‘Fear factor’ increases for public sector workers

Workers in the UK are increasingly worried about the threat of losing their jobs according to a recent survey. The findings come from the Skills and Employment Survey 2012, released in early 2013. It reveals a sharp rise in fear and insecurity, with the largest increases among workers in the public sector. However, employees who felt able to participate in decision-making about organisational change experienced lower increases in anxiety than those who had little or no influence.

Introduction

The Skills and Employment Survey 2012 (SES2012) is the latest in a series of studies that began in 1986 focusing on work and working life in the UK. The study covers a range of issues including a person’s job role, skills, job security, well-being, attitude to work and work intensification.

The research analyses responses from 3,200 people aged 20–65 who are in paid work. It is one of the most influential sources of information on work and employment in the UK. While the data arising from the report are wide-ranging, insecurity in the workplace was a particular focus of this survey and is discussed in a report on its first findings, Fear at work in Britain (255KB PDF).

Sharp increase in workplace worries

The report identifies a number of forms of fear at work. These include fear of being made unemployed, fear of unfair treatment, and fear of the loss of status within the employing organisation. Key findings of the report include indications that:

  • fear of job loss has risen sharply;
  • men have historically been more concerned about job loss than women, and continue to have higher levels of fear about job loss;
  • fear of job loss has increased more sharply among women than men;
  • in previous surveys, fear of job loss was higher in the private sector, but the current survey reveals that public sector workers are now more worried about being made redundant;
  • more workers were afraid of losing their job in this survey than in any of the preceding studies;
  • in previous surveys, private sector workers were more worried about unfair treatment at work, but this survey reveals similar levels of concern about this in both the public and private sectors;
  • fear of loss of status was higher in the public sector than the private sector;
  • just under one-third of employees were worried about unfair treatment;
  • just over half of all employees were anxious about loss of job status;
  • employees in the public sector were more worried than their private sector counterparts about loss of pay, loss of influence over work, loss of skill, and loss of interest in their work.

Evidence from the survey suggests that fear and insecurity have been increasing in both public and private sector workplaces across the UK. The data show a sharp increase in fear of loss of employment compared to the surveys from 6 years ago and 12 years ago. There has also been a large increase in anxiety about being treated unfairly at work. In both cases, the growth in fear was concentrated in the public sector where there has been widespread restructuring, job losses and pensions reform.

In addition to concerns about job losses and unfair treatment, more than half of employees were worried about loss of job status even though they were not under threat of losing their job. Concern about this was particularly high in the public sector.

The table shows how employees who experience workforce reduction and change in work organisation experience higher levels of fear and anxiety. It demonstrates that anxiety generated by organisational change and job cuts is much lower among employees who felt they had influence compared with those who felt that they had no influence. Employees with higher levels of workplace involvement were less anxious about losing their job, less concerned about loss of job status and less worried about unfair treatment at work.

Levels of fear at work levels, 2012 (%)
  Have workforce reductions taken place at the company? Have changes in work organisation taken place at the company? Ability to have some influence over changes at work
Fear of: Yes No Yes No Yes No
Employment loss

31.7

16.2

28.4

21

19.8

26.6

Arbitrary dismissal

25.9

20.1

23.6

20.8

14.1

27.3

Discrimination

19.2

16.3

18.6

16.1

10.8

20.7

Victimisation

19.7

17.4

19.2

16.8

9.7

22.5

Less influence on work

41

28.3

38.1

26.8

19.6

35.5

Loss of skills at work

28.6

23.5

26.6

20.9

16.1

27.4

Lower paid job

45.5

34.6

41

36.8

26.2

41.1

Less interesting job

31.4

19.4

26.5

21.4

17.2

25

The growth of fear within UK workplaces was related to the recession and subsequent workplace change and job losses.

Both job losses and workplace restructuring lead to increased anxieties.

The survey compared the anxieties of employees who felt they had influence over decisions affecting their work with those who felt they had little or none. It found that anxiety generated by organisational change was much lower among employees who felt they had influence than among those who felt that they had no influence. Employees with higher levels of workplace involvement were less anxious that they may lose their job, less concerned about loss of job status and less worried about unfair treatment at work.

Commentary

The rapid and substantial increase in fear and insecurity within the public sector suggests there has been a deterioration in employee relations in the area. Such significant increases must be taken together with the conclusion that participation in workplace change reduces its impact on declining employee well-being. These findings point to the importance of enhancing employee participation in decision-making across the UK economy, and its particular significance within the public sector.

Sophie Gamwell, Industrial Relations Research Unit

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Yeni yorum ekle