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A climate of fear: employees face greater stress and job insecurity while working harder

20 May 2013

Britain’s employees are feeling more insecure and pressured at work than at any time in the past 20 years, national survey results published today (Monday, 20 May) show. The findings are based on face-to-face interviews with 3,000 workers aged 20 to 60.

Strikingly, public sector workers no longer feel more secure than those in the private sector. In addition to fear of job loss - to be expected during a recession - they are increasingly worried about loss of status and unfair treatment at work.

These are among early findings from the 2012 Skills and Employment Survey (SES)– hosted by the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES) at the Institute of Education (IOE), London. The survey, conducted every six years, is jointly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).

“Fear at Work”, one of three reports published today, says: “The major change that occurred between 2006 and 2012 was that for the first time public sector employees were quite clearly more concerned about losing their employment than those in the private sector.” People in workplaces that had downsized or reorganised are the most likely to feel these concerns.

These reports show that:

  • In 2012 more than half of employees (51%) were concerned about job status loss. The biggest concern was about pay reductions, followed by loss of say over their job.
  • People are working harder. “Work intensification”, which was previously rife in the early 1990s, has resumed since 2006. Both the speed of work and pressures of working to tight deadlines have risen to record highs. Technological change is a key factor, but contrary to common belief, work intensification is not associated with downsizing.
  • Job stress has gone up and job-related well-being has gone down since 2006.

Francis Green, Professor of Work and Education Economics at the IOE, says: “Since the start of the recession, the growth of fear not only of employment loss but of unfair treatment and loss of status was particularly strong in the public sector. Attention should be paid to the deteriorating climate of employee relations in this area.”

The researchers also note that employees were more content and less anxious about job or status loss “where employers adopted policies that gave employees a degree of involvement in decision-making at work”.

“The slowness with which employers in Britain are enhancing employee participation is becoming an issue of considerable concern,” says Professor Alan Felstead of the Cardiff School of Social Sciences. “In general, better job control entails increased employee involvement and participation. The intention should be to improve the balance between the benefits of hard work and the costs.”


This story was featured on the front page of the Financial Times (20.05.13) - 'Worker insecurity at 20-year high’

Other media appearances:

'Pressure and job insecurity felt by UK workers at 20-year high’- The Guardian (20.05.13)

Radio Four (Today programme, 20.05.13)

Radio Five live (On the Money, 19.05.13)


Editors’ notes

Three reports have been published today (May 20): Fear at Work in Britain, Work Intensification in Britain and Job-related Well-being in Britain. Click here to view the reports

Skills and Employment Survey, 2012

SES2012 is the sixth in a series of nationally representative sample surveys of individuals in employment aged 20-60 years old (although the 2006 and 2012 surveys additionally sampled those aged 61-65). The numbers of respondents were: 4,047 in the 1986 survey; 3,855 in 1992; 2,467 in 1997; 4,470 in 2001; 7,787 in 2006; and 3,200 in 2012.

The Skills and Employment Survey is funded jointly by the Economic and Social Research Council and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills through the ESRC Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES) which acts as the host institution. It is directed by Alan Felstead (Cardiff University and Visiting Professor at the Institute of Education) in collaboration with Duncan Gallie at the University of Oxford and Francis Green at the Institute of Education.

Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES)

This ESRC-funded Research Centre investigates the role of lifelong learning in promoting economic competitiveness and social cohesion, and in mediating the interactions between the two. Key areas of research include: i) the social and cultural foundations of learning, knowledge production and transfer, and innovation, within the context of a changing economy, and ii) the effects of knowledge and skill distribution on income equality, social cohesion and competitiveness.

It has a programme of multi-disciplinary and mixed method research which addresses these issues at the level of the individual life course, through studies of city-regions and sectors in the UK, and through comparative analysis across OECD countries. More at


The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's total budget for 2012-13 is £205 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes. More at


The UK Commission for Employment and Skills is a publicly funded, industry led organisation providing strategic leadership on skills and employment issues in the four home nations of the UK. More at