Role ambiguity and role conflict

All employees, regardless of age, education or professional experience, have a role to play in every organisation. The requirements of each role results from the purpose of the work performed (e.g., providing medical assistance, assembly of machine parts, manages accounting), required competences, procedures and standards of its performance, organisational structure and management (managing own and other people's work, coordinating activities of many teams or departments). Each role in the organisation is defined in the form of rules, regulations, and instructions to be followed. However, the role may not always be described in sufficient detail, may be ambiguous and not fully understandable. This can lead to discrepancies between the job description and the actual requirements, as a result, stress occurs.

Examples of role ambiguity are: If the employees are uncertain about what to do and what is not their responsibility, in what order tasks must be performed, or when the criteria for assessing the quality of work performed are unclear. This situation is conducive to making mistakes and creating a disorganized work environment; causing mental discomfort, uncertainty about their skills and the results of their own work, fear of making a mistake, and negative assessment of superiors. This can be accompanied by emotional tension, and sometimes physical ailments or complaints a result of stress (e.g., headache, stomach-ache…). Role conflict can create additional negative effects.

The role conflict occurs when:

  • The instructions given by supervisors or expectations as to the type, manner, order, and deadline of work are contradictory or render tasks impracticable (e.g., save cleaning products and ensure high standards of cleanliness; go on a business trip and at the same time prepare a quarterly report).
  • When employees are urged to achieve goals in a manner inconsistent with standards or causing moral dilemmas (e.g. breaking safety rules to achieve a goal quicker or deciding which patient obtains medical help first when there are limited resources).
  • When it is necessary to perform tasks that go beyond formal obligations.
  • The employees has competing roles and completion of one interferes with completion of the other (e.g., involvement in professional work resulting in neglect of family responsibilities).

Role conflict disturbs interpersonal relationships in the workplace as well (and sometimes in the family, promotes a lack of job satisfaction, neglecting of duties, increases burnout, evokes the willingness to quit the job and contributes to reducing work efficiency.

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The EMPOWER project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No. 848180