Role ambiguity, or role confusion, may influence an organization’s bottom line because it’s related to performance, burnout, and turnover. And because it also affects individuals’ emotional wellbeing and aspects of workplace wellbeing (i.e., conflict and attitudes), organizations should prioritize clarifying role expectations. 

Do these three things to provide clarity

Although there are individual characteristics associated with role ambiguity, such as the individual’s tolerance for uncertainty, the strongest relationships are within the organization. Employers should be encouraged by this because it means it’s possible to change aspects of the organization in order to decrease ambiguity. 

  • Write clear job descriptions, project outlines, and performance review criteria to take the guesswork out of an employee’s responsibilities.
  • If ambiguity is critical to a role, assess and select candidates based on their tolerance and ability to adjust.
  • If on-the-job training is the best method of training for a role, thoughtfully select and train the trainers or mentors so that new employees are learning the job correctly.

Two ways to improve your corporate culture 

While finding a solution for role ambiguity is most effective, not all jobs or organizations can provide clarity due to the nature of the industry. In those instances, De Clercq and Belausteguigoitia recommend preventing turnover by creating a culture that emphasizes a few important things. 

  • Establish trust with coworkers. When the workplace is built on trust, employees feel comfortable asking colleagues about job duties when the directions are unclear. It’s also important for the organization to build trust and create a culture of psychological safety so when an employee identifies and voices concerns about ambiguity, they aren’t fearful of repercussions.
  • Promote procedural justice, or fairness in the organizational processes that lead to outcomes, such as pay and promotions. 

Related article: 6 steps to build a culture of trust

Employees can do something about it, too 

Providing role clarity is mostly the responsibility of the organization; there is little an individual can do to achieve clarity on their own. However, there are a few things employees can do to encourage their organization to reduce role ambiguity. 

  • Ask for clarification and direction from a manager. Seasoned employees often have difficulty remembering what it was like when they first joined the organization or what they didn’t know initially. This makes writing a new job description or assigning projects a challenge, and managers may not realize how unclear their direction is.
  • If the ambiguity stems from an organizational process that everyone must “learn along the way,” offer to document it. This shows initiative and will help the next group of new employees. 

Most of the interventions mentioned here have little cost; they require only thought and time to communicate expectations in a clear and effective way. For a FREE, complete guide on how to reduce role ambiguity in your organization, click here.

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