Does job insecurity make people work harder?

By Portner Press on March 16th, 2020
  1. Employee Management
  2. Employment Contracts

While some may believe job insecurity increases productivity by motivating employees to work harder, recent research has revealed the opposite.

Employees exposed to job insecurity for more than four years can become less emotionally stable, less agreeable, and less conscientious, a study has found.

And it’s not just employees who actually experience job insecurity firsthand. A perceived sense of instability in the job market can also lead to these shifts.

Dr Lena Wang from RMIT, who co-authored the Effects of chronic job insecurity on Big Five personality change report,  said this study adds to growing research that demonstrates the negative consequences of job insecurity.

“Traditionally, we’ve thought about the short-term consequences of job insecurity – that it hurts your well-being, physical health, sense of self-esteem,” Dr Wang said.

“But now we are looking at how that actually changes who you are as a person over time, a long-term consequence that you may not even be aware of.”

The study used data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey, analysing 1,046 employees’ answers about job security and personality over a nine-year period.

Applying a personality model called the ‘Big Five’, the personalities of the respondents were categorised into five traits:

  • emotional stability;
  • agreeableness;
  • conscientiousness;
  • extraversion; and
  • openness.

Researchers found long-term job insecurity had a negative impact on conscientiousness, emotional stability and agreeableness.

These findings go against commonly held assumptions about job insecurity, Dr Wang said.

“Some might believe that insecure work increases productivity because workers will work harder to keep their jobs, but our research suggests this may not be the case if job insecurity persists,” she said.

“We found that those chronically exposed to job insecurity are in fact more likely to withdraw their effort and shy away from building strong, positive working relationships, which can undermine their productivity in the long run.”

The report’s lead author Professor Chia-Huei Wu from the University of Leeds said insecure employment can include short-term contracts or casual work, jobs threatened by automation, and positions that could be in line for a redundancy.

However, Professor Wu said many worries about job insecurity are down to perception, and there are steps employers can take to reduce that.

 “This is as much about perceived job insecurity as actual insecure contracts,” he said.

“Some people simply feel daunted by the changing nature of their roles or fear they’ll be replaced by automation.

“But while some existing jobs can be replaced by automation, new jobs will be created.

“So employers have the ability to reduce that perception, for example by investing in professional development, skills and training, or by giving career guidance.”





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