Redefining Job Security

HRWire Article: by Paula Santonocito


It's generally accepted that job security is a thing of the past, right? Well, recent research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) suggests that job security still matters to workers, and it matters a lot.

What Surveys Show

The 2007 SHRM Job Satisfaction survey finds employees rate job security as extremely important. It's number three on the list of the Top 10 "Very Important" Aspects of Employee Job Satisfaction, which is based on feedback from employees themselves. Only compensation and benefits matter more.

Experts are in agreement that job security is an essential component of employment.

Job security is always important, according to Susan Dunn, a provider of full-service education and coaching for individuals and businesses worldwide. In a recent article, she cites a survey from 1946 that lists job security as number four on the list of what employees say is important to them.

Jessica Bare Ollenburg, president and chief executive officer of Human Resource Services (HRS) Inc., one of the oldest and most well-established HR/OD Consulting and Outsource firms, says HRS views job security somewhat differently. "When we look at job security, it's a little bit of a moving target," she tells HRWire.

Although she acknowledges that job security never goes out of style, in recent years there has been another factor behind its ongoing appearance on surveys. "One reason it falls on everyone's radar is the abuse of temp services to fill jobs," Ollenburg says.

HRS conducts an annual Employee Magnet & Motivator Survey, which asks workers about the most important overall aspect of the job. In 2006, 2005, and 2004, job security topped the list. This year, advancement potential passed job security to become the top motivator.

One reason for the shift, according to Ollenburg, is the growing job market. Although large scale layoffs have made the news this past year, they are sector specific. "You still have a shrinking talent pool that outweighs the layoffs," Ollenburg says.

The Employee Perspective

Workers are aware of the situation. "Employees still know that they have alternatives," Ollenburg tells HRWire.

But it's not only awareness of the big employment picture that provides workers with a sense of security. Today's employees are aware that opportunities may exist in other industries and, because there is more cross-training and versatility, they can find job security somewhere.

In the HRS survey, this is one of the reasons training and advancement has pulled ahead of job security, Ollenburg says. There is basically a new definition of job security.

Conventional job security, by its traditional definition, means the same job with the same company. By contrast, Ollenburg points out that employees today can think about their own career and livelihood and their employment security.

The HRS survey discerns between the two types of job security, Ollenburg says, explaining why its results differ from SHRM findings.

Providing Employment Security

In an environment where workers are seeking employment security, employers should be focused on benefit offerings that support long-term career and livelihood.

"The biggest emerging magnet we're finding is flexible scheduling," Ollenburg says.

Flexible scheduling allows an employee to safeguard his/her livelihood through other things, like going to school, she explains. It also helps an employee address issues like childcare and eldercare, which alleviate personal and financial pressure. In effect, it helps further security.

The term job security often causes confusion for employers, as well as employees. Today, with four generations in the workforce, it can be even more difficult to pin down exactly what it means. Now, with a bit more transiency, it changes expectations, Ollenburg says. It becomes more about paycheck security, whether with a worker's current employer or another.

With this in mind, organizations should also promote benefits from the standpoint of career and livelihood.

Communicating Security

Yet, Ollenburg says employers regularly miss the opportunity to communicate with employees, and they miss the opportunity to communicate during the recruitment process; as a result they're not retaining employees, and they're not luring the best candidates.

She gives health insurance as an example. Although many employers are going the extra mile to provide benefits, they're not communicating the fiscal takeaway to employees, she says. Consequently, organizations are not getting full return on their investments. "Typically employees don't value it unless they're using it," says Ollenburg.

It therefore becomes incumbent on employers to promote benefits in a way that resonates with the workforce. Health care, for example, can tap into the issue of security.

Nevertheless, Ollenburg cautions against a one-size-fits-all approach. You have differing perspectives, and it's important for an employer to know its own demographic, she says. Using the example of health care, she tells HRWire that HRS surveys by and large find that employees want to have provider flexibility. But HRS recommends that an employer not assume its workforce wants that option; it might be different.

In a similar vein, Ollenburg points out that training and cross-training that allow a candidate to take skills and move into another company and another field is a really hot issue right now; however, she notes there are pitfalls. "You don't want to plant a seed, 'we're training you to get up and go work for yourself,'" she says.

At the same time, marketing skills training as "we're investing in you and your future" can be used as a tool to attract, retain, and engage employees, she says.

Showing career paths within the organization is also effective, and it's an area Ollenburg finds is under communicated.

Emphasizing offerings is particularly important because competition is fierce. "The job search process is one of our most heavily marketed industries right now," Ollenburg says. "The recruitment process is ever-present." Employees are constantly being recruited to go somewhere else, via TV, radio, magazine ads, and the Internet.

In addition, there are salary banks that are communicating with employees, and employees are constantly checking what they're worth, Ollenburg says.

Employees are being targeted, and others are promising to deliver on the kind of employment security they're seeking. By first understanding what job security means to employees, and then understanding how benefit offerings can meet their needs, employers can do a better job of retaining their existing workers and recruiting new ones.

The bottom line, for organizations of every size, is communication. "There is a disparity of perception," says Ollenburg. "Many surveys prove small employers offer the best benefits and the most creative solutions. But many job seekers think they have better benefits with large companies."

Contact: Jessica Bare Ollenburg, president and chief executive officer, Human Resource Services (HRS) Inc., via the HRS website,

Online: 2007 SHRM Job Satisfaction survey, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) members only,; Human Resource Services (HRS) Inc., HRS Employee Magnet & Motivator Survey Results 2007, along with previous years,

© 2008 Thomson/West