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How to talk to employees nervous about job security


Whenever there is economic uncertainty or public, mass lay-offs, it’s understandable why many employees may be worried about their job security. After all, one of the primary tactics that employers may deploy to help weather a recession is to cut company expenses, which often involves downsizing the business and a round (or several) of lay-offs and furloughs.

Worries over job security don’t always reflect reality or mean lay-offs will happen – but it’s very much a top-of-mind concern for employees. But when it comes to employees not feeling like their job is secure, what can business leaders do?

In this blog we’ll cover:

  • Why you need to address employee feelings surrounding job security
  • How you can ease fears and mitigate any hits to morale

Why care if employees are worried about job security?

Worried employees look for new jobs

As of the end of 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employee quit rates have held steady at four million per month. And although not all employees who leave jobs do so out of fear, a recent Workmonitor report found that 52% of respondents are worried about the impact of economic uncertainty on job security.

Many employees would rather look for a new job proactively than wait to be laid off. For them, the prospect of lay-offs are so upsetting because they threaten:

  • Personal finances
  • Access to benefits
  • Career growth
  • Loss of valued social and professional connections in the workplace
  • Sense of purpose
  • Self-esteem and wellbeing

Jittery, nervous employees already inclined to make a change don’t need any further motivation than insecurity about their future prospects at their current workplace.

Feelings about job security can impact performance

Whether an employee is thinking of quitting over their fears or not, their attitudes towards work may change as a result of feeling uncertain. Employees may engage in undesirable low-engagement behaviors, such as sheltering in job or quiet quitting.

For the employees who remain, their collective anxiety can be so great that it impairs productivity and diminishes the quality of their work.

Your guide to easing employees’ job security fears

Whether or not your business and, by extension your workforce, is negatively impacted by a recession or another economic concern, you’ll need a plan for how to talk to employees about these external conditions and what they mean for the future while:

  • Easing their fears
  • Mitigating any hits to morale
  • Avoid losing valued employees unnecessarily

So, what should your plan entail?

1. Communicate regularly

You should already be communicating at a regular cadence with employees about the company’s overall health and direction – quarterly, semiannually or annually. Your employees need to know they’ll hear from their leadership consistently and anticipate each discussion. If you rarely communicate with employees and then suddenly call a one-off meeting, that action in and of itself will create heightened anxiety among employees.

Gather the company together for scheduled hybrid meetings – with in-person and remote viewing options – to discuss what’s going well and why, or what hasn’t gone well and which strategies the company will adopt to improve. Talk about what the future looks like and what the company goals are. Record the meeting and make it available to employees who couldn’t attend or want to refer back to the discussion later.

2. Communicate even more during both expected and unexpected changes

If there’s a major economic event or company change that will likely stir fear and anxiety in employees, consider organizing a company meeting sooner to address that specific issue.

One of the worst things that employers can do for their people is to say nothing. This is especially true if your company has recently undergone a major change, such as a merger or an abrupt shift in the leadership team or organizational structure. These types of significant changes, without any explanation, will lead to questions and concerns among employees.

When there’s radio silence, employees will fill the silence with gossip and rumors. When you don’t take the initiative to set and control the narrative, employees will create their own narrative – and it will almost always be worse than reality. This results in a toxic, negative work environment.

Above all, be:

  • Available and present
  • Honest and straightforward
  • Transparent
  • Explanatory
  • Forthcoming about addressing the “elephants in the room” that everyone already notices
  • Caring and empathetic to what employees may think and feel

3. Emphasize the good stuff, too

Even if you have less-than-stellar news to report to employees, it doesn’t have to be an entirely heavy discussion.

Inject positivity into the discussion, too, so it can evolve into a more hopeful conversation. For example:

  • Explain why pending changes may actually be exciting
  • Highlight the good things that will be accomplished as a result of the company’s new goals and future path
  • Reiterate recent company successes
  • Describe company and team strengths
  • Recognize specific employees for outstanding work or significant achievements, as part of your employee recognition program
  • Distribute employee rewards
  • Introduce any new perks and incentives that are within the company budget to maintain engagement and motivation

You don’t want employees to leave the meeting full of doom and gloom – they need to feel motivated to return to work and put in the best effort they can.

4. Remind employees of available resources

To alleviate stress and anxiety, employees can access your company’s wellness program or employee assistance program (EAP). Remind them which professional services exist to aid their mental health and even boost their own personal financial health.

If lay-offs are indeed a possibility, inform employees of the resources available to help them afterward. These may include:

  • Severance pay
  • Continued benefits for a designated period
  • Professional references
  • Other transitional support, such as career coaching and job market assistance
  • A switch in employment status to contractor (if possible)

In fact, many EAPs continue to be accessible to employees for six months after a lay-off and can help laid-off employees – or their spouses – put together an action plan for the new job search.

Assuring employees that you’ll help them can:

  • Lessen feelings of hopelessness
  • Remove some of the mystery surrounding what happens next
  • Enable employees to better cope with the situation and feel more confident
  • Demonstrate that you care

5. Build camaraderie

Workplace isolation can definitely feed into job insecurities and lower retention. Lacking meaningful company connections, isolated employees are left alone to stew in their anxieties and don’t feel any pull to stay.

However, a great coping strategy for job insecurity is to build stronger bonds and support networks among team members. Whether it’s professional team building or a casual lunch or happy hour, encourage managers to promote social interaction and networking. 

4. Continue employee development

A commitment to growth and development is one of the most critical factors in engaging and retaining employees.

Focusing on employee growth and development can reduce job insecurity as well. If employees see that you’re invested in upskilling your team, they’ll feel valued and cared for. It also assures them of a future at your company.

Even if your company eventually has to resort to lay-offs, through continued growth and development employees will gain valuable skills that will facilitate their future career path.

Especially in times of economic recession, growth and development don’t have to be expensive either – there are plenty of low-budget and creative development ideas.

6. Give employees the opportunity to ask questions

It’s not enough to talk to employees regularly – you also need to listen to what they have to say and take thoughtful action in response to their needs, especially in difficult times like an economic recession.

Make it clear that your workplace welcomes two-way communication. You want employees to be open about their fears and anxieties rather than bottling them up inside and then leaving, perhaps unnecessarily.

  • Give employees a formal outlet for providing feedback or asking questions.
  • At the conclusion of company-wide meetings, allow time for employees’ questions or comments.
  • Ensure that managers practice an open-door policy. Many employees would rather share their concerns or ask questions in a private, one-on-one setting with a leader they trust – and that’s often their direct manager.

Summing it all up

Economic recessions and major company changes can spark all types of fear in employees – most commonly, anxieties about their own job security. There’s growing evidence that feelings of insecurity may be driving employees to change jobs – even if those feelings are in reality unwarranted.

It’s entirely understandable and there are steps you and your fellow business leaders can take to assuage their concerns. Make sure that you consistently communicate with your employees about the company’s challenges and opportunities – both the good and the bad – while providing a forum for employees to ask questions and share feedback. Demonstrate your care for employees by listening to them, offering resources and never letting up in your commitment to grow and develop their skills. And lastly, don’t allow them to feel isolated and disconnected from their team – encourage them to find support and camaraderie with their colleagues.

For more information about retaining valued employees in a challenging environment, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to combating The Great Resignation.