Research finds job insecurity reduces staff creativity in the workplace

Worrying about losing their jobs might make workers more productive, but also less creative, a study has found.

A team of researchers from Washington State University Vancouver looked at the trend of downsizing companies and the resulting effect the insecurity had on employees’ performance.

Research was conducted in both lab and real-life settings. 104 undergraduate students took part in a lab experiment in a simulated organisational environment, which measured changes in creativity and performance after the threat of layoffs was introduced.

Similar data was also gathered from surveys of 144 staff in five organisations in which employees answered questions measuring their job insecurity, counterproductive behaviour, and creative problem-solving ability.

The results showed that while job insecurity led to decreased creativity, increased productivity and a reduction in absenteeism, hostile behaviour and lateness also occurred.

These performance improvements might be due to the employees’ awareness that they are under increased scrutiny during the period of organisational uncertainty, the researchers said.

But such improvements are likely to diminish over time if the stress of job uncertainty is prolonged.

Study author Dr Tahira Probst said: “Our research suggests that although productivity does increase, employees’ creative problem-solving skills are also hampered. This might mean that the very creativity and flexibility that is hoped for as a goal of downsizing might not materialise.”

The study appeared in the Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, published by The British Psychological Society.

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