Job Security & Employee Engagement: Managers Can Make a Difference

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Apr 12, 2013

Taking into consideration the continued rise in the cost of living, house prices, and the recent budget changes, more than ever employees want to feel that our jobs are secure with a steady income to support us and our families.

However, with the gloomy economic outlook and an unemployment rate of around 7.8 percent, job security — even among those who are employed —  is a continued concern.

Concerns about job security may be real or perceived, however the impact is often the same. Unanswered or ignored, this can have a negative impact on employees’ health, engagement, and performance at work. 

The real impact of job insecurity

Feelings of job insecurity can have a significant impact on employee engagement. Far from being considered just an “HR fad”, many organisations are now bought into engagement having a real impact on bottom-line results.

A fully engaged employee is broadly one that says positive things about their organization to others, wants to stay with their organization, and exerts extra effort in their role.

Perceived job insecurity can have a direct impact on all of these behaviors. For example, an employee who thinks their job is at risk may be more likely to be look for work elsewhere, tell others negative things about the organization, and exert less effort in their work if they think they do not have a future there.

Feeling insecure in your role can also have an indirect impact on your engagement levels through coloring perceptions of other aspects of your work. For example, perceived risk of redundancy may make an employee feel negatively towards the decisions of leadership, the honesty of communications, and also potentially about their manager – all of which are barriers to engaged employees.

Finally, the impact of perceived job insecurity, especially when it is for a prolonged period of time, can also have a negative impact on employee health, e.g. symptoms of stress and decreased emotional resilience, all of which will negatively influence engagement and performance.

The critical role of line managers

While  it’s not all down to the line manager by any means, they are the “lens” through which an employee sees an organization, and as a result, they have a critical role to play in shaping the engagement and perceptions of their teams, and, in maintaining a positive working environment and morale even when times are tough.

Managers, therefore, need to work to ensure they are behaving and managing in a way that provides reassurance to their employees during periods of uncertainty. Where we have seen this work well, managers:

  • Proactively communicate — They don’t hide behind a smokescreen or let rumors circulate; if there is bad news, say so, seek feedback/reactions and follow this up with a plan or next steps. Equally, celebrate the successes.
  • Are highly visible — Employees may have concerns or questions. Make sure that they have ample opportunity to ask them informally as they arise.
  • Empower employees — Ensure employees feel in control and confident in their day-to-day role and that their contribution is valued.
  • Are consistent — They communicate, set expectations, and treat and reward people. Spontaneity and inconsistency do not encourage feelings of security or fairness.
  • Recognize effort — As recognize effort as well as results, promoting positive behaviors and discouraging negative ones.

Listen and act

Our research suggests that managers who are not engaged themselves are less likely to take action to improve the engagement of their teams. It’s therefore important to consider what is driving the engagement of your managerial population, and also whether there are any barriers preventing them from taking action or behaving in the ways suggested above.

Engagement surveys offer a cost effective way of measuring how employees are currently thinking. Hearing and acting on the results will demonstrate that you are listening to them.

Additionally, as managers are a critical link in the engagement and performance of your employees (and as employees themselves), segmentation of survey results and targeted actions can double the return on your investment.