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Have Standards for “Above and Beyond” at Work Changed?

We’ve had some debates around the office lately about what it means to go “above and beyond” at work. Have standards changed? And is the answer a personal preference or is it a generational preference?

Our quest for answers may have only stirred up more questions. We did, however, find several workplace values that transcend generations. According to workplace productivity expert Scott Lesnick, these values include feeling respected, being listened to, receiving effective communication, gaining positive feedback, and experiencing an exchange of ideas. They represent what employers often use to determine whether a worker has gone the extra mile.

Within these parameters, though, is endless room for interpretation. When we debated this topic at work, one of our executives pointed out that going “above and beyond” is in the eye of the beholder. You need to put yourself into the other person’s shoes.

“Whether it’s your manager or a colleague asking for the results, most people will only acknowledge a job well done if it’s completed in the way they expected,” they told us.

If you ask an employee to finish a task before tomorrow and acknowledge that they may need to stay late to do it, that’s what you expect. If they complete the task and are still able to leave the office on time—maybe even a few minutes early—what does that convey? They may feel they exceeded expectations by being efficient while you might suspect they cut corners or didn’t take the task seriously.

One of our recruiters offers up another example. She told us that the top way her recruits go above and beyond is to always be researching. “I expect those in sales roles to research who they’re meeting with, whether it’s a client, prospect, or a potential employer. Don’t go into a call, meeting, or interview cold,” she says.

She makes this clear to the recruiters she hires and the job candidates she helps. So, with that expectation set, a recruiter who successfully “wings it” in meetings will never truly impress her—no matter how well they perform. They broke her trust by bucking expectations and flouting her cardinal rule of being prepared, whether they aced the meeting or not.

The solution? Align your expectations.

“Make sure to have a clear understanding of the expectations of each person with whom you are working,” offers Donald Hatter, a best-selling author and speaker who focuses on maximizing influence. “Communicate with them consistently to ensure those expectations do not change.” Asking questions is important to get to the root of what is expected—not just the end-product of your actions, but with how you perform the actions as well.

And if you’re the one consistently disappointed by employee performance, consider how you’re communicating. Are you setting expectations clearly and explaining why things should be done a certain way? And are you listening to your employees in return?  Research has found that it’s not our differences but our biases that block separate generations from thriving together in the workplace. When those biases are overcome, multi-generation teams are 2x more likely to meet or exceed expectations than teams consisting of one generation only.