How to Battle Job Insecurity in a Stressful Workplace

Job insecurity

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Job insecurity is the fear that regular paychecks from work turn into much smaller paychecks from the state unemployment office.

“Macroeconomic changes in the last several decades have generated a sense that no one is immune from instability at work,” according to the National Institutes of Health.

A study by researchers from Ball State University and the University of Toledo found that one in three U.S. workers or 33 percent believed their jobs were insecure.

Job insecurity is an employee’s perception that he or she may not have a job at some point in the foreseeable future. This perception is the result of various sources including:

  • Recent or coming layoffs.
  • Declining company financial health.
  • A hostile boss / poor evaluation.
  • Low raises or no raises.
  • A boss who provides little or even no support or constructive feedback.
  • Past experience with job loss or threatened job loss.

Self-Reliance Makes a Difference

Sometimes we can’t count on anyone else to tell us that we are doing a good job. We may have to figure it out on our own. Even when a layoff is likely, an employee can maintain self confidence, skill levels and some optimism in finding a new job by continuing to focus on doing good work.

I say the above from experience. I survived four rounds of layoffs at a collapsing division by continuing to develop new skills and aptitudes. They eventually got me a great new job and eventually my own successful solo business.

A boss who doesn’t provide much feedback or only negative feedback can add to that sense of insecurity. The boss may not be hostile but instead just a poor communicator.

It may not be possible to eliminate all job insecurity, but it is certainly possible to lessen that life-disrupting fear.

4 Steps to Prove Your Worth

Job insecurity

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All behavior is about controlling or influencing the outcome. Workers can’t control or influence a company-wide layoff, but they can control their own behavior and influence some of the behavior and perceptions of people around them.

The control begins with these four steps:


1 — At the end of each day, go home at night and briefly share with your spouse, partner, friend or adoring dog what you accomplished that day. But be realistic. Don’t be afraid to share mistakes as well. Confronting mistakes is necessary to avoid making them again and to avoid the dangers of defensiveness and rationalization.


2 — At the end of each week, write down what you accomplished. Add each week to an existing document. Review previous weeks for reminders of what you did. The act of adding new accomplishments and reviewing past ones is a useful form of cognitive therapy. It is a personal journal at work.

3 — At least once a month, walk into the boss’s office with your list in mind and ask for a brief verbal review. Cite your top accomplishments. Does the boss agree? Would the boss add or take away anything on the list? This forces the boss to speak to offer positive feedback and a glimpse into what she or he might say at an annual evaluation.


4 — At the end of the year, consolidate the accomplishments into a one-page summary for the annual written evaluation. Bring it to the meeting and share it with the boss. Briefly review the high points. If the evaluation doesn’t go entirely well, ask the boss to include the summary with the evaluation in the personnel file.

The above four steps combine thought, speech, writing and action into a regular exercise in managing job insecurity and anxiety. They are meant to do more than just reduce the perception of job insecurity. They also increase self confidence in one’s ability to do a good job in a stressful and unstable workplace. Likewise, they positively influence the perceptions of other people including the boss.

Other Anxiety Factors and Tips

The American Psychological Association says that other factors increase workplace stress and anxiety including. These other factors may also increase the perception of job insecurity.

  • Low salaries.
  • Excessive workloads.
  • Few opportunities for career growth or advancement.
  • Work that isn’t engaging or challenging.
  • Lack of social support.
  • Not having enough control over job-related decisions.
  • Conflicting demands or unclear performance expectations.

The APA suggests these extra steps to deal with workplace anxiety. They also may help with job insecurity.

  • Track your stressors.
  • Develop healthy responses.
  • Take time to recharge.
  • Learn how to relax including exercise and meditation.
  • Get emotional support from spouses, friends or co-workers.

Scott S. Bateman

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