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I've recently read an article about Generation Z, early 20 year olds born after 1995 in the workforce (similar to this one). The article suggests that unlike previous generation, where ambigious goals may inspire 30 somethings to do their best work, the 20 year olds from generation Z prefer to have things broken down into a very clear chunks. An example may be in order:

  • Compare the sales figures report
  • Versus: We need a sales report for investor meeting by Friday morning, get sales figures from Angela, have Bill help with graphics and verify figures with Jeff. If you are late, we will penalize you.

The article continues to state that if faced with the first scenario, a 20 something would get frustrated and will start seeking another job, while more detailed information would help them rise up to the task.

Why some people are uncomfortable and unproductive when faced with ambiguous or uncertain goals/challenges?

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    $\begingroup$ Can't help but thing of the work of Jessica Lahey: theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/01/… $\endgroup$ – CRGreen Sep 25 '15 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ First, they probably get anxious because they lived in controlable world (i couldt find if it is applicable for all of the gen Z around the world and I think that people in middle east or south america rural places are not affected) And after that there is clear link why anxyous people do not perform well. Anxiety is negatively corelated with IQ and performance (and also learning new material) jstor.org/stable/1126453?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents $\endgroup$ – ICanFeelIt Oct 5 '15 at 20:57
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I'm not 100% sure if this is what you were intending to ask, because your initial opening was about generation Z (which is at the large cultural level) while on the other hand your question written in bold seemed to be geared towards the individual. I have tried incorporating both parts into this answer.

In essence I could not tell between which of the two concepts in psychology you were interested in: Uncertainty Avoidance or Proactive Personality (the lack of which is what you describe).

There is an intersection between the two concepts. You may start here in case you want to look deeper into the latter.

Background to Answer

Of particular interest in this study is the macro dimension of uncertainty avoidance measured at an individual level. Cultures high on uncertainty avoidance are risk adverse. Individuals in these cultures prefer stability in their lives and careers. They want their environment to be predictable. To foster compliance among their members, cultures high in uncertainty avoidance structure behavior through such mechanisms as laws, religion or customs. Vague situations are avoided in high uncertainty avoidance cultures, and group norms and rules reduce ambiguity. Individuals tend to attach themselves to the dominant cultural group and comply with its expectations (Hofstede, 1980).

However, there has been a suggestion in organizational research that rather than the more passive attachment to the dominant group, some cultures actively try to reduce uncertainty by controlling their future environment. For example, Schneider and DeMeyer (1991) suggested that managers in high uncertainty avoidance cultures are likely to engage in proactive behaviors in an attempt to adapt to a dynamic environment. Geletkanycz (1997) also found that executives who are high on uncertainty avoidance in their cultural background seek strategic solutions that respond to dynamic environments. That is, they engage in adaptation as a way of reduce risk. Because of this alternative way of adapting to uncertainty, Geletkanycz (1997) called for further research to examine the issue that not all individuals react to risk by adhering to the norm but rather adjust to position themselves in a safer position in the future.

Research has also identified that individuals high on uncertainty avoidance make choices for uncertain outcomes that involve gains (Ladbury & Hinz, 2009). For example, individuals can be induced to volunteer for treatment in a randomly assigned process if they are offered monetary compensation for showing up (Harrison, Lau & Rutstrom, 2009). An individual’s income can also have an influence on uncertainty avoidance and outcomes. For example, Yang-Ming (2008) found that as income increases, individuals high on uncertainty avoidance were more willing to take risks.

Relation between Uncertainty Avoidance and Productivity (Individual Level)

In her research with business executives, Geletkanycz (1997) hypothesized that top managers whose background cultures were high on uncertainty avoidance would be uncomfortable with uncertainty. Because of their need for structure, she predicted that they would be resistant to change. They would avoid taking action to alter their situation. However, what she found in her research was that managers whose background cultures were high in uncertainty avoidance reduced their feeling of uncertainty by adapting to the environment. She surmised that in the dramatic changes related to technology and globalization, it was safer and less risky for these executives to adjust to the changing environment rather that inflexibly hanging on to what is known.

Relation between Uncertainty Avoidance and Productivity (Macro Level)

The cultural value of uncertainty avoidance influenced whether Irish firms were successful as compared to German firms (Rauch, Frese, & Sonnentag, 2000). Ireland scores low on uncertainty avoidance in contrast to Germany which is high on the value. It was found that successful small business owners in Ireland did not plan. Rather, customers in that culture valued flexibility and quick solutions to problems. In contrast, German business owners were more successful when they did plan. It was proposed by these researchers that in such high uncertainty avoidance cultures, it was expected that individuals engage in careful planning to reduce risk by attempting to control future events. However, the results were more consistent with the interpretation made by Schneider and DeMeyer (1991) in that they found that planning is culturally appropriate, and this detailed planning resulted in a successful relationship with customers who also valued planning (Rauch, Frese, & Sonnentag, 2000).


Primary Source:

The Two Faces of Uncertainty Avoidance: Attachment and Adaptation David S. Baker and Kerry D. Carson University of Louisiana at Lafayette


Citations within Source

Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related values.
Hofstede, G. (1980). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Interpreting and responding to strategic issues: The impact of national culture.
Schneider, S. C., & DeMeyer, A. (1991). Strategic Management Journal, 12(4), 307-320.

Uncertainty avoidance influences choices for potential gains but not losses.
Ladbury, J., & Hinsz, V. B. (2009). Current Psychology, 28(3), 187-193.

Corporate cash holdings, uncertainty avoidance, and the multinationality of firms.
Ramirez, A., & Tadesse, S. (2009).International Business Review, 18(4), 387-403.

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