Is Poor Role Clarity Damaging Your Organization?

You might have heard the phrase, “Clear is Kind, Unclear is Unkind,” often attributed to author and researcher Brené Brown. While this holds true in many areas of life, I’ve found it to be especially relevant in the context of an employee’s role in their organization. Poor role clarity negatively impacts both employees’ mental health and the business as a whole.

Let’s examine the dangers of poor role clarity and identify five ways it might be eroding your organization’s culture, increasing attrition, and limiting your organization’s ability to achieve success.

The Group Project Problem

To illustrate my point, let’s jump into the time machine and go back to your first college group project. Most of us have experienced a project where one or two people did all the work. Everyone else received the benefits without the effort. Was that because the rest of the group did not have the aptitude? Probably not, as presumably they were just as smart given they were in your same class. Was it because your group did not want to do the work? I would argue that wasn’t the case, as fundamentally I believe people want to feel valued through what they contribute to the team. What then created an environment where just a few team members ended up doing an overwhelming portion of the work? My hypothesis is that the group was operating with poor role clarity. Certain individuals were burning the midnight oil while others had a marginal contribution.

Now, fast forward to your organization and think about what poor role clarity means to you. Are you the student who is “pulling an all-nighter” to get the job done, or are you the student that is looking to help but doesn’t know how to engage? Neither scenario is positive, and both can lead to adverse impacts on your mental health. Specifically, I believe that poor organizing choices and poor role clarity can have five side effects to mental health that ultimately drive low morale, lower productivity, and increase attrition.

Five Effects of Poor Role Clarity

  1. Stress and anxiety: When individuals are unsure of their responsibilities and expectations, they may feel stressed and anxious. This is especially true in high-pressure environments where the stakes are high and the consequences of mistakes can be severe.
  2. Confusion and frustration: Individuals may feel confused and frustrated when they don’t understand what is expected of them. It can be especially frustrating when expectations are not clearly communicated or when there are multiple people giving conflicting instructions.
  3. Decreased job satisfaction: Poor role clarity can also lead to decreased job satisfaction. Individuals may feel unfulfilled in their roles and unable to make a meaningful contribution
  4. Burnout: When individuals are uncertain about their roles and responsibilities, they may find themselves working longer hours and taking on more than they can handle. This can lead to burnout and a host of related mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and fatigue.
  5. Low self-esteem: When individuals believe they’re not meeting the expectations of their role, it can create feelings of inadequacy. This can be especially detrimental to an individual’s mental health, as it can lead to self-doubt and a lack of confidence in their abilities.

5 Effects of Poor Role Clarity

Three Tips to Achieve Role Clarity

While there are a number of different ways to achieve role clarity, I find that these three tips from our 66 Organizational Alignment Tips are quite relevant and effective:

  1.  Build Roles and Structure around the Work (not vice versa).  First, understand the work to be done. Then, design roles and structures to support and facilitate the work.
  2.  Minimize Role Confusion. Clarify decision rights to accomplish work with the least confusion about who is responsible for what.
  3.  Link Across Boundaries.  First, map interdependencies by identifying people of groups whose work is interdependent. Then, design ways of linking them across boundaries.

Clarity is Kindness

When looking for ways to optimize your organization’s performance and improve culture, take time to evaluate role clarity. Are employees feeling stressed or overwhelmed because they’re shouldering extra work while other employees are unsure what’s expected of them?

Clarity is kindness

It is important to be clear with those around us on expectations and responsibilities. Assuming that everyone has full clarity on their roles and how to achieve success has consequences for both your organization and employees. To paraphrase Brené Brown, “Clarity is Kindness.”