Role Ambiguity Print or save as PDF

How is it defined?

Role ambiguity is defined as the degree to which employees are unclear about the expectations for their role or what is required of them (Baron, 1986; Papastylianou et al., 2009). Role conflict can occur when the individual is asked to perform two or more conflicting tasks simultaneously, or when the expectations from different groups of people (e.g., family, colleagues, friends) are not aligned (Pettinger, 1996). To improve role clarity organizations can provide clear job descriptions and expectations, offer periodic training, and give both recognition and positive feedback when expectations are met (Bauer & Simmons, 2000).

The Learning Bar's Staff Survey framework is based on 13 core indicators designed to capture the key metrics of employee health and well-being. Together, these indicators support the development of a positive school climate.

Why is it important?

  • Role ambiguity is associated with poor job satisfaction (Acorn, 1991) and the onset of stress (Greer & Wethered, 1984).
  • A lack of clarity about role expectations can negatively impact job performance (Tubre & Collins, 2000).
  • Role ambiguity negatively impacts organizational outcomes, including decreased productivity and employee turnover (Bauer & Simmons, 2000).

How do we measure it?

The OurSCHOOL Staff Survey includes four items focused on the clarity of expectations ascribed to respondents’ roles. The results are reported as “the percentage of staff who have clear role expectations”.


Acorn, S. (1991). Relationship of role conflict and role ambiguity to selected job dimensions among joint appointees. Journal of Professional Nursing, 7(4), 221-227.

Baron, R. A. (1986). Behaviour in organisations. Allyn & Bacon.

Bauer, J. C., & Simmons, P. R. (2000). Role ambiguity: A review and integration of the literature. Journal of Modern Business, 3(1), 41-47.

Greer, J. G., & Wethered, C. E. (1984). Learned helplessness: A piece of the burnout puzzle. Exceptional Children, 50, 524-530.

Papastylianou, A., Kaila, M., & Polychronopoulos, M. (2009). Teachers’ burnout, depression, role ambiguity and conflict. Social Psychology of Education, 12(3), 295-314.

Pettinger, R. (1996). Introduction to organizational behavior. Macmillan Business.

Tubre, T. C., & Collins, J. M. (2000). Jackson and Schuler (1985) revisited: A meta-analysis of the relationships between role ambiguity, role conflict, and job performance. Journal of Management, 26(1), 155-169.

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