Mental Health is a state of emotional, psychological and social well-being wherein we understand our own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, and can work productively.

It determines how we handle stress, interact with others and make choices.

Since coping with stress plays a pivotal role in in our mental health, it is beneficial to understand various stressors (events that cause a stress reaction) to be aware of what can disrupt our mental health.

In this blog, we will be focusing on understanding one of the many stressors: Uncertainty about the Future.

What is uncertainty? How does it impact well-being?

Uncertainty, or the state of being uncertain, is widely regarded as aversive, and people actively work to reduce it (Carleton, 2016).

Researchers have identified 3 sources of Uncertainty (Han et al., 2011):

1. Probability – Arises from a lack of certainty of the future.

2. Ambiguity – Arises from deficiency of reliability or credibility.

3. Complexity – Arises from difficulties in comprehending available information due to multiple possible causes or outcomes.

One of the concepts linked to the negative implication of uncertainty is the Fear of the Unknown. In this, ‘unknown’ is defined as the perceived absence of information and relates to the oldest emotion of ‘fear’ in response to the unknown (Carleton, 2016). This argument was based on the work of Buhr and Dugas (2009) regarding Intolerance of Uncertainty.

Intolerance of Uncertainty is defined as:

“a dispositional characteristic that results from a set of negative beliefs about uncertainty and its implications and involves the tendency to react negatively on an emotional, cognitive, and behavioural level to uncertain situations and events” (Buhr & Dugas, 2009).

Individuals who are intolerant of uncertainty tend to perceive it as stressful and then respond negatively on emotional, cognitive, and behavioural levels. It is associated with General Anxiety Disorder i.e., people may tend to worry excessively when faced with a little bit of uncertainty (Boswell et al., 2013).

How does it impact performance?

Intolerance of Uncertainty and uncertainty in the workplace is a result of role ambiguity and role conflict (Schmidt et al., 2014).

· Role ambiguity – refers to uncertainty about which tasks and responsibilities the role includes

· Role conflict – arises when an individual faces inconsistent and incompatible demands in the workplace.

Both role conflict and role ambiguity act as stressors in the workplace. Role conflict and role ambiguity lead to dissatisfaction, anxiety, lower commitment and lower performance (Beehr & O’Driscoll, 1990; Ebbers & Wijnberg, 2017). For example, uncertainty brought about by large-scale workplace reorganisation was found to affect psychological and physical health of employees (Pollard, 2001). Mental well-being and physical well-being (blood pressure) is impacted by role ambiguity and perceived threat to job security.

Uncertainty was also found to influence the relationship between job satisfaction and occupational stress (Mjiroli & Ngirande, 2020). A reduction in uncertainty would lead to increased job satisfaction and decrease the impact of occupational stress.

In conclusion, uncertainty is a major cognitive and psychological stressor. It is found to affect an individuals’ physical and mental well-being in not just their personal lives but also in their workplace. Actions to mitigate feelings of uncertainty, and build an individuals level of personal resilience can help in improving overall health of our colleagues.

This post was written by BeTalent, they are an exhibitor on the HRTech247 Talent & Performance Management floor of the Technology Hall. You can visit their virtual space here


Beehr, T. A., & O’driscoll, M. P. (1990). Employee Uncertainty as a Factor in Occupational Stress.

Boswell, J. F., Thompson‐Hollands, J., Farchione, T. J., & Barlow, D. H. (2013). Intolerance of uncertainty: A common factor in the treatment of emotional disorders. Journal of clinical psychology, 69(6), 630-645.

Buhr, K., & Dugas, M. J. (2009). The role of fear of anxiety and intolerance of uncertainty in worry: An experimental manipulation. Behaviour research and therapy, 47(3), 215-223.

Carleton, R. N. (2016). Into the unknown: A review and synthesis of contemporary models involving uncertainty. Journal of anxiety disorders, 39, 30-43.

Ebbers, J. J., & Wijnberg, N. M. (2017). Betwixt and between: Role conflict, role ambiguity and role definition in project-based dual-leadership structures. human relations, 70(11), 1342-1365.

Han, P. K., Klein, W. M., & Arora, N. K. (2011). Varieties of uncertainty in health care: a conceptual taxonomy. Medical Decision Making, 31(6), 828-838.

Mjoli, T. Q., & Ngirande, H. (2020). Uncertainty as a moderator of the relationship between job satisfaction and occupational stress. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 46(1), 1-9.

Pollard, T. M. (2001). Changes in mental well-being, blood pressure and total cholesterol levels during workplace reorganization: the impact of uncertainty. Work & stress, 15(1), 14-28.

Schmidt, S., Roesler, U., Kusserow, T., & Rau, R. (2014). Uncertainty in the workplace: examining role ambiguity and role conflict, and their link to depression—a meta-analysis. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 23(1), 91-106.