Job Security and Its Psychological Implications: The Impact on Mental Health

January 15, 2024   •  Posted in: 

Have you ever been laid off from a job or worried you would be? You probably went through a lot of emotions, like fear, anxiety about your financial future, and maybe even feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.

You’re not alone: Almost all of us feel that way when our job situation is unstable. Research from the Covid-19 pandemic – when job insecurity was at an all-time high – has found job insecurity is one of the top contributors to mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

Here’s how job insecurity could impact your mental health and what you can do about it.

What causes job insecurity?

We think of “job insecurity” as being in an unstable work position, but it refers to any fear of losing your job – whether that fear is based on real or perceived risk. Many people face job insecurity because of the real risk of unemployment, while others may feel insecure even when their job is in no danger.

Recent polls have found up to 15% of American workers experience job insecurity – but unemployment rates are at an all-time low[1]. This would suggest workers have nothing to fear, so why are so many of them feeling insecure in their positions?

Workplace climate

Studies have shown many companies intentionally try to increase job insecurity among their employees despite knowing how harmful it is to employee mental health. For example, large companies like Facebook have been open about using the threat of job loss to improve productivity and performance. Others might try to increase job insecurity to cut costs – employees worried about their jobs are less likely to demand more rights and pay increases.

On top of this, the fact you’re feeling insecure in your job probably means you’re in a workplace environment in which you’re constantly under pressure. You might feel you’re always being evaluated, and you aren’t free to make mistakes, which can lead to poor mental health.

Cultural climate

In addition, globalization, outsourcing, and the increased use of technology have caused many workers to worry they could be replaced at any moment. More and more companies are turning to technology or outsourcing work to cut costs, and it’s a valid fear to think this might happen to you.

In addition, large-scale events with a global impact – like the COVID-19 pandemic – can cause people to be fearful about the future in general, including the future of their employment.

Economy

Often, a worsening economy can lead to increased job insecurity. Companies may have to make more complicated decisions in poor economies – like layoffs. There might not be as many jobs available in general. This, understandably, can cause people to feel insecure.

Pre-existing mental health issues

Lastly, a minority may feel job insecurity regardless of cultural climate or economic issues. For example, if you live with generalized anxiety disorder, then you could have severe and persistent worries about many aspects of your life, including your job.

How does job insecurity affect mental health?

It doesn’t matter what causes your job insecurity – no matter what the reason is, living with job insecurity can affect your mental health in harmful ways. Studies have found facing job insecurity can increase your risk for depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and more.

Job insecurity and depression

Research shows job insecurity can lead to moderate and severe depression symptoms. Research has found people facing job security may be up to 3 times more likely to experience depression than those who don’t[2].

This could be due to many reasons. Think about the last time you were worried about your job. If you’re like many people, you probably felt down. You might have felt down about your future; without job security, your life won’t pan out like you’d imagined. Some people even feel down about themselves. You might assume an insecure job outlook is due to your own shortcomings, even if this isn’t true.

All of this can make you feel much more depressed if you’re facing job insecurity. Surprisingly, being younger and having fewer children were associated with even higher levels of depression in some studies[3].

Job insecurity and anxiety

It comes as no surprise that people facing job insecurity are much more likely to experience anxiety. Job insecurity is stressful and can lead to other factors (like financial difficulty and loss of self-esteem), adding to this stress.

The link between stress and anxiety has been well-documented. Although some levels of stress are normal and can even be healthy, being under chronic high stress can contribute to anxiety.

The relationship between anxiety and job insecurity can become a Catch-22 as well. When you live with anxiety, you may be more likely to perceive job insecurity even if your job is very secure. When you feel insecure in your career, you may be more likely to overwork yourself, which can lead to higher stress and anxiety.

Job insecurity and alcoholism

People who face job insecurity may also be more likely to abuse alcohol as a way to cope, one study found[4]. In addition, financial stress is linked with various problematic drinking behaviors, including using alcohol to cope with stress and drinking excessively[5].

This means if job insecurity is making you feel worried about your finances – which it probably is – then you may be more likely to develop problems with alcohol.

How to take care of your mental health during job insecurity

If you’re facing job insecurity, there may be nothing you can do to change your financial situation. Many factors, including the economic climate, can affect job security. What you can do is cope with the stress of job insecurity in a way that centers your mental well-being.

Challenge your thoughts

First, try to get a realistic and unbiased view of your situation. As mentioned earlier, many perceive job insecurity when it’s not based on reality. Your job could be completely stable, but you could still feel insecure.

If this is the case, examine the thoughts leading you to feel this way. For example, perhaps you’re thinking: “I have to be perfect, or I’ll get fired.” Where is this thought coming from? Is there any evidence supporting this thought? Is there any evidence that shows you this thought isn’t true?

When you can identify these false assumptions, you can challenge them and replace them with more accurate ones. For example, you might replace the above thought with: “I am only human, and I am allowed to make mistakes.”

Build a strong social support system

In times of uncertainty, having the right people around you can help immensely. In one study, social support was found to be a mediating factor between mental health problems and job insecurity. In other words, people with a solid social support system were less likely to be impacted negatively by job insecurity [5].

Build a strong network of loved ones who can support you during trying times. Being surrounded by friends and family can help you feel less alone – some of them may also feel insecure in their jobs. It’s essential to have people you can count on, especially emotionally, around you.

Don’t overwork yourself

When you feel insecure in your job position, it’s tempting to overwork. You might need to prove yourself to supervisors to keep your job. Everything might feel like a competition – and the hardest-working one will be the one who gets to stay.

In reality, so many factors go into layoffs and the economy. Overworking yourself might seem like a good idea, but you’ll likely feel burnt out and exhausted. This could make your performance falter and result in the opposite of your desired effect.

Even if you feel your job is at risk, practicing self-care is essential. Ensure you sleep well every night (experts recommend 7 to 9 hours). Eat nutritious meals, and strive to achieve a healthy work-life balance.

Consider therapy

If job insecurity is significantly affecting your mental health, then it might be time to consider therapy. Professional mental health treatment can help you change unhelpful thoughts and patterns, as well as cope better with the external stressors in your life.

At The Center • A Place of HOPE, we understand how your financial health can affect your mental health. We use a unique Whole Person Care approach to mental health treatment and consider every aspect of your well-being – mental, physical, spiritual, social, and financial. If your job security has impacted your mental health, we can help you to recover.

We have a special program for high-profile, high-net-worth individuals who require privacy and security. We also accept insurance and offer financing options to help you access quality treatment regardless of your employment situation.

Call us for more information on admissions, insurance, and finances.


1 – https://hbr.org/2022/09/job-insecurity-harms-both-employees-and-employers
2 – https://bmcpsychology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40359-022-00974-7
3 – https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3179&context=jssw
4 – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S021391111830236X
5 – https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/21582440221121048

Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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