Where Do Your Work Expectations Come From?

Marcus J. Fila, Ph.D.
4 min readFeb 8, 2021

For decades, much research on work stress has focused on several topics: control/autonomy over work, the meaningfulness of work, and support structures from supervisors, organizational leadership, and colleagues.

One of my bugbears is how infrequently these things get talked about in mainstream business press, most of which focus on more perfunctory interventions to help employees manage their stress, such as breathing exercises, taking breaks, and leaving work at work. None of this is bad advice, it’s just inadequate advice because it ignores the root of the problem, or even that dealing with work stress in a two-sided coin of appropriate employee resilience for the given profession (per my previous piece), and employer awareness of what should, and shouldn’t be expected.

One of the reasons for this kind of advice is that it doesn’t require any digging — when we’re all so busy. I understand this on many levels, but if surface-level band-aids are enough, then perhaps we should all just have a gin and tonic at three in the afternoon — it would surely make the last few hours less stressful!

A bigger (and deeper) question for managing work stress is where do employee expectations come from? On the one hand, we are told that everyone is an individual, that we are all different, and that no two people are the same. On the other hand, we are told that “humans are humans”, and we often refer to things people do as just being “human nature”. So which is true, and how does this shape our expectations for our work?

The answer is that we each have a constellation of identities in our private and professional life. Mine include being a husband, father, management professor, consultant, and a British expat in America. I am also an avid supporter of a very poor sports team in the UK. Detroit Lions fans I’m sure you can relate. Within each of these identities is a set of norms, and expectations that are neither completely personal to us, or generalized to every other person. Dads share many norms about what it is to be a dad, without all being identical dads.

Now apply this to your work. What is your job title? Your profession? Who do you say you are when you introduce yourself to others (i.e., when networking)? If you are, for example, a senior financial advisor…

Marcus J. Fila, Ph.D.

Work Stress speaker, researcher, author, and consultant to organizations and individuals. Psychologist, and management professor. Visit easeworkstress.com.