According to the International Labor Organization, as many as 340 million people around the world have lost their jobs in the second half of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This situation could easily lead to increased job uncertainty – or the perception that one’s job is no longer guaranteed to continue. New research (Lin et al., 2021) examined the consequences of this situation and offered suggestions for how organizations can curb some of the negative outcomes.
NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES OF UNFORSEEN CRISES
In their study, the researchers surveyed 306 participants working in multiple industries across China. They examined how perceptions of the novelty, disruption, and criticality of the pandemic affected employees’ work attitudes and behaviors. Novelty is the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic is viewed as different and unexpected compared to previous events at work, disruption is the extent to which work is done differently, and criticality is the extent to which the pandemic is viewed as hindering long-term success at work.
Results from their analyses revealed that both novelty and disruption were related to employees’ perceptions of job insecurity, and this subsequently predicted employee emotional exhaustion, organizational deviance, and saving behavior (or reducing unnecessary expenditures).
THE ROLE OF ADAPTIVE PRACTICES
The researchers also examined an additional variable that may reduce employees’ perceptions of job insecurity—organizational adaptive practices. The researchers define organizational adaptive practices as policies or practices that help employees cope with crisis. In the context of COVID-19, some of these practices may include offering provisions such as protective equipment, flexible work hours, telework (or work from home), and paid leave.
The researchers found that organizational adaptive practices moderated the relationship between novelty, criticality, and job insecurity. This means that as employees perceived higher organizational adaptive practices, the less strong the relationship was between novelty, criticality, and job insecurity, and this subsequently predicted lower organizational deviance, lower emotional exhaustion, and lower saving behavior. However, this effect was not found to weaken the relationship between disruption and job insecurity.
PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
Results from this study suggest that unforeseen crises can have debilitating effects on employees in the form of higher job insecurity, higher emotional exhaustion, higher deviant behavior, and higher savings behavior (an indicator of financially insecurity). However, the researchers suggest that organizations can take steps to reduce the extent to which employees perceive the pandemic as novel or disruptive. For example, in times of crisis, organizations should aim to develop clear and understandable work procedures and guidelines to help reduce perceptions of the novelty of the crisis.
Further, organizations and managers should work to reduce employee concerns about job insecurity. For example, organizations can maintain transparent communication with employees about personnel decisions that are relevant to job security. Finally, adaptive practices may reduce the detrimental effects of unforeseen crises, and organizations should strive to make appropriate accommodations for employees in times of crisis.
Lin, W., Shao, Y., Li, G., Guo, Y., & Zhan, X. (2021). The psychological implications of COVID-19 on employee job insecurity and its consequences: The mitigating role of organization adaptive practices. Journal of Applied Psychology, 106(3), 317–329.
International Labor Organization. (2020). ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. 5th edition.