Study finds worrying about job security may be more damaging than losing a job

Recently released findings of a longitudinal study that asked the same group of workers about their job security fears between 1986 and 1989, and then again between 1995 and 2005, has found that employees' fears of losing their jobs have grown dramatically.

But perhaps a more significant and surprising finding: constantly worrying about unemployment may be more damaging to a worker's health than actually losing a job. "In fact, chronic job insecurity was a stronger predictor of poor health than either smoking or hypertension in one of the groups we studied," said University of Michigan sociologist Sarah Burgard, with the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and co-author of the study.

"It may seem surprising that chronic high job-insecurity is more strongly linked with health declines than actual job loss or unemployment," Burgard said. "But there are a number of reasons why this is the case. Ongoing ambiguity about the future, inability to take action unless the feared event actually happens, and the lack of institutionalized supports associated with perceived insecurity are among them."

Given all that's at stake, these feelings are predictable, she added. "When you consider that not only income, but ... many important benefits that give Americans piece of mind - including health insurance and retirement benefits - are [often] tied to employment, it's understandable that persistent job insecurity is so stressful," Burgard said.

Organizations need to learn more about workplace conditions, activities or behaviors that cause these problems, and then intervene to decrease employees' perceptions of insecurity, she recommended.

"Certainly job insecurity is nothing new, but the numbers [of people] experiencing persistent job insecurity could be considerably higher during this global recession, so these findings could apply much more broadly today than they did even a few years ago," Burgard added.

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