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Job Insecurity - 17 February 2015

Job insecurity, in some form or another, characterises many organisations these days. If it isn’t restructures, it’s downsizing. If it isn’t mergers, it’s offshoring. Whatever the type, the outcome is usually the same: employees end up experiencing anxiety, distress and fear at the thought of suddenly losing their employment.

The challenge for you as the leader is that you, too, might be feeling the same emotions. Which means helping employees to overcome them can be all the more difficult. Some guidance on how to do this can be gleaned from a new study just published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

The researchers wanted to discover what makes employees go above and beyond even when their jobs are at risk. How is it that some people can remain highly efficient and effective despite the uncertainty that surrounds them? Well, after studying 271 employees and 133 supervisors, the scholars found the answer rests in something known as psychological capital.

Employees are high in psychological capital when they possess the following four attributes: hope, resilience, self-efficacy, and optimism. When all four are present within the one individual, they’re compelled to try harder even when faced with adversity. Here are some suggestions on how to ramp up each of those within your team.

Hope: This begins with setting an inspirational goal but it’s amplified by making it realistic in two ways. First, outline a clear pathway to help your team achieve the goal and, second, brainstorm some of the likely obstacles and the ways you’ll get around them.

Resilience: For many people, their resilience comes from within. It’s who they are as a person as a result of the events they’ve confronted throughout their life. But there are still a couple of things you can do to assist the others. For instance: make enough resources available, debrief the lessons learned from any setbacks, and provide emotional support.

Self-efficacy: The key to self-efficacy is confidence. You can build this up by providing positive feedback, allocating tasks aligned to people’s strengths, and by being a role model.

Optimism: There are two methods that generate greater optimism: development and language. The former – development – requires employees to receive training and coaching on resilience and self-efficacy. The latter – language – requires you to be a positive example by being mindful of the words, tone and body expressions you use.

Previous studies have demonstrated that when employees lack psychological capital, they’re more likely to be cynical, deviant, dysfunctional and dissatisfied. So it’s worth pursuing, really, not only when times are tough but also when times are good.


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