In an op-ed piece titled “What You Don’t Know Makes You Nervous,” Dan Gilbert, Harvard psychologist, writes:

…people feel worse when something bad might occur than when something bad will occur. Most of us aren’t losing sleep and sucking down Marlboros because the Dow is going to fall another thousand points, but because we don’t know whether it will fall or not — and human beings find uncertainty more painful than the things they’re uncertain about.

Uncertainty contributes to anxiety which contributes to poor health and low work performance, among other things.  We can handle negative feedback, cutbacks in spending, loss of market share, and low quality products and services. We just need to know the truth and that there is a plan for resolving problems and achieving success. It's the not-knowing that's the problem.

Gilbert’s column caused me to speculate about the kinds of uncertainty that are part of the culture of many organizations.

  • No feedback from your boss, so you’re uncertain about how he/she views your work
  • No clearly defined strategic goals, so you’re uncertain about where the organization is headed and if it’s likely to get there
  • Financial performance data is not made available to employees, so you’re uncertain about the long-term viability of the organization
  • Employee roles and responsibilities are not clarified, so you’re uncertain about what you should be doing to help the organization be successful.
  • No feedback from customers, so you’re uncertain about how well your products and services are doing in the marketplace
  • No research on long-term market for your products and services, so you’re uncertain about the future of sales

What are aspects of your organization’s culture that create uncertainty?