Optimize Your Life

Episode #18: Get Clear in Your Role

Show Notes:

Hi y’all. Welcome to another episode of the show. I’m loving talking to you and I’m so grateful that you are listening. And hopefully by the end of today’s episode you will be too because today we are going to talk about the importance of clarity in your professional role. 

As you might already know, I am a burnout expert so I just love to talk about anything related to burnout including what it is, what it looks like, why you have it, and what you can do about it. 

As it happens, how clear you are about your role can contribute to a negative state of mind. And as with most situations where I see burnout, people often think they are stuck. They feel themselves getting burned out and they don’t know what to do about it. 

That’s what we are going to tackle today, my friends, so stick around until the end. 

To be specific, today we are going to look at why clarity in your role is important, what it means when you don’t have as much of it as you would like, and what you can do about it. 

So why is role clarity important? According to some folks, you must understand the responsibilities tied to your role because without such clarity, you will be unable to perform adequately. Without clarity we have what’s called “role ambiguity.”

Let’s define this term. Role ambiguity is the extent to which your responsibility at work is unclear. This leads to role stress because of all the uncertainty you might feel about what you’re supposed to be doing. If you struggle with imposter syndrome, this is only going to exacerbate it. But even if you don’t struggle with this, you can certainly feel anxious always wondering,“Am I supposed to work on this? What should I do?” It is not surprising then that role ambiguity has been linked to, among other things, job burnout. 

One of the questions to ponder is — why do people get into this situation in the first place? How is it that they don’t know their role? You’d think it’s pretty straightforward. You get hired to do a job. There’s a job description. Where does this go wrong?

So here’s what I would say about that. There are formal roles –these are tied to your job description. So if you’re a physician, for example, you know you’ll have to see patients and fill out documentation on all your patient visits. But then there are informal roles that come about over time in your organization. They aren’t written anywhere but they might be things that your manager asks about each time you meet together. Role ambiguity can also happen when the organization is growing and promoting you to a new role they haven’t thought through yet. 

Because you’re already an employee, they have a relationship with you so they aren’t trying as hard to put the formal description together. Or maybe the idea is that it’s something you’ll both figure out over time. 

While this makes sense, especially in these latter types of scenarios, it can still bring up loads of anxiety for the worker who is trying to do their best without much direction. 

It takes effective leadership to help workers clarify their responsibilities and find ways to execute them. Said another way, role ambiguity is reflective of poor management practices

That said, I also want to explore how you may be contributing to the problem. As it turns out, if you believe you have little control over your life, have a high need for clarity, or low self-esteem, you are more likely to experience role ambiguity in your work. 

When you don’t have the kind of clarity you want about your role, you may develop a negative attitude about your job. This can lead to anxiety, depression, dissatisfaction, or even burnout and not surprisingly, you then become ineffective

It is not uncommon to see high turnover intentions in employees who feel this way. Or absenteeism

So I want to take a step back and explain what is happening here and what you can do about it. 

You see, your role ambiguity is your circumstance. It’s what you’re making it mean that is creating your negative emotions. So if you’re feeling dissatisfied with your job, ask yourself, “What am I telling myself about my work given that I’m not totally clear about my role?” Maybe you’re telling yourself that you should know what is expected of you in which case you are more likely to feel frustrated. If you’re telling yourself, “Because I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, I might mess up” then you’re more likely to feel anxious. 

From that place of frustration or anxiety you take action. That’s where you either show up as your best self or you hold back. That’s where you’re deciding to call in sick or spend your time thinking about how you’re going to start looking for a new job. 

I hope you can see that you are contributing with your thinking to your results. And I don’t say this to point fingers or blame you, but to empower you to see that if you’re creating this, you can change it. 

Let’s get nitty gritty about how you can do it differently. 

As I just explained, it all starts with your thinking. Your role is ambiguous. You don’t fully understand the scope and parameters of your job. You aren’t sure what goals to pursue or what to prioritize. These may very well be facts. The question is — what do you want to do with that?

You could tell yourself, for instance, “Having less defined expectations allows me to work on what I think is most important.” In other words, you can think of this as an opportunity that you wouldn’t otherwise get if you were expected to do something more specific. 

Notice here, by changing your thought, you are shifting how you feel. When you think of your circumstance as an opportunity, you shift out of frustration into excitement. That allows you to refocus on creating value through your work rather than ruminating on what you hate about your job or organization and how you’re stuck there until you find your next gig. 

Now it’s your turn. I want you to sit down with yourself and take a good hard look at your thoughts around your situation. Write them all down. 

Then next to each thought, write out how it makes you feel.

Lastly, what do you do when you feel this way?

This will help you see that there is a thread that connects your thoughts to your outcomes. 

Then reverse-engineer your results. What would you like to do instead? How would you need to feel in order to do that? And finally, what would you need to think to feel this way?

Write down the new thoughts and run with them. 

Consider this a little experiment. Focus your mind on the new thoughts and see what happens. You may very well end up leaving your job. But I don’t want you to do this until you’ve done this exercise because it’s not about running away from problems. I want you to think of yourself as someone who can solve anything you put your mind to.

Then drop me a line in the comments. I want to hear what happened and I’d love for you to share it with the other listeners. 

And if you’d like more mindset hacks, go to my website, drsharongrossman.com and download the Mindset Mastery Starter Kit. 

Don’t forget to subscribe to the show so you never miss a beat. If you loved what you heard, leave me a fabulous review telling me everything you loved about it. And, I’ll be back next week with some more amazing mindset tips for you.  In the meantime, take good care of your mind and your health.

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