Business Psychology - Latest Findings

Article No. 201
Supervision Findings, by James Larsen, Ph.D.

Lowering Expectations

Research reveals a technique that improves the adjustment of new employees.

When we hire people to work in our businesses, we like to hire the best people we can because they make the best employees, but attracting high quality people is tricky. If we paint a glowing picture of our jobs as we try to recruit people, we raise their expectations to unrealistic levels. Then, when these people start their new jobs and they're confronted with reality, they feel cheated and respond with increased absenteeism, turnover, and dissatisfaction. But if we paint a realistic picture of our jobs, with all their drawbacks, then the best people will look elsewhere. It's a dilemma.

In 1989 researchers began investigating a new recruitment technique called a realistic job preview. Realistic job previews provide an accurate picture of an employment situation and include both positive and negative conditions. Research in the last ten years has demonstrated that when they're used, these job previews lower expectations, and new-hires are less dissatisfied and are more likely to stay on the job. Unfortunately, few businesses use them. Apparently, they fear these previews will drive away the best candidates.

Ronald Buckley, from the University of Oklahoma, recognized the dilemma facing managers and thought of a solution. If the goal is to lower expectations, why not concentrate directly on expectations and leave out the unpleasant details about our jobs and our companies?

Buckley devised a 15-minute group discussion about expectations and added it to the traditional new-hire orientation in a factory near his university. This factory added a third shift and hired 140 production workers who all started on the same day. It was an ideal field experiment, so Buckley divided the workers into four groups and gave each group a different orientation.

One group got a welcome and an employee handbook. Another group got both of these plus they watched a 5-minute company video describing the benefits of employment. A third group got the welcome, the handbook, the video, and a 15 minute realistic job preview. Finally, the last group duplicated the others except that Buckley's 15 minute discussion about expectations replaced the job preview.

Buckley compared the groups and found that people in both the third and fourth groups began their jobs with lower expectations than those in the first two groups. Further, after six months, these groups had significantly lower turnover and greater job satisfaction. Turnover for the first two groups was 21%. Turnover for the third and fourth groups was 4.25%.

Finally, Buckley compared the third and fourth groups to each other and found no differences between them. His expectations-lowering discussion worked just as well as the realistic job preview.

Buckley's expectations-lowering discussion is like a new medicine without a harmful side effect. It's a practice we could easily include in our orientation of new-hires. If you'd like to do so, plan your discussion around these questions:

    1. How do people get expectations about a new job?
    2. Is it important that expectations be realistic?
    3. Are most expectations inflated and unrealistic?
    4. Do unrealistic expectations about a new job lead to disappointment?
    5. What negative outcomes follow unrealistic expectations?
    6. Have you ever experienced an employment situation in which you felt so disappointed because of unmet expectations that you felt violated? How did you react?

A 15-minute discussion of these questions before a person begins employment will lower expectations without driving quality people away.

Reference: Buckley, Ronald, Donald Fedor, John Veres, and Danielle Wiese (1998) Investigating Newcomer Expectations and Job-Related Outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83 (3), 452-461.

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