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Impact of Role Ambiguity in the Organisation

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The purpose of this conceptual paper is to have brief analysis on the impact of Role ambiguity in the job performance and how it affects the organization as a whole. It also through light on how role ambiguity produces psychological strain and dissatisfaction, which lead to under-utilization of human resources and leads to feeling of futility on how to cope with the organizational environment. The detrimental effects of the role ambiguity are discussed along with the notion that the relationship between role ambiguity and many outcomes are curvilinear one, where certain levels of ambiguity is necessary in order to motivate but beyond which the outcome are detrimental. Some of the tactics used for reducing role ambiguity are discussed (in particular role clarification, role negotiation and the possibilities of participative decision making strategies).

Introduction According to Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek, and Rosenthal (1964) the role ambiguity means the single or multiple roles that confront the role incumbent, which may not be clearly articulated (communicated) in terms of behaviors (the role activities or tasks/priorities) or performance levels(the criteria that the role incumbent will be judged by). They also opined that it is the simultaneous occurrence of two or more role pressures so that compliance with one makes it more difficult to comply with other. Breaugh &Colihan (1994) have further refined the definition of role ambiguity to be job ambiguity and indicate that job ambiguity possesses three distinct aspects: work methods, scheduling, and performance criteria. Most often job ambiguity leads to the job dissatisfaction and the underperformance of job and it also leads to the psychological strain and dissatisfaction. Role ambiguity creates chaos in the organization as the work to be done is not specified. The strategies for minimizing of role conflict like role clarification, role negotiation and the possibilities of participative decision making strategies are precisely needed to be examined for better performance of work without any ambiguities in the work.

Role Ambiguity and Organization Role ambiguity has been identified as an organizational factor associated with job dissatisfaction (Wilkerson & Bellini, 2006) and the role ambiguity is the degree to which clear information is lacking regarding the expectation associated with a role (Kahn et al., 1964) i.e. there arises chaos in the working environment of the Organization which may causes the low morality of the workers as well as psychological strain on the parts of the employees which in turn affects in the low productivity. Spector (1997), “role ambiguity is the degree of certainty the employ has about what his or her functions and responsibilities are. According to classical theory, every position in a structured organization should have a specified set of tasks or position responsibilities, and role ambiguity reflects the degree of employees’ uncertainty regarding the appropriate actions in performing job functions (Miles, 1976). Due to uncertain role expectation, employees hesitate to make decisions and will have to meet the expectations. “Role conflict and Role ambiguity are the two specific occupational stressors that organizational employees Experience with regard to the multiple roles they assume within the organization”

Due to uncertain role expectation, employees hesitate to make decisions and will have to meet the expectations by the trial and error process (Rizzo, House, & Lirtzman, 1970). Therefore, role ambiguity results in the following situation: “…a person will be dissatisfied with his role, experience anxiety, distort reality, and thus perform less effectively” (Rizzo, House, & Lirtzman, 1970, p. 151). Role conflict and role ambiguity were the two major components of job-related role stresses (C. D. Fisher & Gitelson, 1983; Jackson & Schuler, 1985; Rizzo, House, & Lirtzman, 1970). Considering the limited findings, in order to understand the relationship between work stresses and work-family conflict it is necessary to consider both role conflict and ambiguity in the unity of work-family domain (Greenhaus, Bedeian, & Mossholder, 1987a; Williams & Alliger, 1994).

Role Ambiguity and Job Performance Rizzo, House and Lirtzman (1970) contended that role ambiguity exist when an employee is not equipped with good understanding about his (her) responsibilities and having little knowledge if what is expected pertaining to his (her) job performance. Role ambiguity is commonly associated with employee work performance. When employees experience lack of role clarity or having role ambiguity, they tend to perform at lower levels (Bhuian, Menguc & Borsboom, 2005). Likewise, employees will be able to perform well should they have clear job understanding of what is expected and required from them (Babin & Boles, 1998). Although most research has found negative relationship between role ambiguity and job performance, the strength of association between role ambiguity and job performance varies widely according to types of occupation and performance measure (Jackson & Shuler, 1985). The existing empirical research provides little support for the expected adverse effects of role ambiguity towards job performance. Though role ambiguity were found to have negative relationship with job performance (Lysonski & Johnson 1983; Behrman & Perreault 1984) , Jackson and Schuler‟s (1985) meta-analytic studies found the effect of role ambiguity on job performance is rather weak and this was further supported by similar findings by Fisher and Gitelson (1983), and Berkowitz (1980)..

Role Ambiguity and Team It is certain that role ambiguity is a team-dynamics factor with the potential to have an impact on the working team of the organization. Role ambiguity occurs in the team when an individual perceives a lack of clear information associated with a particular role (Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek, & Rosenthal, 1964).Martens, Vealey, and Burton (1990) in their multi-dimensional theory they indicated that uncertainty is an important situational antecedent to perceptions of anxiety. While uncertainty and ambiguity are not synonymous constructs, the two perceptions are closely linked insofar as individual roles are concerned (Beehr & Bhagat, 1985;Beehr & Newman, 1978). For example, in their role episode model, Kahn et al.(1964) indicated that when individuals experience role ambiguity (i.e., lack of clear information), uncertainty follows.

From the above explanation it is clear that role ambiguity creates anxiety and stress due to uncertainty of work which adversely affect the team work and may create distortion of the team without any fruitful result, but as mentioned by some scholar like Eys and Carron (2001), mentioned in their theoretical model that little portion of role ambiguity is necessary for the – (a) the scope of responsibilities, (b) the behaviors necessary to carry out those responsibilities,(c) how role responsibilities are evaluated, and (d) the consequences of not fulfilling role responsibilities. Consistent with theory, their results showed differential patterns of prediction across the various forms of ambiguity relating to task cohesion as well as task self-efficacy.

Strategies to Minimize the Role Ambiguity Some of the option available for the managers for the possible remedies for the ambiguity issue. They are role clarification and role negotiation. Role Clarification

Schaubroeck, et al. (1993) suggest that role clarification (a dyadic exchange process) is an intervention that is provided in a formal context wherein the supervisor (role sender) states his or her expectations to the direct report subordinate, and together the two parties discuss means by which the direct report’s obligations can be managed effectively. The facets of the subordinate’s role are, then, defined both in terms of content (i.e., what the duties are) and process (i.e., how effective performance on the duties should be achieved). For role incumbents to have role clarity the

following attributes of the work environment must exist in sufficient quantity, which is considered desirable to the role incumbent, and in the appropriate mix:

Clearly Articulated Goals
Ffrom the top of the organization on down. These would include the expectations of each member of the organization, as well as, the how and when characteristics of getting the work done.

On Going Training
Training should not stop with the end of a new hires orientation period. It should, however, be made available throughout the employee’s career. Education levels and experiences on the job both seem to be moderators for role ambiguity (Fisher & Gitelson 1983; Van Sell, et al. 1981); therefore, investment in education and training should pay dividends in the long run by impacting the levels of employee ambiguity.

Recognition and Rewards
According to Blanchard (1984), managers should see if they can catch people doing things right. Recognition is widely regarded as one of the most Important motivating variables for employees. Monetary and other rewards have merit, but simply acknowledging good performance can enhance the work environment, and may provide an opportunity for communication of expectations which is the essence of role clarification Negotiation

According to MvShane, Glingow and Sharma “Negotiation occurs whenever two or more conflicting parties attempt to resolve their divergent goals by redefining the terms of their interdependence. Negotiations can be simply defined as a process of bargaining in a settlement when parties differ on some issue. That means it may be negotiations for clearly defining the role for performing the specified task in a team or in any working environment. Role Negotiation Naylor, et al. (1980) define the concept of role negotiation, which starts as role clarification, as an emergent process involving role senders, the focal person (role incumbent), and others. They present role negotiation as a conflict resolution or intervention strategy for both role conflict and role ambiguity. The Naylor, et al. (1980) definition of role negotiation includes the following: (a) clarifying expectations,

(b) defining the relative certainty of product-evaluation contingencies (defining satisfactory performance and understanding rewards and/or sanctions), (c) establishing priorities among expectations (so that products with the highest utility are

acted upon first),
(d) altering the values of outcomes associated with the sent roles and/or products ofincumbent behavior (thus reducing or eliminating conflicts), and (e) redefining or negotiating sent-roles (to remove one or more products in conflict). Role negotiation, as defined by these authors, produces specific, behaviorally stated feedback of value to the supervisor. In addition to group oriented role negotiation techniques they discuss a procedure for individual, or one-on-one negotiations. Watkins and Luke found benefits to including role negotiation in the supervisor/subordinate relationship, such as, a stronger emphasis on interdependence and increased levels of trust. As mentioned previously, role negotiation would appear to begin with role clarification type activities, but it then converges into a two-way communication with the role incumbent having more of a say in their final roles. Consequently, perhaps role negotiation is one of the tools needed for on-going role clarification and/or perhaps it is simply a more complex and highly evolved form of role clarification.

Conclusion Role ambiguity was highly and significantly related to low levels of satisfaction with the work itself, but was not significantly related to any of the other satisfaction dimensions. Role ambiguity can be a serious concern for the organization as it may affect the working team due to uncertainty of work in assigning to the specified person, which may lead to complete chaos among the employees, thus, leading to the low performance of work out chaos and leading to the psychological strain and stress. It is necessary to identify the proper strategy for minimizing the role ambiguity by the managers, so that there doesn’t arise any uncertainty of work among the employees. However after closely monitoring the situation the management should give some extent un-identified work as to much specification of work may restrict some inner talent of the employees to excel his innovative ideas. Therefore the management much be cautious in dealing with the role ambiguity as it doesn’t affect in negative way to the organization.


Beehr, T.A., & Bhagat, R.S. (1985). Human stress and
cognition in organizations. New York: Wiley.

Blanchard, K. H. (1984). Have a Minute? Become an Effective Manager. Executive Excellence. Breaugh, J. A. & Colihan, J. P. (1994). Measuring Facets of Job Ambiguity: Construct Validity Evidence. Journal of Applied Psychology.

Kahn, R. L., Wolfe, D. M., Quinn, R. P., Snoek, J. D., & Rosenthal, R. A. (1964). Occupational Stress: Studies in role conflict and ambiguity. New York: Wiley. Eys, M.A., & Carron, A.V. (2000, Oct.). Correlates of role ambiguity in sport. Paper presented at the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology, Nashville. Fisher, C. D. & Gitelson, R. (1983). A Meta-Analysis of the Correlates of Role Conflict and Ambiguity. Journal of Applied Psychology.

Jackson, S. E. and Schuler, R. S. (1985). A Meta-analysis and Conceptual Critique of Research on Role Ambiguity and Role Conflict in Work Settings. Organizational Behavior and Human.

Keller, R. T. (1975). Role Conflict and Ambiguity: Correlates with Job Satisfaction and Values. Personnel Psychology, 28, 57 – 64.
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Rizzo, J.R., House, R.J., & Lirtzman, S.I. (1970). Role conflict and ambiguity in complex organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly. Schaubroeck, J., Ganster, D. C., Sime, W., & Editman, D. (1993). A field experiment testing supervisory role clarification. Personnel Psychology. Wilkerson, K., & Bellini, J. (2006). Intrapersonal and organizational factors associated with burnout among school counselors. Journal of Counseling and Development. .

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