Economics

The downside of job security

In my research on public employee pay with Jason Richwine, we’ve worked to put a value on the greater job security enjoyed by federal, state and local government workers. Job security is like a free insurance policy against unemployment.

But this story from the Social Security Administration, my old employer, shows that job security has a downside. The SSA has rescinded its reprimand of the famous “flatulent work,” who was chastised for, well, fouling the work environment.

This raises a legitimate objection to our valuation of job security. While it’s great to be unfireable, in practice it usually means that your coworkers can’t be fired either. This can lead to a less pleasant work environment, thereby making public employment most attractive for individuals for whom job security or other perks of public employment are really important. This may make it harder to recruit the highly skilled, highly motivated individuals that government ideally would seek to employ but for whom guaranteed jobs aren’t as important.

One thought on “The downside of job security

  1. Job security is like any other attribute. People gravitate toward jobs that suit their work objectives. Ambitious people gravitate toward jobs that provide lots of upside when successful — usually at the expense of job security. People who are not that ambitious or competent tend to choose jobs that provide lots of security — yes, at the expense of having to work around a lot of slugs. That’s just the market at work. I would be bored out of my mind working at most government jobs, but if my objective were to be able to do little work without fear of losing my job, it would be a reasonable tradeoff.
    Keep in mind that we are making it more and more attractive to not work at all. Public employment at least gets SOME value from those with low motivation. I do feel sorry for those in government who are more motivated and have to work with them, but that’s just a tradeoff to the career they chose.

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