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Job concerns stay close to the surface

The economy may be picking up but job worries are high Keystone

Switzerland may have avoided the worst of the economic crisis, but this hasn’t stopped workers worrying about their job security, a survey has found.

This content was published on March 13, 2011 - 18:29
Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Zurich, swissinfo.ch

The HR Barometer 2011, by researchers at Zurich University and the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ), shows that around 30 per cent of people polled have concerns about their jobs – with ten per cent of these seriously worried.

The survey, which was published on March 10, also found that half of respondents were afraid that their workload would increase and that almost 30 per cent felt their career chances would wane in the future.

Such fears may come as a surprise given that the unemployment rate was just 3.6 per cent in February, a drop from January’s 3.8 per cent. This is far below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average of 8.5 per cent.

On Wednesday the Swiss Economic Institute (KOF) predicted GDP growth at a rate of two per cent for 2011.

“There are some uncertainties lurking behind what seems on the surface a very stable work situation in Switzerland,” observed the study authors Gudula Grote and Bruno Staffelbach.

Constant worries

Grote, a professor of work and organisational psychology at the ETHZ, says that other indicators, such as the Credit Suisse Worry Barometer, which is published every year, show concerns about jobs, even in good economic years like 2004-2006.

“I think there is a general sense, especially if you have a good job, that you might be worried about losing your job,” she told swissinfo.ch.

“In general people here are perhaps a bit more the worrying type. This may also be an element.”

Another factor is that the online survey of almost 1,500 people was carried out last April, when the upward economic trend was not as strong as it is now.

“Nevertheless, people were a bit more worried than in surveys of years before. We had expected much stronger changes in [the crisis years] 2008 or 2009,” said Grote.

This anomaly may well be due to the fact that measures such as short-term working covered the crisis period and that more permanent measures were only felt later on, said the professor.

Knock-on effects

Insecurity has knock-on effects for employers, say the authors. “A lot of the good things that employers would want, that people are satisfied, committed and won’t think about quitting, all of that tends to decrease with a higher sense of insecurity,” Grote said.

People tend to be less productive and not so open when they feel insecure about their jobs whether this be because of general fears about the future of the company, or due to concerns about career development, adds José M. San José, spokesman for Adecco. Switzerland’s leading provider of human resources solutions was the barometer’s main sponsor.

Trust therefore plays a very important role. “There needs to be more information and transparency so people know what they can expect,” he told swissinfo.ch.

Communication with the direct boss is often key. “We know from statistics that basically an employee comes to a company because of the company and leaves because of the direct boss.”

Bosses should therefore be open and constructive when considering employees’ requests for career advancement, training or flexible working, he added.

Importance of work

The Zurich study comes after the 2010 Credit Suisse Worry Barometer put unemployment at the top of Swiss concerns at 76 per cent – the highest ever level, which the bank attributed to the financial crisis.

In particular the higher unemployment rate – it peaked at 4.5 per cent in January 2010 -, dependence on the export business and the challenging economic situation of Switzerland’s main trade partners, particularly in Europe, were factors contributing to uncertainty, the bank told swissinfo.ch. Unemployment has, however, been the number one worry since 2003.

“Work for the average Swiss person is not only a means of earning money; it also an activity to which they attach great importance,” said Credit Suisse in email comments.

“Quality and precision – and the economic benefits they bring – are two of the key features of Swiss identity and Switzerland, along with, of course, neutrality and democracy.”

As for this year: the bank said it expected unemployment to again top 2011’s poll, but also predicted an increase in concerns about social and personal security as well as immigration.

Barometer

The Swiss HR Barometer shows the experiences of people working in Switzerland. Themes covered include career development, work satisfaction and employability.

It is carried out each year by Gudela Grote, professor of Work and Organisational Psychology at the ETHZ and Bruno Staffelbach, professor of Human Resource Management at Zurich University.

The 2011 barometer was based on an online survey of 1,479 people, carried out in April 2010, with 1,124 in the German-speaking part and 355 in the French-speaking part. It was supported by Adecco (main sponsor), as well as Axpo, the Zurich Association for Personnel Management and the Ecoscientia Foundation.

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Swiss unemployment

The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) reported on March 8 that February’s jobless rate went down to 3.6%. This was below analysts’ expectations of 3.7% after January's post of 3.8%.

Seco’s Serge Gaillard said February’s rate was because of the recovery in the Swiss economy. Youth unemployment also dropped, by 0.3 per cent, to reach 3.8 per cent.

For 2010 as a whole there were on average 151,986 jobless, which represents an annual rate of 3.9 per cent (with a high of 4.5% in January 2010).

Gaillard expects the jobless rate to drop over the new few months but says that the strong franc could affect economic recovery. A stagnation of 3.4 per cent is predicted.

As a comparison: Germany jobless rate: 7.3 per cent (February 2011), France: 9.6% (fourth quarter of 2010), Italy: 8.6% (January 2011), Britain: 7.9% (last quarter 2010), United States: 9% (January 2011).

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