Job Security and Insecurity

Job security and job insecurity can be viewed as opposite sides of the same coin. Simply defined, job security is assured continuity of one’s job, and job insecurity is the uncertainty that one’s job will continue. The term job insecurity, rather than job security, is more commonly used in the literature.

A more comprehensive definition of job insecurity is powerlessness to assure desired continuity of one’s job or job components when either the job or its components is threatened. The term job insecurity can refer not only to the potential loss of the job itself, but also to the threatened loss of key components of the job, such as supervisory activities or pay. The fuller definition of job insecurity is derived from underlying themes of anticipation, risk, and powerlessness. Job insecurity is focused on anticipation of a possible future event, namely job loss. The future focus of job insecurity suggests that employees faced with job insecurity consider the consequences that job loss would bring, such as financial strain. Job insecurity also involves risk that job loss or loss of job components would result in a corresponding loss of something of value. The loss might be simply monetary, or it could be intangible, such as loss of status provided by the job. Job insecurity definitions also often incorporate the concept of powerlessness to reduce job insecurity.

Taxonomy of Job Insecurity

Job insecurity can be further classified as subjective or objective; cognitive or affective; and global or multifaceted.

Subjective or Objective

In research, job insecurity primarily has been conceptualized as subjective in nature. This implies that individual psychological interpretations of job insecurity vary and that these interpretations play a crucial role in individual responses to job insecurity. Objective job insecurity, alternatively, is the actual degree to which the future of one’s job is uncertain. If individuals are unaware that their jobs are at risk or refuse to believe that their jobs are at risk, then they might not perceive job insecurity even if objective job insecurity exists. Indeed, the relatively weak relationship between objective and subjective job insecurity indicates that the existence of one is not a prerequisite for the existence of the other.

Cognitive or Affective

Belief that one’s job will be lost is the cognitive aspect of job insecurity. In contrast, the feelings that one has about the possible job loss constitute the affective component of job insecurity. A distinction can be made between the perceived likelihood of job loss and a concern about job loss. Workers can believe that job loss is likely without feeling concerned. This lack of concern might hold true for those who are ready to leave the workforce, such as workers close to retirement age and those with other job offers. In contrast, workers can feel concerned about potential job loss even if they believe that their jobs are secure. Concern about job insecurity might outweigh belief that one’s job is secure for individuals who have great financial responsibilities or those who feel that few job options are open to them.

Global or Multifaceted

Global job insecurity focuses on the potential loss of the job in its entirety. It is more commonly studied than a multifaceted approach to job insecurity, which encompasses potential loss of both components of the job as well as the entire job. There is some debate on whether loss of job components is as important as loss of the job itself. Loss of job components might not be as severe as loss of the job itself, because even when components are lost, the individual still retains organizational membership. The contrasting argument states that reactions to threatened loss of at least certain job components are substantively similar to threatened loss of the job itself.

Consequences of Job Security/Insecurity

Job insecurity has strong psychological implications and is considered one of the most stressful aspects of the work situation. The role that employment plays in our society turns the prospect of job loss into a threat. Job insecurity not only jeopardizes individual economic security; it can also threaten intangible social needs that are often met by work, such as a sense of status or identity.

Outcomes associated with job insecurity can be grouped by type and focus of reaction. Types of reactions include immediate and long-term consequences, and focus of reactions is either individual or organizational.

Job and Organizational Attitudes

Attitudinal reactions to changes in job security tend to manifest themselves quickly. Those consequences of job insecurity that are classified as job attitudes are both immediately felt and focused on the individual rather than the organization. Job satisfaction and job involvement are included in this group. As job insecurity increases, job satisfaction and job involvement decrease.

Like job attitudes, organizational attitudes are quickly affected by a change in job security. The focus, however, is on attitudes toward the organization as opposed to intrapersonal dynamics. Job insecurity has been correlated with decreased affective organizational commitment, increased continuance commitment, decreased trust in the organization, and decreased perceived organizational support.


Some outcomes of job insecurity, such as individual physical or psychological well-being, manifest themselves more slowly. Physical health issues related to job insecurity include somatic complaints such as fatigue and pain and heart-related problems such as elevated blood pressure and ischemic heart disease. Job insecurity is associated with general psychological distress as well as with decrements in specific forms of psychological well-being, such as strain and burnout, depression, and anxiety.

Work-Related Behavior

Work-related behaviors can be classified as a long-term consequence of job insecurity, because the effects of job insecurity on work-related behaviors are not immediately apparent. Rather than having an internal focus, work-related behaviors are focused external to the individual, on the organization. Although some studies have found an inverse relationship between job insecurity and performance, others have not. This lack of relationship was supported by a recent meta-analysis. Closely related to performance, work effort has been found to have a curvilinear relationship with job insecurity, with work effort being highest at moderate levels of job insecurity. Two other work-related behaviors, intention to leave and job-seeking behavior, also are positively associated with increased job insecurity.

Antecedents and Moderators

Like any predictor, job security/insecurity is not without its antecedents and moderators.

Antecedents of Job Security/Insecurity

Job security/insecurity is generally examined as a predictor. As a result, less attention has been given to antecedents of job insecurity. The relationship between gender and job insecurity suggests that men and women do not view job insecurity in the same way, and they react to job insecurity differently. Women appear to perceive greater job insecurity and to be more concerned about job insecurity than men. Personality also appears to play a role in determining job insecurity. Positive personality attributes lessen job insecurity, and negative attributes, such as neuroticism, increase perceptions of job insecurity.

Experience with organizational change in the form of downsizing or merger and acquisition relates to greater job insecurity. Regardless of whether the change is in the future, present, or past, job insecurity appears to be affected. Employees who anticipate a merger or acquisition, along with those in organizations currently downsizing, report greater job insecurity. Individuals who have personal experience with layoffs subsequently report lower job security.

Violations of psychological contract, such as a failure to meet expectations of career advancement, also are associated with increased job insecurity. These findings hold even though expectations of job security are no longer considered to be part of a relational psychological contract.

Moderators of Job Security/Insecurity

Based on the results of a recent meta-analysis of job insecurity, moderators play a substantive role in explaining the relationship between job insecurity and its outcomes. Social support has been found to moderate the relationship between job insecurity and job satisfaction and between job insecurity and noncom-pliant job behaviors. Social support also moderates the relationship between job insecurity and job-seeking behavior. As well as directly relating to job insecurity, job involvement acts as a moderator of the relationship between job insecurity and job satisfaction and the relationship of job insecurity with intention to leave. Occupational status moderates the role between job insecurity and two of its outcomes. Manual workers have a stronger relationship between job insecurity and performance and between job insecurity and intention to leave than do nonmanual workers. Additionally, the method used to measure job security/insecurity can affect its relationship with its outcomes. Single-item job insecurity measures are associated with weaker relationships between job insecurity and job satisfaction, trust, and performance.

Measuring Job Security/Insecurity

Assessing job security/insecurity via self-report tends to be the norm. Likewise, subjective job security/ insecurity is more commonly assessed than is objective job insecurity.

Measuring Objective Job Insecurity

Regardless of the measurement method chosen, quantifying objective job insecurity can be difficult. On an individual basis, the terms of the employment contract can be examined for verbiage concerning contract length. Within the organization, managers can rate the security of a particular job. Industrywide ratings of objective job insecurity can be made by determining the growth rate of an industry. The assumption is that jobs at organizations in a growth industry are secure, whereas those in a declining industry are insecure. Alternatively, individuals can report whether certain events, such as downsizing, have occurred in their organizations. These self-report responses indicate the occurrence of the event rather than the incumbent’s interpretation of said event.

Measuring Subjective Job Insecurity

No single measure is commonly considered the best measure of subjective job insecurity. Current measures vary from a single self-report global item to lengthy self-report multidimensional measures. The single item typically asks, “How secure (or insecure) is your job?” On the other end of the spectrum, a 52-item measure based on Leonard Greenhalgh and Zehava Rosenblatt’s conceptualization of job insecurity involves determining the importance and likelihood of loss for both the job and key job components, along with assessing the perceived powerlessness to resist the threatened loss. Most measures fall in the middle in both length and complexity. Typical measures assess global subjective job insecurity in 3 to 5 items. Measures that also assess potential loss of job components tend to be two-dimensional, with one asking about security of the job itself and the second asking about security of key job components. A pair of newer measures also makes the distinction between cognitive and affective subjective job insecurity.


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