Job insecurity climate: On shared perceptions of job insecurity

The degree of sharing is referred to as climate strength, and researchers often differentiate between strong and weak climates. If there is a strong climate in an organization, employees agree, or perceive the social climate in the same way. Conversely, with a weak climate, employees only agree to some extent. In some cases it is even fair to say that there is no social climate, if the perceptions are too divergent. Beatriz Sora and colleagues (2012) recently did a study on how climate strength affects the relationship between job insecurity climate perceptions and individual job attitudes like job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and organizational trust. Their results show that when there is a strong job insecurity climate, the negative association between job insecurity climate and job attitudes is stronger than when the climate is weak. In other words, if perceptions of job insecurity are shared by most employees, the negative association between individuals’ perception of job insecurity and work-related attitudes will be stronger than if these perceptions are only shared by a few employees.

The greater context

Organizational changes and redundancies can affect perceptions of job insecurity within an organization. Comparing samples from Spanish and Belgian organizations, Beatriz Sora, Amparo Caballer, José Maria Peiró and Hans De Witte (2009) investigated the effects of job insecurity climates on the work-related attitudes of employees. They discovered that when people as a group feel insecure about their job, their sense of job satisfaction and individual commitment to the organization decreases – even when there is no objective threat to their job. In fact, norms, discussions in the media or simply hearing a subject being talked about by others can influence the individual’s understanding of this subject (cf. Göransson, 2009). This is also mirrored in the finding that the prevalence of job insecurity in the working population fluctuates in parallel with business cycles (Statistics Norway, 2007). When unemployment rates go up, so do the perceptions of job insecurity. Further, by analyzing data from 15 OECD countries, Anderson & Pontusson (2007) investigated whether and how cross-national differences in social protection, like for instance employment protection legislation, active labor market policies and unemployment insurance, affect the extent of job insecurity perceptions. The results showed that better social protection causes less employment insecurity. Also the extent to which an organization utilizes temporary employment contracts can increase climate-level job insecurity perceptions among the organization’s permanent workers (De Cuyper, Sora, De Witte, Caballer, & Peiró, 2009).

What can we do about it?

Given what is known about the negative consequences of job insecurity, we would expect there to be a wide variety of interventions countering it. Unfortunately, this is not the case (Canaff & Wright, 2004). There are some exceptions, though, for instance Susan Holm and Jane Hovland’s (1999) paper on counseling job insecure workers. They argue that at the individual level, counseling can be an effective way to help workers cope with the insecure employment. One may also argue that “survivors”, or the remaining personnel after downsizing incidents, should also be included.

Holm and Hovland also stress the information aspect of job insecurity. For instance, organizations can focus on openly addressing rumors related to downsizing. The findings of Tinne Vander Elst, Elfi Baillien, Nele De Cuyper and Hans De Witte (2010) support this view. In a study comprising 20 Belgian organizations, they discovered that organizational communication and participation is negatively related to job insecurity. In other words, having more organizational communication and possibilities of participation is associated with lower levels of job insecurity. In a similar vein, David Schweiger and Angeli DeNisi (1991) investigated the effects of a merger between two light manufacturing plants. They saw that communicating the organization’s intentions helped reduce employees’ uncertainty, and further, that positive perceptions about the organization increased. These included perceiving the organization as “trustworthy, honest, and caring”. And as a consequence of the positive perceptions of the organization, employee commitment to the organization was also maintained. In fact, these authors argue that it is not the informational content in itself that matters for commitment, but communicating care and concern for the employees. Similar results were also obtained in a Spanish study, where organizational support in general mitigated the association between job insecurity and employee reactions to insecurity, for instance job satisfaction and turnover intention (Sora, Caballer, & Peiró, 2011).

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