How employees and organizations manage uncertainty: Norms, implications, and future research

Paper presented at the ICA convention, 2003

Authors: Phillip G. Clampitt, M. Lee Williams


Navigating the borderlands between certainty and uncertainty presents an enduring challenge to organizations and employees alike. The Uncertainty Management Matrix (UMM) juxtaposes the uncertainty management strategies of employees and organizations. The Working Climate Survey operationalizes the UMM concepts. This research project focused on analyzing the data gathered from over 1000 employees in a wide range of organizations who have completed the survey. The analyses revealed that organizations that embrace uncertainty tend to foster more employee commitment, greater job satisfaction, and less cynicism than those that avoid or suppress uncertainty. Employees in uncertainty-embracing organizations are better able to cope with change than their counterparts in uncertainty-suppressing organizations. This pattern emerged regardless of how employees rated their own uncertainty management skills. The analyses also indicated that communication practices and protocols play an important role in cultivating uncertainty-embracing organizational climates. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of these and other findings.