The report, published in Social Science and Medicine, used long-term data from two nationally representative sample surveys of the U.S. population to assess the impact of chronic job insecurity apart from actual job loss. Sarah Burgard, coauthor of the study and a research assistant professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, said the findings provide the strongest evidence to date that persistent job insecurity has a negative impact on worker health.
"In fact, chronic job insecurity was a stronger predictor of poor health than either smoking or hypertension in one of the groups we studied," she said. "Certainly job insecurity is nothing new, but the numbers experiencing persistent job insecurity could be considerably higher during this global recession, so these findings could apply much more broadly today than they did even a few years ago."
The study analyzed data on more than 1,700 adults collected over periods from three to 10 years. By interviewing the same people at different points in time, the researchers were able to disentangle the connection between poor health and job insecurity and to control for the impact of actual job loss and other factors. One of the studies was conducted between 1986 and 1989, the other between 1995 and 2005.
"It may seem surprising that chronically high job insecurity is more strongly linked with health declines than actual job loss or unemployment," Burgard said. "But there are a number of reasons why this is the case. Ongoing ambiguity about the future, inability to take action unless the feared event actually happens, and the lack of institutionalized supports associated with perceived insecurity are among them."
Implications of study. Burgard said the findings have potential implications for both policy and intervention.
"Programs designed for displaced or unemployed workers are unlikely to solve the problems faced by workers who are still employed but are persistently insecure about their jobs," she said. "When you consider that not only income but so many of the important benefits that give Americans some piece of mind -- including health insurance and retirement benefits -- are tied to employment for most people, it's understandable that persistent job insecurity is so stressful."
Burgard recommended learning more about the conditions that generate or change workers' perceptions of their job insecurity. Then, she said, organizations might want to intervene to reduce these perceptions and help mitigate the degree of stress associated with job insecurity.
"Additional acute and chronic strains at work and in other areas of life might also worsen or mitigate the health impact of long-term job insecurity," she said.
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October 1, 2009
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