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How managers can help employees feel secure in their jobs when crises arise

Research from UF Warrington looked specifically at how the COVID-19 pandemic affected employee feelings of job insecurity and highlights what managers can do to help mitigate those feelings among their employees.

Warrington management Ph.D. student Yiduo Shao (Ph.D. ’22) and a team of researchers conducted a study to understand the detrimental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on employee feelings around job insecurity. We spoke with Shao to learn more about the findings of this research and suggestions for managers to help alleviate the effects of employees feeling like they could lose their job when largescale crises occur. This research is forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Yiduo Shao

Management Ph.D. student Yiduo Shao.

Q: What inspired you to research the implications of COVID-19 on job insecurity?

Shao: “Since early 2020, my coauthors and I have been seeing a lot of news posts and articles about the unemployment issue associated with the COVID-19 outbreak. We think that this is a critical context wherein job insecurity is prevalent among employees. We then wondered, why some people would worry more about being fired than others, and whether there is anything that organizations can do to alleviate this job insecurity feeling.”

Q: How did you completed this study?

Shao: “We conducted a preliminary interview study and a field survey study to examine our research ideas. We first interviewed working professionals to obtain insights about what organizational practices may be useful to helping employees navigate this difficult time. Then based on the interview responses, we developed survey questions and distributed questionnaires to 306 working employees in China during April and May 2020.” 

Q: What were the main findings in your study?

Shao: “We found that employees’ perceptions of job insecurity is heightened when they perceive the COVID-19 pandemic as a novel, disruptive and critical event. This feeling of job insecurity is found to be detrimental to organization and employee wellness as it prompts employees to feel exhausted at work and engage in deviant behaviors. 

We also found that four organizational practices can be helpful in alleviating employees’ job security concerns associated with COVID-19. These four practices are: allowing employees to freely arrange working hours, allowing employees to work from home, implementing a paid-leave policy and providing employees with adequate supplies (e.g., masks and disinfection sprays) for epidemic prevention.”

Q: What can managers do in order to help their employees when crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic, occur and employees are worried about losing their jobs?

Shao: “When a largescale crisis event (such as the COVID-19 pandemic) occurs, it is common for employees to have concerns about potential job losses – the feeling of job insecurity. To alleviate this feeling, it can be helpful for organizations to reduce the extent to which employees perceive these events as novel, disruptive and critical. This can be achieved by providing clear guidelines to direct employees’ behaviors in the workplace, by taking actions to help employees maintain their regular work routines and activities and by providing continued support for employees’ career development.

Moreover, in the specific context of COVID-19, four organizational practices are found by our research team to be particularly useful in mitigating employees’ job security concern, including allowing employees to freely arrange working hours, allowing employees to work from home, implementing a paid-leave policy and providing employees with adequate supplies (e.g., masks and disinfection sprays) for epidemic prevention.”

Q: Out of all of your findings, what is the one that you’d like people to take away from this, whether they be employees in the workforce or managers?

 Shao: “When a largescale crisis event occurs, organizations can make a difference by taking actions to alleviate employees’ job security concerns, such that they perceive the event as less novel, disruptive or critical. This applies not only to the pandemic context, but also to other crisis events such as largescale layoffs, organizational changes (e.g., merge and acquisition) or other natural disasters.”