employee accountability

Ensure your employees understand what they are held accountable for at work.

Four Ways to Address Accountability Ambiguity

New research reveals a workplace accountability conundrum: Many employees do not fully understand what is expected of them at work, which can lead to frustration, mistrust, reduced productivity and more.

There’s no accounting for the risks an organization faces when its employees do not understand what they are held accountable for at work. According to new research, 50 percent of workers who feel uncertain about their work accountabilities experience higher levels of frustration, while 60 percent reporting mistrusting their leadership’s communication.

The new study, conducted by Wayne Hochwarter, the Jim Moran Professor of Business Administration in Florida State University’s College of Business, surveyed more than 750 blue- and white-collar employees across multiple job environments. Hockwarter and his research associate, Allison Batterton, set out to determine how many employees do not know what is expected of them at work each day and how an understanding of accountability, or lack thereof, impacts work life.

Accountability Ambiguity

Fewer than 20 percent of employees reported feeling certain they knew what was expected of them at work each day, while the vast majority of workers reported varying levels of accountability ranging from “some” to “complete” ambiguity.

“When employees aren’t sure what’s expected of them, the results simply just cannot be positive, especially when the complexity of work and the pace of change is taken into consideration,” Batterton explained.

Workers who were uncertain of their accountabilities at work reported:

  • 60 percent higher levels of mistrust with leadership as it relates to communication
  • 50 percent higher levels of overall work frustration
  • 45 percent less control regarding the best way to complete their work
  • 40 percent higher levels of work overload
  • 35 percent fewer work accomplishments to the organization
  • 33 percent less social and resource support from one’s immediate supervisor
  • 33 percent greater likelihood of searching for a new job within the next year
  • 25 percent more job neglect

These findings cost American organizations hundreds of millions of dollars each year in both direct and indirect costs, the researchers said.

When considering the root of this uncertainty, most employees cite management’s failure to be forthcoming and proactively develop communications until a lack of accountability triggers an organizational crisis. Furthermore, leaders are becoming more and more accountable, which often takes them further from their employees.

Addressing Accountability: A Four-Step Plan

The researchers prescribe a four-step approach to dealing with accountability failures:

  1. Set up a formal communication system using the most current and user-friendly technology, and make sure all employees are able to use it effectively.
  2. Make employee accountability part of both the supervisor and employee performance evaluations.
  3. Develop informal accountability networks (such as a buddy system) that allow employees real-time access to information needed to effectively focus attention on tasks considered most important for that particular day.
  4. Make accountability proactive rather than reactive.

“Most employees want to do a good job and contribute to their organization,” Hochwarter said. “Perhaps it’s overly simplistic, but this can only take place when employees know what’s expected. Sadly, many do not, and the situation appears to be getting worse rather than better.”

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