Capabilities, Expectations, and Limits

Ecker (1985) described three attributes of employer-employee relations (Figure 1). The first, employee capabilities, is the “sum total of everything the employee brings to the work setting which can be used to perform his or her assigned task”. The second, expectations, is the “employer’s standard of performance for the task”. The third, limits, is established by the employer, “a domain in which employee capabilities can be expressed and employer expectation can be realized”. In Ecker’s view, only capabilities is an established reality, and both expectations and limits relate to how that reality is dealt with by the employer. (I personally think that capabilities is not something fixed, especially from a skills-perspective, but a good boss and job fit, can greatly expand an employee’s capabilities.)

Ideally, all three attributes should have the same magnitude (Figure 1). Maximum performance and employee satisfaction is attained when the employee’s capabilities meet the employer’s expectations, and the limits set by the employer allow the employee’s capabilities to be fully expressed, and the employer’s expectations to be fully met (p. 104).

In a less ideal situation, the employer uses a management strategy – management by control – that does not allow enough space for the employee’s capability to be realized. This happens when the employer sets expectations that are beyond the employee’s capabilities, resulting in “the employee struggling constantly against unreasonable demands, and the boss perpetually frustrated with unmet expectations”. Then, the employer regulates by “setting limits on the employee’s activities within the job”, further hindering the employee from doing the job well.

In management by control, the three boxes do not coincide and may look like Figure 2. The result is that “not only are the employer’s expectations well beyond the employee’s capabilities, but the boss has imposed such tight limits that the employee is not even permitted to work up to the capabilities he has”.Figures

Even though, the goal of this section in the book was really to help employers, and consequently, employees, face less stress in the workplace, the reason I have extracted it and blogged about it here is that I find this model very beautiful, and helpful for thinking about job hunting or job recruitment. Perhaps, we can look at it this way, we want to find a job where our capabilities match up to the employer’s expectations, and at the same time, find a good match, in terms of someone who sets limits that are just right for us, and do not hinder the employee from bringing the best he or she has to the task. For the employer who usually only focuses on the potential employee’s capabilities, a good question to also ask is whether his or her personality, and/or the working environment, poses any constraints that limits the employee from shining and excelling. It is not always the employee’s fault when something goes wrong. A good employer will also examine his or her management strategy.


Ecker, R. (1985) The stress myth: why the pressures of Life don’t have to get you down. Herts: Lion Publishing plc, pp. 103-107


humiliation is temporary

… before spring becomes beautiful, it is plug ugly, nothing but mud and muck. I have walked in the early spring through fields that will suck your boots off, a world so wet and woeful it makes you yearn for the return of ice. But in that muddy mess, the conditions for rebirth are created.

I love the fact that the word humus – the decayed vegetable matter that feeds the roots of plants – comes from the same root that gives rise to the word humility. It is a blessed etymology. It helps me understand that the humiliating events of life, the events that leave “mud on my face” or that “make my name mud,” my create the fertile soil in which something new can grow. (p. 103)

Palmer, Parker J. (2000). Let your life speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Vocation as a Gift

I just read this and am so touched by it. In my church, we celebrate individuals who are willing to give up a comfortable life and their careers to do missionary work. Last May, during our church conference, the visiting pastor challenged us, “Those who are willing to give up anything for God, come to the altar right now.” I couldn’t bring myself to go down, even as I watch the throngs of people strolling to the front. At that time, I thought I had finally found my calling in academia, I found a job that I enjoyed. I was willingly a workaholic because I loved my work. To be very honest to myself and God, if at that point God wanted me to give it all up, I would be quite unwilling. So I did not go down to the altar.

That concept of vocation is rooted in a deep distrust of selfhood, in the belief that the sinful self will always be “selfish” unless corrected by external forces of virtue. It is a notion that made me feel inadequate to the task of living my own life, creating guilt about the distance between who I was and who I was supposed to be, leaving me exhausted as I labored to close the gap.

Today I understand vocation quite differently – not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God. (p. 10)

Regarding finding your true self, about what you were meant to do already written in your nature, as God’s message to guide you, I believe in that. Why is it that I so long to go overseas to live, yet I have friends who have that opportunity but so desire to stay put in Singapore? Is it something within us, guiding us. Why is it that some people try to hard to make it work out where they currently are, they have decided to stay put, and rejected offers from other places, but they continue to be so miserable? Bullied by one boss after another? Is it a sign that it is time to move on?

I gladly accept my vocation as God’s gift to me today. 🙂 And know, I will continue miles onward to find who He truly made me to be.

Palmer, Parker (2000). Let your life speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco

Having compassion for yourself

Compassion is something often extended toward others. Do you know we can also extend compassion toward ourselves?


I went to Popular bookstore, hoping to get the latest What Color is Your Parachute? 2016 However, it was not yet available. But I chanced upon a book titled “Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend”. It was a very moving book.

Take responsibility for your own well-being today. Don’t be dependent on others for your own well-being. Be your own advocate, supporter and loving friend.

One way we make others responsible for our well-being is to ignore our own instincts in a situation and instead defer to another person. We aren’t deferring out of kindness; we do it out of mistrusting the instincts God has given us or out of fear of speaking up. Furthermore, we often end up blaming the other person for not considering us in the decision. In reality, we may not have shared our opinion on the issue or how important it was to us. Advocating for yourself, regardless of the result, is a very compassionate and connecting thing to do for yourself. When you give your well-being over to the opinions and actions of others, it often doesn’t work out for you or the other person. (p. 79-78)

Fredrickson, K. (2015) Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend. Gran Rapids, Michigan: Revell

The things you never knew working taught you

I just made a phone call to speak to someone for purposes of work. I got through on my third phone call after some prayer. I decided to call rather than email because of two reasons. Firstly, emails are easily misunderstood and there’s no way to know of the misunderstanding because replies are usually short and direct. But through calling, if someone is upset, you can immediately clarify. Secondly, phone calls enable one to get an immediate response, while emails, you are leaving your required response to the mercy of the busy responder.

I know these lessons don’t take you getting a job to learn, perhaps some people with more common sense or streetsmartness would get it even without experiencing it first hand. But I must say that I learned these from work. I learned to persevere, to keep calling, again and again, until I get a response. And I learned that while this is the age of email, phone calls still work wonders and can get you want you want better than an email can.

It’s fine to fail… :)

Made some wrong decisions?

I did. I quit my job when I couldn’t take the stress. I returned to it when I found that was no where else that had a place for me.

I went through many years of my educational life chasing after the good grades, thinking that when I graduate, I will automatically know what type of job I will have, by controlling the range of jobs and making it as wide as possible. Rather then take time to seriously learn from the many things school had to offer, I chose to focus on just getting the grades and bypassing many valuable opportunities of learning, failing, and learning to stand up again. I always picked the easier route.

I make mistakes in writing. I took very long to learn what academic integrity and honesty was. But now that I have found a bit of it, I hope to develop it further.

So it’s okay and normal to fail, in any area, in any way. In the words of John C. Maxwell, let’s fail forward. Don’t be disheartened, let’s learn from each opportunity and move forward. This failing is a lesson learned that is added unto you that nobody can steal, but that you can use to teach and encourage many.

Quotes from Life is Tremendous

I have glanced through this thin book called “Life Is Tremendous” by Charlie “Tremendous” Jones and found some nice quotations I would like to share with you!

“We don’t consider manual work as a curse, or a bitter necessity, not even as a means of making a living. We consider it as a high human function, as a basis of human life, the most dignified thing in the life of the human being, and which ought to be free, creative. Men ought to be proud of it.” – David Ben-Gurion (p. 24)

Charlie shared how he got his job during the Great Depression and hence naturally knew that having a job was a privilege. So in line with the conversations in the comments section in the previous post!

“Don’t worry about being of more use where you aren’t; the best job you’ll ever have is the one you’re on. No job ever made a man but a right man can make any job.”

“Don’t spend your life trying to make right decisions; invest your life in making decisions and making them right.” (p. 85)

Published by Living Books 1996

Don’t be quick to say “No”

I learnt this in the past year – not to say “No” so easily. I’m Biology-trained but now my work is Humanities-based. And I don’t regret one bit of it at all. Hope this would inspire those who have been thrust into a job area not of their choice.



Changes in Perspectives

I used to think there is a perfect job for me, where I didn’t need to change myself, but I would fit in exactly.

But after a year of searching, I have change my stance about finding this dream job.

Today, I believe in working hard become good in something instead of trying to find something I’m good in.

hi i’m an engineer

Recently come across some career-related postings on Facebook. Would like to share them with you! 🙂

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