Roles are major sources of stress in our lives in the best of time. During this pandemic role conflicts may come into sharper focus. Over 50 years ago Kahn and colleagues described six types of role conflict:
- interrole – conflicts among several of your roles. For example, conflict between role as a parent and role as an employee
- intersender – different expectations from different people
- intrasender – different expectations from the same person, such as at different times
- person-role – conflict between demands of role and your values, personal standards
- role ambiguity – not knowing what is expected of you
- role overload – just can’t do everything on your plate
If you work remotely, how has the pandemic affected role-related conflict? Some hypotheses:
- Interrole conflict may be greater. For employees working from home with children, roles as parent and roles as employees are more likely to clash. Children may be in same room or nearby. Roles as parent are more salient. The child needs you and you are right there, unlike going to a workplace miles away.
- Intersender role conflict will vary with the chain of command but should be less. It is easier to talk with someone in the workplace than it is virtually. In other words, it is less likely someone other than your boss will drop in with different guidance or contradictory requests.
- Intrasender role conflict depends on the person so there should be no change. A boss that says one thing on Monday and another on Wednesday most likely will do the same virtually.
- Person-role conflict may grow. Working at home there may be more moments to reflect on how you’re living your life now versus months ago. Priorities, perhaps even values, may change.
- Role ambiguity will probably increase initially if remote working is new. In the workplace we have access to information from others, we can ask questions, we can have processes clarified. These can still be done remotely but involve more effort, more energy. For some, how to do the job remotely may be a challenge, a challenge with no clear guidance.
- Role overload will most likely increase. Working remotely may require learning new skills. It may be harder for supervisors to understand workload levels. Additionally there are the other responsibilities from other roles that are more visible because you are working at home.
My guess is there are large individual differences here. Some will adjust to remote work fine. Others will find it more stressful. Regardless the experience of working at home will become more common in the months and years ahead. Recognizing your sources of role-related stress may help manage these conflicts.
Kahn, R. L., Wolfe, D. M., Quinn, R. P., Snoek, J. D., & Rosenthal, R. A. (1964). Role stress: Studies in role conflict and ambiguity. New York, NY: John Wiley.
Image, "Woman Typing" by Taryn Elliott. Retrieved from: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-woman-typing-on-laptop-4112289/ Free to use.
© John Ballard, PhD, 2020. All rights reserved.
Decoding the Workplace “deals with principles and practices that are timeless . . . Is this a must-have for managers and would-be managers? Yes.” Ron Riggio, Book Review, Academy of Management Learning & Education, June, 2018. Now also available as an audiobook and paperback.