Growing job insecurity in the public sector but not in the private sector

26 November 2013

A survey of how employment is changing shows that employment relations continue to be relatively good, despite the recession. However there has been a marked rise in feelings of job insecurity in the public sector in Britain since the mid 2000s.

In 2004, employees in the private and public sectors gave similar ratings of their job security. However by 2011, public sector employees were much more likely to feel insecure in their jobs. The Workplace Employment Relations Study (WERS) shows that there have been other changes in employees' job quality, but these have also tended to favour employees in the private sector.

Whilst the private sector recovery gains pace, the Office for Budget Responsibility is forecasting that public sector employment will fall by a further fifth by 2018. The lot of public sector workers is therefore unlikely to improve in the near future.

Employment relations broadly stable

The proportion of all employees who viewed relations with their workplace managers as either ‘good’ or ‘very good’ was slightly higher in 2011 (64%) than in 2004 (62%), despite the challenging economic climate. However, the proportion of employees giving positive ratings was higher in the private sector than in the public sector in 2004 (64% versus 57%) and the gap widened in 2011 (67% versus 57%).

But growing job insecurity in the public sector

Back in 2004 there was no difference in perceived job security between public and private sector employees: roughly two-thirds agreed or strongly agreed their jobs were secure.

In 2011 perceptions of job security in the private sector were at their previous level, despite the longest recession in living memory; but in the public sector perceived job security had plummeted so that fewer than half of public sector employees felt secure in their jobs. These trends fed through to employees' satisfaction with their job security.

The 2011 survey was jointly sponsored by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR). NIESR’s contribution was made possible by a grant from the Nuffield Foundation.

The full press release is available on the NIESR website >>

Further information on WERS is available on the gov.uk website >>

Employment Relations in the Shadow of Recession, is published by Palgrave Macmillan >>