Lack of role clarity

Lack of role clarity means workers aren’t clear on their job, responsibilities or what is expected. This may happen when they aren’t given the right information or things keep changing.

It is more than sometimes being given a complex task. Lack or role clarity becomes a hazard when it is severe (e.g. very little clarity), prolonged (e.g. long term) or frequent (e.g. happens often). 

Lack of role clarity may include:

  • overlapping responsibilities (e.g. two workers given the same task)
  • unclear roles and reporting lines (e.g. unclear who is responsible for what or who is working to which manager)
  • conflicting or frequently changing expectations and work standards (e.g. changing deadlines or contradictory instructions)
  • not being given information needed to do the job, or
  • unclear work priorities (e.g. not knowing which tasks are most important or urgent).

Identifying and assessing the risks of lack of role clarity

You must identify if psychosocial hazards, including lack of role clarity, are present in your workplace. 

  • Consult workers. Workers may talk about hazards in different ways. For example, they may say they feel stressed, confused, frustrated or ‘kept in the dark’. They may raise concerns about their role or responsibilities or be unsure what is expected of them.
  • Use surveys and tools. Businesses with more than 20 workers may find the People at Work psychosocial risk assessment tool useful. 
  • Observe work and behaviours. For example, tasks taking longer than expected, frequent mistakes, double handling, or arguments about who is responsible for what can be caused by a lack of role clarity.  
  • Review available information. For example, records of overtime, time off, injuries, incidents or workers’ compensation.
  • Have a way for workers to report and encourage reporting. Treating workers’ concerns seriously and respectfully will help encourage reporting.
  • Identify other hazards present and consider them together. Hazards can interact and combine to create new, changed or higher risks. For example, lack of role clarity may create a higher risk in workplaces with poor organisational justice because workers are afraid to ask questions or raise concerns.
  • Consider how long, how often and how severely workers are exposed to hazards. The longer, more often and worse the lack of role clarity the higher the risk that workers may be harmed. 

Controlling lack of role clarity

You must eliminate psychosocial risks, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise them so far as is reasonably practicable. For example:

  • Clearly outline key tasks, responsibilities and expectations in position descriptions.
  • Have clear reporting lines (e.g. workers have a single immediate supervisor) and ensure workers understand them (e.g. have an organisational chart).
  • Ensure workers understand who is doing what. Particularly if workers share tasks or responsibilities.
  • Give clear instructions and provide the information workers need to their job well.
  • Change or clarify any tasks or processes that often cause conflict, confusion, or mistakes. 
  • Induct new workers and ensure they understand the role and expectations (e.g. standards of work and behaviour).
  • Explain how and why tasks are assigned. Particularly if a worker is given a task that is not usually part of their job.
  • Have clear guidelines on how to fix conflicting expectations (e.g. between workers, workers and supervisors, or workers and clients).

When choosing control measures you must consider all the hazards present and how they may interact and combine. For information on other hazards see psychosocial hazards.  

Reviewing control measures 

You must review control measures to check they are working as planned. If a control measure is not increasing role clarity or is creating new risks, you must make changes.

For more information on meeting your WHS duties see our mental health page.