Job security: the importance of comfort messaging

In our Job Exodus survey, job security emerged as a key concern for employees and one that will encourage job-seeking in 2019. Want to help retain staff? We look at what causes employees to feel insecure about their jobs and offers a way for organisations to better support staff when they do.

Why do people feel insecure about their jobs?

Feelings of job insecurity stem from many causes and are, crucially, not always linked to whether the job is actually insecure. In fact, feelings of job insecurity can occur when the job has never been more secure.

This is an important point: organisations need to be aware of job security during the good times as well as the bad times as feelings of insecurity can be very personal and linked to the individual, rather than being externally driven by wider economic conditions.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the causes that drive feelings of job insecurity in employees:

  • Personal financial pressures: the birth of a child, the loss of a spouse’s income, a new home that requires extensive renovation – all these elevate the psychological and practical importance of the individual’s job and therefore may exacerbate feelings of job insecurity
  • Psychological factors: a loss of confidence may heighten feelings of job insecurity; this could be related to life events, depression, a period of poor results at work or simply the ebb and flow of natural confidence levels throughout life
  • Internal politics: friction with colleagues or superiors can heighten feelings of job insecurity, particularly if the friction is with people who are politically powerful or influential
  • Job-specific issues: the job may feel insecure because it is, for example because the employee has noticed that they are increasingly isolated from the operational side of the business and that spending cuts are being suggested
  • Company-specific issues: the company may actually be in financial difficulty and there are signs, such as stressed-out senior management, that convey this. Of course, senior management may be stressed for other reasons and yet employees may read this stress as due to problems with company’s finances
  • Future-focused issues: sometimes people feel insecure about their jobs because they can’t envision where they will be in the company in several years, or they can’t see how their role fits into the strategic vision
  • External, economic conditions: of course, general slowdowns in economic conditions, or weakened consumer confidence and a generally negative economic outlook can increase feelings of job security, particularly if the jobs market is seen as equally depressed

Job security: why are feelings so important?

Feeling safe and secure is a basic human need and because work forms such a key and important part of our lives, it’s no surprise that feeling safe and secure at work is critical to wellbeing. When we don’t feel secure at work, we feel isolated, trust can break down, connectedness with others becomes harder and we find it more difficult to be productive.

This is at the individual level: when feelings of job insecurity are shared across units, the negative effects are intensified. Human emotion is, after all, contagious and feelings of job insecurity can spread, not only to other colleagues but further afield, to suppliers and customers. This associated ‘contagion’ can make actual job insecurity far worse.

Job security: what is comfort messaging?

Comfort messaging is about appropriate reassurance. It aims to mitigate the negative effects that feelings of job insecurity create – both on personal wellbeing and wider, organisational-focused areas such as productivity and team unity.

We say appropriate reassurance because, obviously, job insecurity can be very real. Comfort messaging is not about hiding problems. In times of genuine job insecurity, it may be about helping staff see the bigger picture and adapt to potential negative changes by making positive changes in their lives.

And yet feelings of job insecurity, as we saw above, do not only occur when there is genuine job insecurity. You’ll see in the list below that positive reinforcement during the ‘good times’ is an important way to stop feelings of job insecurity from arising in the first place.

Comfort messaging: examples of organisations taking action

Managers recognising strengths and giving feedback: this is an ongoing form of comfort messaging and tells employees that they are valued and useful in the workplace. It’s a ‘prophylactic’ comfort message, which helps prevent feelings of job insecurity from arising

  • Financial updates and strategic vision: giving positive financial updates can help individuals believe in the organisation’s long-term viability and growth prospects, which can help allay feelings of job insecurity driven by, for example, industry-wide challenges
  • Ongoing financial wellbeing: financial wellbeing programmes should include comfort messaging that recognises when employees take steps to stabilise their financial lives, such as contributing to a pension or paying down their mortgage.
  • Senior leader competence: when external economic conditions are uncertain, showing employees that the senior leadership team is proactively taking steps to protect the organisation can help staff understand they are in good hands
  • Personal development plans: employees should be confident in their tenure with the organisation, but this isn’t always possible, especially in small companies. At the very least there should be a development plan for skills and knowledge growth, which reassures them that the organisation sees them as valuable, long-term assets.

This list is notable because some of the comfort messaging examples are actually things that organisations should be doing as a going concern, such as recognising strengths and giving feedback.

Get more insight into what employees are looking for from their jobs in 2019 by downloading our Job Exodus survey, filled with real insight on the driving factors behind employees leaving their current positions this year.

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