Role Stress, Role Conflict and Role Ambiguity


Concept of Stress

Stress refers to the causes and the effects of feelings of pressure. How we cope with these pressures often is determined by our own levels of resistance and what else is going on at the time. Thus, the interplay of constraints, demands and supports is endlessly variable and, as such, it makes research into the area complex. Stress, therefore, may be defined as "a response to the perceived relationship between the demands on us and our ability to cope''.

The factors which cause stress at work can be grouped into various categories: factors intrinsic to the job; role in the organisation; relationships at work; career development; organizational structure and climate; extra organisational sources of stress.

Role stress

Roles are a key aspect of employees’ job-related functions and include expectation. Salespeople and managers have different expectations about the jobs they perform within the organization. However, if expected and perceived roles differ, role stress can result. Another source of role stress for retail salespeople is a lack of empowerment and flexibility in trying to meet customers’ service expectations while following company guidelines. Role conflict and role ambiguity are among the most widely studied role stress variables and generally are negatively related to job outcomes.

Role conflict

Trying to meet the demands of two or more groups (i.e. customers and managers) at the same time can result in role conflict. An important consequence of role conflict is its effect on job performance. In a study of salespeople representing various industries, Flaherty et al. (1999) found that role conflict was negatively related to customer-oriented selling, a trait associated with increased job performance. Moreover, employees encountering role conflict may experience psychological withdrawal from the job leading to reduced job performance. Results of studies investigating the effects of role conflict on job performance, however, have been inconsistent. For example, some researchers found that role conflict had a negative effect on job performance, and others observed that role conflict produced a positive effect on job performance.

Role Ambiguity

A lack of understanding about job responsibilities and knowing what is expected in terms of one’s job performance is identified as role ambiguity or a lack of role clarity. Employees who experience role ambiguity tend to perform at lower levels than employees who have a clear understanding of job requirements and what is expected of them. Experiencing role ambiguity can constrain customer-orientated behavior and, ultimately, profitability. It seems logical to assume that if salespeople lack an understanding about their authority, job responsibilities, or manner in which their job will be evaluated, their motivation to engage in customer-oriented behavior would be diminished.


Broadbridge, A (1999). Retail managers: stress and the work-family relationship. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management. Volume 27 . Number 9. pp. 374-382

Flaherty, T.B., Dahlstrom, R. and Skinner, S.J. (1999), Organizational values and role stress as determinants of customer-oriented selling performance”, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, Vol. 19 No. 2, pp. 1-18.