Role clarity in your large business

How to help improve role clarity and reduce role conflict in your workforce.



How this helps your business

Role clarity helps employees feel more relaxed and in control. It also improves engagement, job satisfaction, commitment and productivity. In addition to the mental health benefits, it also means co-workers understand who is responsible for certain topics when they need help.

Without role clarity, employees can become disengaged. This leads to reduced performance, increased conflict and even mental injury. Workers may also leave, resulting in increased costs to recruit and train new staff.

Establishing clear performance objectives and a sense of shared purpose helps employees understand exactly what they are expected to do, why it is important, and how their work contributes to the overall workplace vision.

Key stats and facts

Role clarity is 1 of the 6 key drivers in employee engagement, the relationships between a workplace and its employees.

Data Insights; Employee engagement in the Victorian public Sector, Victorian Public Sector Commission, 2016

Step 1: Encourage good communication

A team of employees with a shared purpose, clear goals, and respect for each other provides a good foundation for role clarity.

It is not unusual for people in workplaces to have different opinions about resources, procedures and policies. The ability to communicate respectfully with each other and problem solve, helps to resolve conflict and address issues about roles and responsibilities.

Tips for encouraging respectful communication include:

  • encouraging employees to have input into procedures and tasks
  • involving employees in decisions that may impact their tasks
  • holding regular team meetings to discuss the pressures and challenges within the work unit
  • encouraging employees to suggest and work through practical solutions
  • providing regular feedback on task performance
  • recognising employees whenever tasks have been done well
  • providing employees' practical advice and guidance on areas that need improving
  • coaching employees in communication skills to increase their awareness of other perspectives
  • supporting employees to negotiate solutions to resolve conflict

Step 2: Recruit and induct new employees

From the first day of employment, lay the foundation for your employees to thrive in your organisation. Ensure the employee is the right fit for the role and the company, and clearly define roles, responsibilities and expectations from the start.

The Victorian Public Sector web page Best Practice Recruitment and Selection page in the 'Other resources' tab has some useful tools and resources that can be applied to any organisation.

To ensure employees are clear on their role and responsibilities, review your workplace on-boarding process and include the following:

  • current organisational chart listing current roles and employees' names
  • copy of the company's human resources manual
  • copy of their position description
  • information about the workplace – mission statement and values (why you do what you do)
  • staff introductions, who to speak to about specific things including concerns, and who their direct reports are
  • occupational health and safety induction – including policy and procedures, who is your health and safety representative, your occupational health and safety committee, and anything specific to the tasks they will be performing. Include information on evacuation procedures
  • behavioural expectations – make it clear that your workplace does not tolerate bullying, harassment, aggression or violence

Step 3: Be clear about job roles

All employees should be clear about the purpose of their job. Some organisations have very tailored position descriptions, and others have very general position descriptions that could apply to a number of employee roles.

A position description should include:

  • information about the purpose of the job
  • the skills and experience they need
  • who they report to and who reports to them
  • the main duties expected of them
  • clear management structures to help employees know who they are accountable to and where they can go for help with work problems

Managers should set times to meet regularly with each employee to review performance objectives. This allows roles to evolve as business needs change and skill sets develop. This is particularly important if your organisation has a more 'agile' workforce where employees move between projects frequently and don't have detailed position descriptions. Managers will need to be sufficiently skilled and confident to have conversations with employees to set and regularly review performance indicators to ensure there is sufficient role clarity.

Step 4: Reduce role conflict

Reducing role conflict can help prevent work related mental injury. Role conflict can occur when an employee is required to perform tasks outside their personal values and expectations, when a request is in conflict with another position, when similar roles overlap, and when duties are at odds with the values of the workplace.

Identify and implement two things you can do to better address role conflict in your workplace.

Tips to manage role conflict:

  • make sure employees are not given multiple conflicting tasks
  • have clear reporting lines so that employees know who they report to
  • make sure employees are only accountable to one immediate supervisor
  • set up systems so employees can raise concerns about any conflicts in their role or responsibilities (for example holding regular team meetings to discuss potential role conflict)
  • have open communication with your employees so you can discuss ways to manage it early

For more information on role clarity and conflict, review the information on page 19-20 of WorkSafe Victoria’s ​Preventing and managing work-related stress guide.

Step 5: Review and keep improving

Refer to Fair works performance review discussion plan template to help you prepare for discussions with your employees on performance. They also have some great tools including setting up a performance system checklist and performance agreement template.

Managers should set times to meet with their employees to review their roles and clarify expectations on a regular basis. Having a shared understanding about roles is a good starting point to discuss objectives and KPIs. This is also a good chance to raise concerns or identify areas for growth, especially if new processes have been introduced and additional skills or training are required.

Managers also need to consider the health and safety risks of particular roles, especially any health and safety risks that could arise from a change in role, or modifications to make if an employee needs additional support for health reasons.

Identify how you can incorporate these discussions into your existing people management systems and processes, and what support managers might need to do this effectively.

Step 6: Talk with your staff

Collecting and analysing employee turnover and retention data can help you make decisions around strategies for improving role clarity as well as other ways to keep your people longer.

Examples of data about turnover and retention:

  • exit interviews
  • stay interviews – regular discussions to identify why your employees want to work for you
  • feedback through social media or other engagement channels
  • performance appraisals
  • employee climate surveys
  • word of mouth / anecdotal information
  • employee focus groups
  • recruitment process – find out why people are attracted to the role and why they may have left their last role

Consider some additional information which can help such as:

  • leadership/management turn over
  • development opportunities offered
  • reviewing feedback on your workplace induction process

See the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) report on retention and turnover and compare your performance.

More resources

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Disclaimer: The WorkWell Toolkit provides general information only. Please consider your specific circumstances, needs and seek appropriate professional advice.