Job insecurity at record level in public sector 

Britain’s employees are feeling more insecure and stressed at work than at any time in the past 20 years, according to a new study.

For the first time, public sector workers felt less secure than those in the private sector, and were also increasingly worried about a loss of status and unfair treatment at work. 

The results are from the 2012 Skills and Employment Survey, which has been conducted by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

The research, undertaken every six years, said: “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 were the most likely to feel these concerns, it added.

The findings, based on face-to-face interviews with 3,000 workers aged 20 to 60, also revealed that overall, half of employees were concerned about a loss in their job status. The biggest concern was around pay reductions, followed by a loss of say over things affecting their role.

The research also found that people were working harder and that “work intensification” – which was previously rife in the early 1990s – has resumed since 2006.

Job stress had gone up and job related well-being had gone down in the past six years. Both the speed of work and pressures of working to tight deadlines had risen to record highs, the survey showed.

But although technological change was a key factor, contrary to common belief, work intensification was not associated with downsizing, concluded the study, which was was launched today at the Institute of Education (IoE) in London.

Francis Green, professor of work and education economics at the IoE, said: “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 noted that staff 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”.

Responding to the survey, CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese said that the findings were worrying for businesses and for the wider economy.

“Too many recent and spectacular failures – from the banking crisis to public sector scandals like that affecting the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust – are almost entirely born of problems of culture,” he explained.

“Although profoundly different in many ways, they have common roots in issues of trust, empowerment and engagement. What’s good for people is good for business – and if we can embrace that truth to build cultures in which people want to work and are unified by a common purpose, we can not only prevent catastrophes, we can truly build more sustainable economic growth.”

The UKCES and ESRC research, based on the 2012 Skills and Employment Survey results, has been split into three reports: Fear at Work in Britain, Work Intensification in Britain and Job-related Well-being in Britain.