A new study has found that the long-term threat of losing their jobs leads to heightened levels of fear and distress in older workers.
Unlike previous studies that tracked workers for just a few years, the new study tracked the same workers for 25 years.
“Our data give us the unique opportunity to examine…how the persistence of job insecurity is related to greater psychological distress in later life,” said Dr. Sarah Burgard, an associate professor of sociology and research associate professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.
Burgard, the study’s lead author, and researcher Sarah Seelye said persistent job insecurity that extends over a 25-year career — and the chronic employment stress associated with it — is a reality for many Americans.
Researchers used data from the Americans’ Changing Lives study, in which nearly 435 people completed five surveys from 1989 to 2011 about how they felt during the past week and any concerns about job security. Respondents were interviewed before and after the Great Recession (December 2007 to June 2009) to capture their perceptions of their job standing in the wake of that massive downturn.
The findings indicate stress from perceived job insecurity was high among minorities and those without a high school diploma.
In addition, older workers may experience distress due to their circumstances. Burgard said age discrimination or an employer’s perception that health problems could become more prevalent later in life could endanger older workers’ ability to keep a job.
When researchers adjusted the findings based on age, race, and educational attainment, they found that health changed significantly more for those who were persistently concerned about job loss.
Employers can do several things to help workers stay healthy even if job threats loom, according to the researchers.
“It is important to keep people informed about what’s going on,” said Seelye, a doctoral student in sociology. “Not knowing whether a pink slip may be coming or not is very stressful.”
Providing information about impending layoffs or office relocations, for instance, rather than letting rumors circulate, allows workers to think about a response and do some advance planning, researchers said.
Burgard also suggested that policymakers and employers think about the health care costs and productivity losses that could occur in a workforce composed of many insecure employees, especially during and following economic downturns.
“Those who face the worst burden are those who have faced uncertainty the longest, and it is important to think about the costs of restructuring a labor force and social supports in ways that create such vulnerable workers,” she said.
The study was published in Society and Mental Health.
Source: University of Michigan