How to Tackle Job Insecurity in Your Workforce

If you want to combat job insecurity and boost employee confidence in the company, your internal communications should be frequent and proud.

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How to Tackle Job Insecurity in Your Workforce

Here's what you need to know about how to tackle job insecurity in your workforce:

  • Insecure workers tend to perform more visible tasks rather than valuable tasks.
  • Job insecurity can be an issue for workers across most demographics.
  • Proactive leaders boost their employee’s confidence in themselves and their future with the organization, on a company-wide level as well as individually.

In the past, American business leaders believed a healthy dose of competition resulted in motivated employees. Some of the most admired executives created a system to keep that motivation high. General Electric used the 20-70-10 system to increase productivity. They asked their managers to rate staffers against each other on a bell curve: the top 20% were rewarded, the middle 70% were safe, but the bottom 10% got a pink slip.

The ‘rank and yank,’ or stack ranking system, was popular for many years when labor was plentiful. Fortunately, it fell out of fashion as companies realized it probably did more harm than good. Job insecurity as a company strategy isn’t a good way to motivate employees. However, it is a great way to destroy engagement and add to turnover.

How job-insecure are American workers?

A recent Gallup poll shows fewer Americans are worried about losing their job than they were during the pandemic. Still, 15% continue to have some level of job insecurity. That’s down from 25% two years ago but up from 2021’s 13%.

As economic conditions threaten to worsen, the number of employees experiencing job insecurity may increase. If more than 10% of the workforce is concerned about job stability, performance and productivity will suffer.

The consequences of job insecurity

Harvard Business Review recently looked into the phenomenon of job insecurity and uncovered some interesting data. They polled over 600 workers and found job insecurity may give a short-term boost to productivity. However, the end result was negative for workers and their employers.

Employees revealed that when they felt their job was in peril, they strived to work harder, staying late, doing more than their share, etc. Although the workers knew they were over-performing, doing so didn’t alleviate their job insecurity.

Experts seem to agree that job insecurity doesn’t drive employees to work harder; it destroys commitment and adds to churn.

Another key finding was that insecure workers performed more visible tasks rather than valuable tasks. In an effort to be recognized, they may have been neglecting more critical work to assure their manager ‘saw’ they were working hard.

Experts seem to agree that job insecurity doesn’t drive employees to work harder; it destroys commitment and adds to churn. It can also create a culture that discourages cooperative working relationships.

If staffers are worried someone on the team may face termination, they’re more apt to protect themselves and less likely to help each other. Teams and morale are negatively impacted when even one member feels insecure.

Job insecurity ‘tells’

Unlike employees with workplace impostor syndrome, who are under-confident in their ability to perform the job, staff who believe in their competency can still feel job insecurity. They may believe that the threat of termination looms no matter how capable they are or how much they put into their work. That fear can have a crippling effect on performance and engagement.

Identifying these workers is critical to getting them back on course, confident, and productive. Look for signs your employees may be experiencing job insecurity. These could include the following:

  • Being more visible than usual to the boss: pointing out tasks or finished work unnecessarily
  • Coming in early, staying late: particularly when not needed
  • Appearing more stressed or anxious: these workers may be feeling the pressure of insecurity spilling into their personal lives, as well
  • Self-destructive behavior: the stress of job insecurity may prompt them to under-perform to ‘get the looming termination over with’
  • Working less cooperatively with others: potentially even trying to make others look bad to make themselves look better by comparison

Watch for changes in employee behaviors to identify workers who may be experiencing job insecurity. You may find staff members who feel it’s more important to work hard at being recognized than actually working hard at their job. You’ll want to work with them to boost their confidence and comfort.

Who is most likely to have job anxiety?

The same Gallup poll revealed women are more likely than men to experience job insecurity, with 18% of women and 13% of men responding they believed that it was fairly (or very) likely they’d lose their job in the coming 12 months. College graduates were less likely than non-graduates to agree: at 7 versus 20%.

Of workers who earn less than $75,000 per year, 21% had job insecurity, compared to 7% for those earning more.

The study illustrates that job insecurity can be an issue for workers across most demographics. This counter-productive anxiety is probably affecting the business as much, if not more, than the employees.

Seeking out the insecure

In addition to finding and monitoring employee behavior, companies can discover if job insecurity has infected their workplace. Pulse surveys can provide an overview of how many (if any) employees are concerned about job security at the company.

Carefully word the survey, so it doesn’t start a panic. Remind employees they’re doing a great job, and so is the organization. Ask them if, despite the data, they are feeling insecure. Recognize the stress the last few years have put on staff and the company. Ask for suggestions on how you can help them feel more confident. This anonymous data can inform you how to boost morale and security company-wide.

Periodic memos or company-wide messaging can give employees an opportunity to ask for help. Start with a reminder to staff that they’re doing a great job pulling you back from shutdowns/slowdowns. You may message they’ve been troopers all along, and everything is finally returning to normal. Add that any employee who feels the need to talk to their manager or to HR if they have any concerns is welcomed and encouraged to do so. This may seem generic, but some staff members may jump at the opportunity.

Boosting confidence: blocking uncertainty

You can help the job-insecure and the rank-and-file on a company level. Most leaders aren’t in the habit of announcing every win, large or small, but they should. Your Twitter account may not be advertising every accomplishment as frequently as some billionaire’s. Still, if you want to boost employee confidence in the company, your internal communications should be just as frequent and proud.

When the company seems secure, employees feel safe. Accomplishments illustrate that:

  • The business is doing well
  • Orders are coming in
  • Customers are satisfied
  • Revenue is stable or on the rise

Staff members may see it happening in their department, or they may be distanced from these net-positive indicators. Company-wide congratulations boost morale and lower job insecurity.

On an individual level, more frequent employee check-ins may help. In addition to discussions of performance and goals, probe gently to ensure each staff member feels comfortable and secure. Ask ‘How’s everything going—Do you feel good about your work and future here? We do!’

A negative or indifferent attitude toward performance, customer satisfaction, and commitment may be the most apparent signs of job insecurity.

These opportunities may be the inroad an employee needs to discuss concerns or get support. The most innocuous question could open the door to a larger conversation that helps employees feel more secure at work. That can even spill over into their personal well-being.

Impediments to performance

Job insecurity has an overwhelmingly negative effect on companies. Otherwise, well-performing employees may be suffering with their anxiety in silence. Their work, colleagues, and the business may see its toll.

A negative or indifferent attitude toward performance, customer satisfaction, and commitment may be the most apparent signs of job insecurity. But consider what your company may be missing in future output, innovation, and creativity. The short-term effects may be easy to recognize, but the long-term harm may be incalculable.

Proactive leaders boost their employee’s confidence in themselves and their future with the organization, on a company-wide level as well as individually.

 

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