A climate of fear: employees face greater stress and job insecurity while working harder


Britain’s employees are feeling more insecure and pressured at work than at any time in the past 20 years, national survey results published today (Monday, 20 May) show. The findings are based on face-to-face interviews with 3,000 workers aged 20 to 60. Strikingly, public sector workers no longer feel more secure than those in the private sector. In addition to fear of job loss – to be expected during a recession – they are increasingly worried about loss of status and unfair treatment at work.

These are among early findings from the 2012 Skills and Employment Survey (SES)– hosted by the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES) at the Institute of Education (IOE), London. The survey, conducted every six years, is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).

“Fear at Work”, one of three reports published today, says: “The major change that occurred between 2006 and 2012 was that for the first time public sector employees were quite clearly more concerned about losing their employment than those in the private sector.”  People in workplaces that had downsized or reorganised are the most likely to feel these concerns.

These reports show that:

  • In 2012 more than half of employees (51%) were concerned about job status loss. The biggest concern was about pay reductions, followed by loss of say over their job.
  • People are working harder. “Work intensification”, which was previously rife in the early 1990s, has resumed since 2006. Both the speed of work and pressures of working to tight deadlines have risen to record highs. Technological change is a key factor, but contrary to common belief, work intensification is not associated with downsizing.
  • Job stress has gone up and job-related well-being has gone down since 2006.

Francis Green, Professor of Work and Education Economics at the IOE, says: “Since the start of the recession, the growth of fear not only of employment loss but of unfair treatment and loss of status was particularly strong in the public sector. Attention should be paid to the deteriorating climate of employee relations in this area.”

The researchers also note that employees were more content and less anxious about job or status loss “where employers adopted policies that gave employees a degree of involvement in decision-making at work”.

“The slowness with which employers in Britain are enhancing employee participation is becoming an issue of considerable concern,” says Professor Alan Felstead of the Cardiff School of Social Sciences. “In general, better job control entails increased employee involvement and participation. The intention should be to improve the balance between the benefits of hard work and the costs.”