What is job insecurity? (With effects and how to handle it)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 26 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When people worry about losing their jobs, they feel insecure and demotivated. The dread of losing one's job may affect you temporarily, during times of layoffs or terminations, or permanently, in the form of persistent insecurity. You may spend a large portion of your working life in precarious jobs, leading to constant worries about your future employment. In this article, we explain what job insecurity is, the different types of professional insecurity, the effects it has on a person and how to handle it.

What is job insecurity?

Job insecurity refers to when you feel like your job is unstable and that you may soon lose it. It's the opposite of job security, which refers to when you're sure that your job is safe. Whether or not a job loss is imminent, job uncertainty can significantly affect your mental and physical health, including causing stress and anxiety. If you work for an industry that's struggling financially or in a sector that's in decline, you may suffer higher job uncertainty. For example, startups have a significant risk of failure but also the potential to be very profitable.

A popular industry where insecurity occurs is the seasonal sector. You may find it easy to get a job at a post office before the winter holidays, but you may lose your contract after the festive rush is over. Alternatively, you may earn a good salary as a swimming instructor at a resort during the summer, but if you don't work in a tropical location, this gig may end when the season finishes.

Related: How to address passive-aggressive behaviour in the workplace

What are the different types of job instability?

Job instability comes in two primary varieties, which are acute and chronic. For instance, if you believe you may soon be let go in the upcoming weeks, you're suffering from acute job instability. If you're dealing with professional instability even while your firm is doing well and your employer seems pleased with your work, you may regard this as chronic job instability. You may feel that there are no guarantees of your firm's success or personal accomplishments going forward, especially if your industry is prone to layoffs.

Loss of work status is a different form of job instability. For example, your status may change if your organisation changes its structure. In this case, you keep your job but move to an unfamiliar area or position that's less fulfilling or out of step with your career goals. The new position may pay less or provide fewer prospects for promotion. Although this type of work uncertainty isn't as financially taxing in the short term as losing your job, it may nevertheless sap your motivation and affect your job satisfaction.

Related: What does laid off mean? (With reasons, steps and benefits)

How does job insecurity affect employees at work?

Stress and anxiety caused by uncertainty about one's employment status may have devastating repercussions on a person's health. Job instability has been linked to a variety of negative health outcomes, including increased rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, ulcers, migraines, back pain and insomnia. Those worried about their future employment have also been found to be more likely to participate in unhealthy activities.

As a result of these constant pressures, negative behaviours may start to manifest. In addition to making one feel bad, this insecurity frequently prevents positive behaviour and reinforces negative coping mechanisms. Instead of reaching out and building work-related connections and skills to reduce the actual risk factors and perceptions of job instability, someone worried about their job may end work-related relationships and hurt the personal relationships they rely on for social support. In this way, insecurity can make people feel lonely and isolated and it may make it harder for them to find further employment. Other effects include:

Related: 13 reasons to change jobs (with tips to explain job change)

Low employee morale and lack of motivation

When people worry about losing their jobs and how that might affect other parts of their lives, it's hard for them to focus on the present and stay motivated at work. It's easy to see why since it doesn't make sense to work hard in a role you might not have in the near future. This loss of motivation and perspective may spread and make people think falsely about risk factors, for example researching what causes people to lose their jobs and how common it is. Often, this leads to poor performance, bigger problems at work and a lower sense of self-worth.

Having a job that's fundamental to a person's social identity has long been associated with a sense of moral worth. Losing this income, identity and social status makes you feel scared and bad about yourself, which hurts your overall mood. In situations where performance and attitude matter, like when an organisation undergoes restructuring, job instability makes you feel less secure.

Related: What is team morale? (Benefits and ways to improve it)

Increased chance of developing diabetes and heart issues

Heart disease and metabolic disorders are more common in people with long-term stress. The likelihood of being diagnosed with diabetes is 19% higher amongst people who suffer increased work-related stress because of insecure employment. Even though stress by itself doesn't cause diabetes, it affects insulin production and leads to bad habits like overeating. It may also make people less motivated and less sure of themselves, which makes it harder to do things like exercise or eat well. All of this increases the chances of getting diabetes and makes it harder to manage.

Constant stress can also make you feel burnt out, which has been linked to some heart conditions. An extended period of burnout raises the chance of atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heartbeat that causes blood clots, strokes and heart failure, according to one longitudinal study.

Related: How to avoid burnout in the workplace (with definition)

Burnout and long-term stress

Job instability that lasts for a long time may cause stress and burnout. Poor emotional regulation is usually a sign of poor mental health and poor mental health makes it harder to control your emotions. Your mind may be stuck on problems, making it hard to find solutions or even feel momentary happiness in your life or job. This makes it harder to get things done, make decisions and complete your daily activities.

Related: How to be a positive thinker: 6 ideas for positive thinking

Tips for handling job instability

Unless you work for the government or a union, it's likely that you may experience some form of job instability at some point in your career. The easiest way to handle this is to accept that fact and make plans accordingly. Here are some tips:

  • Look after yourself, not your employer: Very few employees stay with one employer for long periods, even if they like their position and colleagues and it meets their objectives. Keep developing your skills, regularly update your CV, and look out for new prospects during times of uncertainty.

  • Goal-set for more reliable opportunities: If you're unable to tolerate uncertainty, pivot your job towards a more stable path. Search for positions with the government, union-supported organisations or companies with a history of retaining employees.

  • Study the most in-demand skills in your industry: Work on developing these skills. Gaining a new talent or qualification may not enable you to keep your existing job, but can be useful if/when you are looking for a new one.

  • Build healthy habits: Never underestimate the value of good nutrition and mental hygiene. What we eat and how we think can give us strength and have an impact on our emotions and ability to make decisions.

  • Be receptive to opportunities: Look for further employment options at the organisation you work for. If there are no openings within, keep an eye out for more secure employment in your leisure time or at weekends.

  • Save money: Create an emergency fund in case you lose your job unexpectedly. With this to fall back on, your anxieties about not having enough money to cover your rent, food and other essentials while looking for work may be significantly reduced.

  • Recognise your worth: Don't be self-critical or think negatively about yourself. Remember that no one gains from this, especially yourself.

  • Surround yourself with positive people: The worst thing to do is to hold onto your worries. Consult with loved ones and close friends who may offer impartial, practical advice and support.

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