Evidence-based actions for clear leadership and expectations

These actions and responses can be implemented with a minimal investment of resources or cost to the organization.

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Description: In a work environment with clear leadership and expectations, employees know what they need to do, have confidence in their leaders and understand impending changes.

You can access our free workshop materials to engage your team in a discussion about their need for clarity.

Clarify expectations for both processes and outcomes.  

  • Employees can be demoralized when they work hard on something that doesn’t meet expectations. Developing employee plans for leaders helps you create a clear agreement about what’s expected from individual employees. 
  • Break down job expectations and responsibilities into more manageable and clear components. Refer to the Task improvement process | PDF to help guide employee discussions about improving specific tasks. 
  • Improve clarity about the amount of work and the time that should be allocated to each task. 
    • It’s not unusual for supervisors to be unaware of exactly how employees complete tasks or the entire scope of work that they’re doing. Sometimes employees continue to do work that’s no longer required because their supervisor hasn’t asked them to stop.  
    • One approach to address these issues is to have employees keep a log of their work every 15 minutes for 2 weeks. The employees aren’t likely to appreciate the additional task, but it can help the supervisor clarify and reprioritize work. You can explain to employees that their expectations may have been unreasonable because their supervisor may not understand the extent of their work. This will help them to keep expectations reasonable.
  • Help all employees to prioritize their tasks on a regular basis. This is especially important when there’s always more work than can be completed in a day.

Take employee mental health into account.  

  • To ensure you’re protecting employee mental health at different stages of their workplace plan, refer to Performance management
  • Ensure job descriptions are current, specific and agreed upon by relevant employees.
  • Ensure your change management process considers the impact on psychological health and safety. This is important at the beginning of the decision-making process, and throughout the change.
    • Change is often difficult, but even more so for employees who deal with mental health issues. Helping employees to manage change provides information that can help you support all employees through organizational or job changes in a psychologically safer way. 
  • Supervisors may feel they’re creating a sense of equality when they join their employees in complaining about those who are responsible for decisions in their workplace. However, this behaviour can increase stress in the workplace because employees may feel more victimized or hopeless about their situation. Instead, leaders should talk to their employees about the best possible response to difficult situations. Bonding around solutions instead of problems creates a more resilient team.
  • Sometimes a situation can be difficult because of the emotional or psychological state of one or more employee(s). Supervisors and leaders should be trained on when to effectively and respectfully intervene at these times. You can use Communicating with emotional employees to help guide you in this conversation. 
  • Sometimes difficult situations related to personal, family or health issues are outside the scope of the workplace. In this case, it’s important to know what resources are available and how to refer employees to them. This lets supervisors  focus on supporting employees with work-related issues. Referring employees to resources can help. 

Discuss effective communication with your employees.  

  • Even organizations that spend a lot of time and energy on communication may find their employees don’t feel it’s effective. We’re living in a time of information overload, so we need to rethink traditional means of communication and implement a strategy that meets employee needs. 
  • Ask employees to share the type and format they prefer for various forms of communication, such as:
  • This could include:
    • Type of communication: Email, text, conversation or other
    • Format: Interactive, requiring confirmation or training 
    • Setting: Face-to-face, team meetings, or a town hall 
    • Content: How it will impact their job, the decision-making process, when it will begin
  • Everyone in the workplace can benefit from being trained in respectful conflict resolution. Conflict response for leaders and Resolving personal conflict are both effective approaches.  
  • Difficult situations are addressed more effectively when employees have greater levels of emotional and social intelligence. Fortunately, they can learn these skills with Emotional intelligence in organizations.

Ensure approved leadership strategies are psychologically safe.  

Train all leaders in effective conflict resolution.  

  • Make sure all employees know who to turn to when they’re dealing with a difficult situation, especially if the difficulty is with their supervisor.
  • Encourage face-to-face communication, particularly for difficult issues.
  • Hold all members of the organization accountable for their actions and ensure managers and leaders are held to the same or higher standard.
  • Conflict response for leaders is an effective approach to resolving conflict in a psychologically safe way. 

Additional actions and resources  

  • Create explicit measurements of success for psychologically safe leadership from the supervisor level and up. 
    • The Psychologically safe leader assessment provides guidance on creating expectations for all managers and leaders.  
    • Accountability agreements that form part of the leader performance assessment should be reviewed every year. 
    • Recognition and reward for leaders should include their impact on the psychological health and safety of their employees. 
  • Review Psychological health and safety policy recommendations to see where you can improve psychological health and safety. 
  • Review Evidence for psychological health and safety for a literature review of studies demonstrating how factors that impact psychological health and safety also have a positive impact on business goals and objectives. 

Putting clear leadership and expectations on the agenda provides you with materials to support a team discussion on approaches to clear leadership and expectations, as well as materials to support policy review and development.

Adapted from Guarding Minds at Work™

© Samra, J., Gilbert, M., Shain, M., Bilsker, D. 2009-2020, with amendments by Stuart, H. 2022.  All rights reserved. Website development and data storage by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

Guarding Minds at Work was commissioned by Canada Life and additional resources are supported by Workplace Strategies for Mental Health.

Contributors include.articlesDan BilskerDavid K. MacDonaldDr. Heather StuartDr. Joti SamraDr. Martin ShainMary Ann BayntonMerv GilbertPhilip PerczakSarah JennerSusan JakobsonWorkplace Safety and Prevention ServicesWorkplace Strategies team 2007-2021Workplace Strategies team 2022 to present

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