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Managing psychosocial hazards: Low role clarity

Low role clarity is a common psychosocial hazard. Low role clarity is when there is uncertainty about, or frequent changes to tasks and work standards; where important information about the job or tasks is not provided to workers; or where there are conflicting job roles, responsibilities, or expectations.

The Managing the risk of psychosocial hazards at work Code of Practice 2022 came into effect on 1 April 2023. It provides practical guidance for duty holders on ways to eliminate or minimise risks to psychological health and safety at work, including low role clarity.

Examples of what this may look like include where a worker reports to multiple people or is given multiple priority tasks from different managers, or when a worker is provided with conflicting information about work standards, expectations, or what work needs to be performed. This includes performing tasks or duties that are not included in position descriptions or not part of the scope of the role. This can create a work environment where workers are confused about the tasks they need to perform, uncertainty about when to complete tasks, and with who they should raise concerns.

When a worker does not have role clarity, stress can occur, which can lead to psychological or physical harm. This can pose a risk to the health and safety of workers and others if not managed, and this risk increases when exposure to low role clarity is prolonged, frequent, or severe. The risk of harm can further increase when other psychosocial hazards are not managed and can result in cumulative stress.

Ensuring workers report to one immediate supervisor, establishing clear role expectations, and implementing a timely performance feedback process, are all ways businesses can mitigate low role clarity risks.

Persons conducting a business or undertaking must follow a risk management process to ensure the health and safety of workers. The process is the same for psychological and physical hazards. Examples of what to do when assessing psychosocial risks:

Identify hazards

  • Consult with workers, and health and safety representatives.
  • Review workers’ compensation claims, internal hazard and complaints records.
  • Walkthroughs of the work environment.

Assess the risk

  • Consider the number of workers exposed to the hazard.
  • Consider the frequency and duration of exposure.
  • Consider the interaction and combination of psychosocial hazards.

Control the risk

  • Control measures needed to implement according to the hierarchy of controls (eliminate or minimise the risk as far as reasonably practicable).
  • Controls needed to be from an organisational or systems level (and not be individual-focussed).
  • Include input from workers who are directly involved in the work.

Monitor and review controls

  • Check to see if controls are effective in eliminating or minimising the risk or if they may be creating another hazard.
  • Check if the controls are being adopted by workers.
  • Consider if there's been a change in the work environment or processes after an incident.

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