What does role conflict look like? Here are a few examples:
Arguably, the most respected research on the psychology of employee engagement was published by William Kahn in 1990, which spoke of employees being able to express their authentic selves. Whilst much great research has followed (particularly linking engagement to well-being), none seems to contradict Kahn in any way.
Three psychological components of employee engagement
Safety: being able to invest one’s self without fear of negative consequences
Meaning: receiving a return on investment … in work role performances
Availability: one is ready to personally engage at a particular moment
You can see how role conflicts can directly undermine all three!
I consider it as 'upward and downward spirals' ...
Spirals image here …
Whenever I look at an organisations culture results, but only include those people who report high degrees of role conflict, it is clear that their work world is full of threat or insecurity. Essentially, they are experiencing regular ‘fight or flight’ responses - just coming to work. Over time, these (stress) responses directly impact upon their thinking, behaviour and ultimately, well-being and performance. This can become a downward spiral for them and often people around them are impacted too.
Conversely, those with little or no role conflict report a highly satisfying workplace. Their work is rewarding, building upon their self-efficacy which leads to even greater ability and performance. This upward spiral can also positively impact others, improving morale, performance and resilience.
Remember, these people exist in the same organisation. Such is the potency of role conflict.
Why is all of this important?
Because it is neither static nor isolated; and it impacts performance and well-being. Organisations benefit greatly from implementing strategies which fuel the upward spiral and (at the same time) suffer if they ignore those experiencing the downward. Both need serious attention.
I will speak more about the dynamics of each spiral in future posts, including strategies for both.