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Worried Sick

Even more than actual unemployment, fear of unemployment is closely linked to declining health and increased stress.

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Perceived Job Insecurity and Worker Health in the United States
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Sarah A. Burgard, Jennie E. Brand, and James S. House

Social Science & Medicine, vol. 69, no. 5

Date Published: 
September 2009

In today’s global economy, employees are much less likely to stay at one organization for the length of their careers. One significant side effect of this trend is that many employees feel less secure in their jobs. According to this study, being afraid of losing your job may be bad for your health. The authors analyzed questionnaires distributed to more than 1,700 people in the U.S. during two separate periods spanning two decades, which allowed them to control for poor health, job insecurity, and actual employment losses over time. As many as 18 percent of the employees surveyed said they felt insecure about their jobs. In one of the study groups, the authors found that chronic job insecurity was a more reliable predictor of poor health than smoking or hypertension. And job insecurity was more closely associated with failing health than actual unemployment, the researchers found, because of the ongoing stress caused by an uncertain future, an inability to take action, and a lack of institutionalized support. One implication for businesses is that employees who worry about losing their jobs have trouble concentrating, experience more stress, and take more sick days. The researchers argue that programs aimed at displaced or unemployed workers won’t reach people who have jobs but are insecure, and they suggest that organizations and government policies aim to lessen the degree of stress linked to job insecurity.

Bottom Line:
Even more than actual unemployment, persistent job insecurity is closely linked to declining health and increased stress in American workers.

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