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Study Says Job Insecurity Doesn't Motivate Workers to Perform Better

New research shows that job insecurity makes people less agreeable and less productive.

In our competitive work environment these days, visibly showing work-related stress is often seen as an indicator that you're a dedicated employee who cares about their job. But it turns out, being fearful about keeping your job doesn't actually yield better work. According to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, chronic job insecurity is not a motivator. In fact, it has a negative effect on both your personality and your productivity.

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from the Household, Income, and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, for which 1,046 employees answered questions about job security over a nine-year period. They also measured where the respondents fell in the "Big Five" personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.

The results showed that job insecurity that went on for more than four years negatively affected those first three traits, making employees less likely to get along with colleagues, less mindful and emotionally stable, and less likely to successfully cope with stress or attain achievable goals. This, in turn, negatively impacted productivity in the long term.

"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," Lena Wang, PhD, a senior lecturer at RMIT University's School of Management and co-author of the study, said in a statement. "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."

These findings are especially relevant in our current "gig economy" where full-time jobs are increasingly hard to come by and concerns over advancements in artificial intelligence make job security feel like a relic of the past. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Community Health found that, over a 12-month period, 33 percent of respondents reported job insecurity. Interestingly, men were 14 percent more likely than women to report serious job insecurity. Less surprisingly, the other groups that were most affected included racial minorities or multiracial adults, people who didn't have college degrees, and those between the ages of 45 and 64 years old. Those who reported job insecurity were also in worse overall physical health, and were at greater risk of obesity, not getting enough sleep, missing work, smoking, and having mental health issues.

Chia-Huei Wu, a professor of organizational psychology at Leeds University Business School and the lead author of the new HILDA study, said that employers should take greater care to make their employees feel supported and secure in order to create the best possible work environment.

"This is as much about perceived job insecurity as actual insecure contracts," Wu said in a statement. "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."

Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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