If you’re concerned about employee morale, this might be a good time to hand out raises, but a bad time to introduce new technology into your processes.

At least that’s what the May Harris Poll Jobs and Benefits Security Index suggests.

It found that American workers are either cautiously optimistic or mildly pessimistic about their prospects for increased pay and benefits at work. And while they are expressing hope around these issues for the first time in awhile, they’re still worried that, just as they are about to enjoy better working conditions, they will be snatched away.

The online survey of some 1,192 U.S. workers revealed that employees overall “are showing greater confidence regarding their jobs, with growing optimism toward the prospects of receiving improved healthcare and retirement benefits and a salary increase.”

Harris reported that 20 percent of workers think their health care benefits will improve over the next three months, compared to 16 percent in March and April. Nearly 20 percent said they believe their retirement benefits will get better during that time, compared to 13 percent in April. And slightly more (32 percent in May vs. 29 percent in April) suspect they may get a pay raise.

But these same workers spend sleepless nights worrying about job security. Harris found:

  • 18 percent of U.S. workers believe that they will be replaced by a lower cost employee. That’s up from 15 percent in April.
  • 56 percent fear they will have to work more without getting more money, up from 53 percent in April and 50 percent in March.

Worsening worker fears on these core statements show ties to stated expectations that they will see responsibilities passed to either technological or manpower alternatives in the immediate future. Nearly half of U.S. workers (45 percent) anticipate that the next three months will find at least some of their job and/or responsibilities being replaced by one or more of a series of factors.

Technology (15 percent) and a co-worker taking over their responsibilities (14 percent) are the top perceived redundancies, followed by a lower cost employee within their company (12 percent) and temporary employees (11 percent). Younger employees (those 18-34) appear to feel particularly vulnerable to such efficiencies. This age group is most likely to believe at least one factor will replace some of their job or responsibilities in the next three months (57 percent). This is specifically seen with regards to technology (21 percent) or temporary employees (17 percent) replacing at least some of their responsibilities.

The upshot? Workers are still just about as worried about their jobs, and just as hopeful for improvement, as they were last month. “These positive and negative shifts effectively cancel one another out, resulting in May’s aggregated concerns holding steady in comparison to April (57 percent  each) and remaining slightly up from March (56 percent ),” Harris said.

Harris Interactive President and Chief Executive Officer Al Angrisani, also the former Assistant Secretary of Labor under President Reagan, finds that “The Harris Poll Jobs and Benefits Security Index is pointing to some renewed hope in key aspects of workers’ outlooks for the immediate future, reflecting the improved jobs outlook recently released by the Department of Labor.”

“That said,” continues Angrisani, “the slight rise in the unemployment rate indicates that hiring continues to be an issue, as reflected in mounting concern among employees that they will be expected to do more for the same or less pay, or that their jobs will be displaced by lower cost options. Ultimately this increased pressure on the worker will lead to worker frustration and could dramatically impact company productivity overall.”

Angrisani adds, “It is particularly interesting to note the age divide in job replacement fears. While younger generations are likely to be more technologically savvy, they are also more fearful of how technology may impact their future job prospects. A new economy could be one which values project-based workers who bring their own benefits packages to the table, just as they do their unique technology skills. This runs against the traditional model of a long term company employee with a full, company-provided benefits package.”