Role Clarity

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  • Topic: Role, Ambiguity tolerance, Sociology
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ROLE AMBIGUITY AND ROLE CLARITY: A COMPARISION OF ATTITUDES IN GERMANY AND THE UNITED STATES

JEFFREY C. BAUERJOSEPH SPENCER

University of Cincinnati – ClermontBelhaven College

Business DivisionCollege of Business Administration
4200 Clermont College Drive1500 Peachtree Street
Batavia, OH 45255 USAJackson, MS 39202 USA
Phone: (513) 732-5257Phone: (318) 348-1108
Fax: (513) 732-5304
E-mail: jeff.bauer@uc.eduE-mail: jspencer@belhaven.edu

Track : Organizational Development
Type : Original Paper

ROLE AMBIGUITY AND ROLE CLARITY: A COMPARISION OF ATTITUDES IN GERMANY AND THE UNITED STATES

Abstract

The cultural and organizational influences on attitudes toward role ambiguity and role clarity are evaluated in this paper. Specifically, need for clarity and perceptions of role ambiguity are analyzed for members of two organizations, one in Germany and the other in the United States. A global perspective is employed which evaluates the cultural positioning of respondent's attitudes in diverse settings. The results partially support the hypothesis that the German respondents would demonstrate a greater need for clarity than their U.S. counterparts, but are perhaps confounded by between group differences unrelated to ambiguity. The role ambiguity measures showed no difference in reported ambiguity levels within the organizations representing the two countries. The possible effects of technological advances as they relate to role ambiguity are reviewed, along with the implications of cultural diversity in the workplace. In addition, the evolving and flatter organizational structures common to organizations and the resulting communications methodologies are examined. Finally, future research recommendations that seem to flow from the global management and role ambiguity literature are outlined for the reader.

Role ambiguity has been described by Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek, and Rosenthal (1964) as 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). Naylor, Pritchard, and Ilgen (1980) state that role ambiguity exists when focal persons (role incumbents) are uncertain about product-to-evaluation contingencies and are aware of their own uncertainty about them. 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 research suggests that role ambiguity is indeed negatively correlated with job satisfaction, job involvement, performance, tension, propensity to leave the job and job performance variables (Rizzo, House, & Lirtzman 1970; Van Sell, Brief, & Schuler 1981; Fisher & Gitelson 1983; Jackson & Schuler 1985; Singh 1998). Typically, the role ambiguity and role conflict constructs are discussed together. The present analysis focuses primarily on role ambiguity, because the literature has shown that role ambiguity and role conflict have different causes (Keller, 1975) and therefore potentially different remedies. Sawyer (1992) has even hypothesized that different types of role ambiguity may have different causes, and Singh & Rhoads (1991) believe that role ambiguity is more amenable to managerial "intervention", that is implementing programs to diminish role ambiguity may be less difficult to conduct than interventions for role conflict.

According to Banton (1965), a “role” can be defined as a set of norms or expectations applied to the incumbent of a particular position by the role incumbent and the various other role players (role senders) with whom the incumbent must deal to fulfill the obligations of their position. Kahn et al. (1964) further clarify the role model by stating that to...
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