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The Pain of Ambiguity for Employees vs. Employers

The Pain of Ambiguity for Employees vs. Employers
As a seasoned professional who has been successfully navigating the world of work for years, if not decades, it’s easy to fall into a mindset that assumes everyone else in your company is navigating with the same amount of ease. When in reality, those new hires who are fresh out of school in the first few years of their career may be silently struggling with things that are seemingly clear cut and simple to you and your management team.

One major area in which we see a disconnect at many companies is ambiguity in the workplace. What does this mean exactly? Well, those tasks and projects that management thinks are so simple after years of working for the company, studying the industries you work in, and years of perfecting critical thinking skills to solve workplace issues, may not be so simple for these young professionals you’re tasking with such a project now. And many young professionals are too afraid to speak up and ask questions. The bottom line is that many times what you as a high-level management team member may think is not ambiguous may actually be incredibly ambiguous and daunting for other employees in your company.

It’s something many companies are not cognizant of and it’s something that affects company culture every day in many workplaces.

How Ambiguity Can Affect Your Company Culture

In a recent study of employability skills, employers ranked young professionals’ preparedness to navigate change and ambiguity 8 out of 11 — meaning that they believe most recent grads are more apt to handle this workplace skill than others. However, when students and recent grads were asked the same question, they ranked it in their top three — meaning they do not feel sufficiently prepared to tackle ambiguous situations and the constant change that is standard for the world of work. There’s a disconnect here, and employers must understand that this lack of confidence in navigating ambiguous situations can cause a lot of stress for young professionals in the workplace as well as for their teams.

For example, if a new hire is experiencing role ambiguity — not understanding their place on the team — they’re going to develop a negative mindset quickly. For young professionals, sometimes the default reaction for this is to blame the company for not offering a more clear-cut role definition. Or if a manager gives a project with loose guidelines and a new hire completes the project but feels slighted when the manager doesn’t like the outcome, it can generate toxic feelings that quickly spread to other team members. Managing this upfront is critical.

Teaching employees when they’re onboarded to embrace ambiguous situations and navigate change confidently is key for mutual success.

Empowering Your Employees to Embrace Ambiguity in the Workplace

It’s ever so important to empower your employees to think and act on their own, without the fear of consequences that they’re doing something “wrong.” To navigate change and ambiguity effectively, your employees need to feel empowered.

Here are a few quick tips to implement that may help:

Practice Empathy

Invest time in understanding the mindsets, feelings, and reactions of your young professional employees. Practicing empathy and understanding where they are coming from will allow you to better manage expectations and communicate tasks effectively.

Encourage Big Picture Thinking

The bigger people think, the more curious and creative they get. Empowering your people to seek out information that will allow them to think of long-term, big-picture solutions will help remove that short-sighted, one-way-of-doing-things mindset that paralyzes so many young professionals.

Foster a Communicative Environment

Your employees need to know it’s okay to ask questions and in fact, it’s encouraged. One of the best ways to navigate an ambiguous task is clarifying questions, and those questions are valid. This will also help keep employees engaged, rather than having them withdraw from a task when it seems too confusing or difficult.

Normalize Fear of Ambiguity

Make sure your employees know that your work is not black and white; uncertainty and confusion are valid feelings and that doesn’t make them any less of an asset to the team — they just need to ask questions and embrace those feelings to power through and grow.

If your management team is struggling to help employees embrace ambiguity for mutual success, the NimblyWise team can help. Our carefully curated programs can be catered to the unique needs of your business — let’s chat about how we can partner to help your team excel amidst ambiguity in the workplace.
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