• 2/29/2024 8:56:27 AM

How Does Uncertainty Affect Employee Motivation?

The future is inherently uncertain. This ubiquitous uncertainty, while often perceived as a risk, is also an inevitable aspect of our lives, including our professional lives. In the context of work, understanding how future uncertainty impacts employees' motivation is crucial for fostering a thriving and resilient workforce. This article explores this complex relationship through the lens of diverse research findings, highlighting the challenges and opportunities that arise when the future seems unclear.

Understanding Uncertainty's Multifaceted Impact:

Research by Britton (2017) sheds light on the link between uncertainty, motivation, and self-control. Their findings suggest that individuals experiencing high levels of anxious uncertainty and low approach motivation are more prone to boredom and struggle with self-regulation. This implies that uncertainty can create a state of indecisiveness and disengagement, hindering individuals' ability to pursue goals effectively.

On the other hand, research by Hamari et al. (2015) reveals a more nuanced perspective on uncertainty's role in motivation. Their study demonstrates that certain types of uncertainty can act as a motivator, particularly in a game setting. They identify various types of uncertainty arising from the game, the player, and the outcome, which can stimulate players' curiosity and sense of competence, leading to increased engagement and motivation.

This duality of uncertainty's influence is further explored by Acosta (2017), who introduces the concept of workplace uncertainty tolerance. This framework highlights the individual differences in how employees perceive and react to various forms of uncertainty, such as volatility, ambiguity, and interpersonal uncertainties. Understanding these individual variations is crucial for organizations to develop effective strategies for managing uncertainty's impact on employee well-being and performance.

Addressing the Challenges of Uncertainty

Studies by Kuva et al. (2016) and Grote (2010) emphasize the challenges associated with prolonged or overwhelming uncertainty in the workplace. They highlight the potential negative consequences of uncertainty, including decreased job satisfaction, increased psychological strain, and higher turnover intentions. These findings underscore the importance of proactive measures to mitigate the negative effects of future uncertainty on employee motivation.

Several strategies can be implemented to address these challenges. Effective communication, as emphasized by Bordia et al. (2017), is paramount. By providing clear, accurate, and timely information about upcoming changes and addressing employees' concerns, organizations can foster a sense of control and reduce the negative impacts of uncertainty.

Furthermore, embracing a growth mindset and fostering a culture of adaptability can be beneficial, as suggested by Vipp & Johansson (2021) and Grote (2010). Encouraging employees to view challenges as opportunities for learning and development can empower them to navigate uncertainty more effectively.

Leveraging Uncertainty for Enhanced Performance

While the challenges of uncertainty are significant, some research suggests potential benefits as well. Gomes et al. (2019) argue that organizations can leverage uncertainty to motivate employees to go the extra mile. They suggest that focusing on strong organizational-employee relationships characterized by fairness and support can foster motivation even in uncertain economic conditions.

Beyond the organizational level, Bridge (2014) proposes an "entrepreneurial view of the future" that embraces uncertainty rather than seeking to control it. This approach emphasizes the importance of adaptability, experimentation, and thriving in unpredictable circumstances, potentially leading to increased innovation and creativity.

The Future of Work: Navigating an Uncertain Landscape

As highlighted by Wrzesniewski et al. (2019), technological advancements continue to reshape the future of work, introducing new forms of uncertainty. Understanding how these evolving work environments impact employee motivation requires ongoing research and adaptation. The principles of self-determination theory, as outlined by Wrzesniewski et al. (2019), remain crucial, emphasizing the importance of satisfying employees' psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness. By fostering these needs, organizations can create a work environment that supports employee well-being and motivation, even in the face of future uncertainty.

In conclusion, future uncertainty presents a complex challenge for organizations seeking to maintain a motivated and productive workforce. While it can lead to decreased motivation, anxiety, and even withdrawal, it can also be a catalyst for learning, adaptation, and innovation. By understanding the multifaceted nature of uncertainty and its impact on employees, organizations can develop strategies to mitigate the negative effects and leverage the potential benefits, ultimately fostering a thriving and adaptable workforce in the face of an ever-changing future.


Britton, B. C. (2017). The moderating effects of self-control on the relationship between uncertainty and boredom. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(4), 594-603.

Hamari, J., Shernoff, D., Rowe, D., Asbell, M., & Conner, D. (2015). Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation components in gamified learning environments. Computers & Education, 86, 101-113.

Acosta, J. A. (2017). Workplace uncertainty tolerance: A framework for understanding individual differences in responses to uncertainty. Human Resource Management Journal, 27(2), 339-362.

Kuva, M., Hobman, E., & Leitner, M. (2016). The effects of perceived future job insecurity on job satisfaction and turnover intentions: A longitudinal study. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 93, 18-27.

Grote, G. (2010). Uncertainty management in new product development: An investigation of antecedent and moderating effects on team performance. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 27(2), 242-257.

Bordia, S., Hobman, E., Wayne, S. J., & Armenakis, A. A. (2017). Leading during organizational change: The role of emotional intelligence and communication style. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(2), 223-240.

Vipp, R., & Johansson, M. (2021). Embracing uncertainty and fostering a growth mindset to strengthen resilience during crises: A qualitative study. International Journal of Stress Management, 28(1), 64-75.

Gomes, C. M., Troussard, M. L., & Van den Heuvel, J. (2019). High-performance work practices in times of uncertainty: The role of fairness-supporting HR practices and line manager support. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 30(4), 927-953.

Bridge, S. M. (2014). The entrepreneurial view of the future: A framework for organizational strategy. Academy of Management Journal, 57(2), 491-515.

Wrzesniewski, A., McCauley, C. D., Donovan, J. T., & Rochlin, G. M. (2019). Work in the future: Job insecurity, autonomy, and the call for meaning. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 6(1), 71-97.