reveals that in 2014, the top five contributors to job satisfaction were:

  • Respectful treatment of all employees at all levels
  • Trust between employees and senior management
  • Overall benefits
  • Overall compensation/pay
  • Job security

What's notable about this list is that respect and trust were more important to most employees than benefits, pay, or job security. In fact, 72% of employees ranked respectful treatment as "very important" compared to 61% who said the same of overall compensation.

The report also detailed the top five employee engagement conditions: 

  • Relationships with co-workers
  • Contribution of work to organization's business goals
  • Meaningfulness of the job
  • Opportunities to use skills/abilities
  • 3-way tie: relationship with immediate supervisor / the work itself / the organization's financial stability

TinyHR's 2014 Employee Engagement Organizational Culture Report shows us that while employees may want to use and improve their skills, enjoy a positive relationship with their immediate supervisors and feel valued, employers aren't necessarily delivering.

In its survey of 200,000 employees across more than 500 organizations, TinyHR found that:

  • 66 percent of all respondents did not see an opportunity for growth
  • Just 21 percent felt strongly valued at work
  • More than 25 percent lacked the tools needed to be successful in their jobs

What motivated employees the most? It wasn't money; it was peers and camaraderie.

What else do modern employees expect?

Respect, trust, positive social interaction, opportunities to contribute, and purposeful work are all part of a solid foundation your employees expect you to provide. It's a great place to build from, and to build truly magnificent culture, it's necessary to introduce autonomy and recognition.


Employees want to have control of their work. They want to be able to decide when, where, and how their work gets done. They hate being micromanaged. TINYpulse's Dora Wang recently wrote this about micromanaging employees:

When you've hired someone to do a job, you've effectively stated that you trust them to get it done in your stead. So let them. Make sure they have all the training they need and let them know they can come to you with any questions, but don't insult them by trying to do their job for them.

By resisting the urge to micromanage your employees and giving them the autonomy to do their job as effectively as possible, you are also building trust—the second most important expectation discovered by SHRM.

William James, a philosopher and psychologist once said, "The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated."

We all want to our efforts to be noticed and recognized.


Recognition helps employees to feel valued at work, yet just 21% of employees report feeling strongly valued. Giving recognition is a simple, low-overhead interaction. It doesn't cost any money, and takes very little time to say "thank you."

You can lower the overhead even further by implementing a peer recognition system. Instead of relying on yourself to witness, recognize, and reward every valuable contribution your team makes, you can crowdsource recognition in your organization.

Peer recognition has the added benefit of satisfying the employee expectation of autonomy by giving them the freedom to express their own values and expectations through the praise they give their colleagues.

Meeting employee expectations in modern business

While fair compensation and benefits are where most organizations focus, they're fairly low on the list of employee expectations. This isn't to say that they're unimportant, but its' crucial to understand that employees expect and value:


Employees want to be treated respectfully no matter what their job role may be. How are you choosing to show your respect?


Employees want to be able to trust management, and they want management to trust them to do their jobs. Show them why you're a trustworthy partner.

Social interactions

Employees want to have friends at work, work in a collaborative environment, and have a good relationship with their immediate supervisors. Make sure you're providing an environment that encourages social interaction.


Employees are searching for more meaningful work in the modern business landscape. Help them understand how their work affects their peers, the company, and the world around them.


Employees want to choose when, where, and how work gets done. Give them the freedom they need to do their most awesome work.


Employees want to be recognized regularly for their contributions. Make recognition a regular and inseparable element of your company culture, and experience the results yourself.

Whether or not your employees feel comfortable telling you what they really want, you can still take action to improve employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention. How will you foster respect, trust, social interaction, purpose, autonomy, and recognition in your workplace? 

Get 10 Dead Simple Ways to Improve Your Company Culture

Originally published on June 29, 2015 → Last updated April 16, 2019
George Dickson

George is dedicated to strengthening organizational cultures with thoughtful leadership and frequent recognition. George formerly managed content and community at Bonusly.


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