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I Am Fried: Stressors and Burnout Among Correctional Staff By Eric G


I Am Fried: Stressors and Burnout Among Correctional Staff By Eric G. Lambert, Nancy L. Hogan, Shanhe Jiang and Morris Jenkins C orrectional facilities present unique, albeit tough and demanding, work places. Dealing with incarcerated individuals can place strain on employees — strain that, over time, can lead to job burnout. Burnout is a problem among correctional staff (Hurst and Hurst, 1997; Whitehead, 1989). In fact, Keinan and Malach-Pines (2007) reported that the correctional employees in their study had much higher levels of burnout than the levels found in the general population, even higher than police officers. Not only is burnout harmful to individual employees, but also to correctional orgcinizations. Burnout among correctional workers can lead to decreased work performance, withdrawal from or reduced qucdity of interactions with other employees, increased absenteeism, substance abuse and turnover intent/turnover (Carlson and Thomas, 2006; Garland, 2002; Neveu, 2007; Schaufeli cind Peeters, 2000). Garland (2002) argued that "unless the burnout victim receives help and recovers, mustering the energy to function at an ordinary level will become a continual struggle." Simply put, job burnout in the field of corrections is harmful and costly to the employee, his or her family and friends, co-workers, inmates, the organization and society in general (Garland, 2002; Schaufeli and Peeters, 2000). Garland (2002) contended that burnout in the field of institutional corrections has not received the attention it demands. While burnout is costly, there has been little research on correctional staff burnout, particularly in terms of identifying and understanding its potential causes. Neveu (2007) indicated that he found only 16 published studies on correctional staff burnout and not all of these explored possible causes of burnout; therefore, this study was undertaken to examine the relationCorrections Compendium ship of Stressors (i.e., forces that cause stress) with correctional staff burnout. Specifically, the association of role confiict, role ambiguity, role overload, perceived dangerousness of the job, and amount of contact with inmates and its relationship to job burnout were explored among staff members at a privately run, nonfederal Midwestern correctional facility. Literature Review Defining burnout. Chemiss (1980) contended that burnout is the result of a three-stage process. The first stage is an imbalance of work forces, demands and resources, which, in turn, results in an emotional/psychological strain for the worker. The second stage is the consequences of the emotional/psychological strain where the person treats co-workers and clients in a detached, impersonal and even callous manner. Additionally, in the third stage, the employee feels he or she is ineffective in dealing with others and withdraws from others, ultimately becoming detached, cynical and disengaged. Chemiss theorized that organizational factors, especially work Stressors, were responsible for job burnout. According to Maslach (1978), who is viewed as one of the pioneers in the study of burnout, burnout occurs when workers experience "the gradual loss of caring about the people they work with. Over time, they find that they simply cannot sustain the kind of person¿ care and commitment required in the personal encounters that are the essence of their job." Maslach and Jackson (1981) viewed burnout as "a syndrome of emotioned exhaustion and cjmicism that occurs frequently among individuals who do 'people work* of some kind." They theorized that burnout was an extensive strain and psychological exhaustion experienced by the worker. They argued that the three dimensions of burnout 16 are emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment (Maslach and Jackson, 1981). Emotional exhaustion refers to the feeling of being emotionally drained and fatigued from the job. Depersonalization refers to treating others impersonally, callously and as objects. Ineffectiveness refers to a feeling of being ineffective in dealing with others at work, including a feeling of not making a positive impact (Maslach and Jackson, 1981; Schaufeli and Peeters, 2000; Whitehead, 1989). Uke Chemiss (1980), Maslach and Jackson (1981) theorized that organizational factors, including work-related Stressors, are the primary cause for job burnout. The definition provided by Maslach and Jackson (1981) is the most widely accepted one and was used in this study. Correctional stc^ burnout studies. There is a small but growing body of published studies that have explored burnout among correctional employees. One of the focuses of this research has been to examine whether personal characteristics are related to burnout. The findings with sex, age, position, tenure, educational level and race have been mixed and inconclusive. However, the research to date has found that burnout is more likely to be linked to work environment factors than with personal characteristics (Garner, Knight and Simpson, 2007). A lack of supervisory support, a lack of administrative support and a lack of support from co-workers have all been observed to lead to higher levels of burnout among correctional staff (Drory and Shamir, 1988; Garland, 2004; Neveu, 2007; Savicki, Cooley and Gjesvold, 2003). Perceived dangerousness of the job was observed to be positively associated with burnout (Garland, 2004), as were role overload and pressure to complete work (Savicki et al., 2003). A Summer 2009 lack of input into decision-making about the Job and the organization has been linked with increased burnout (Neveu, 2007; Whitehead, 1989). Both role conflict and role ambiguity have been reported as predictors of burnout (Drory and Shamir, 1988; Whitehead, 1989). Finally, increased contact with inmates has been postulated to lead to higher levels of burnout because inmates are usually unwilling and often manipulative clients (Morgan, Van Haveren and Pearson, 2002; Whitehead, 1989). These studies theorize that work Stressors are important factors leading to burnout among correctional employees; however, the previous studies have two major limitations. First, additional research is needed before definite conclusions can be reached on how workplace variables may or may not be associated with burnout. Replication is important, and additional studies on the association of work Stressors with burnout are needed in order to determine whether the relationships can be replicated. Second, there has been littie, if any, reseetrch examining the association of work Stressors as a group with correctional staff burnout. Most previous research has included one or two of the major forms of work Stressors. There is a need to examine, in a structured manner, the association of individual work Stressors with burnout in order to determine if the relationships differ when other work Stressors are controlled for in the analysis. This information is necessary so that scholars and correctional administrators can better understand work Stressors and how they may be related with burnout. Building upon the previous correctional research on burnout, the association of the amount of contact with inmates, role conflict, role ambiguity, role overload and perceived dangerousness of the job with burnout, were explored. Work Stressors and burnout: Research expectations. Stressors are conditions that place excessive demands on an individual and can lead to discomfort, strain and conflict for the individual (Finn, 1998). Work Stressors are those Stressors that are caused by workplace factors. The major types of work Stressors for correctional staff are dealing with inmates, role conflict, role ambiguity, role overload and perceived dangerousness of the job (Finn, 1998). Working with inmates has been deCorrections Compendium scribed by a significant number of correctional staff as demanding and stressful (Finn, 1998). This is probably due to the never-ending demands and needs of inmates, and also the fact that some inmates are highly manipulative and sometimes oppose any help or direction from staff members (Cornelius, 1994); therefore, the amount of time spent each day interacting with inmates was hj^othesized to be positively associated with burnout. Thus, the more time a person spent interacting with inmates should be associated with an increase in reported level of burnout. Role conflict occurs when behaviors for a given job or position are inconsistent with one another (Rizzo, House and Lirtzman, 1970). In other words, role conflict is where "compliance with one set of pressures makes compliance with another set difflcult, objectionable, or impossible" (Ivancevich and Matteson, 1980). This is a possibility among correctional staff who might be given conflicting orders, directions and tasks. In addition, role conflict may arise when a staff member reports to different supervisors who are not in agreement on what the employee should be doing or how he or she should cany out the assigned tasks. Role conflict can cause frustration and strain for a person, which in the long run could result in burnout from the job. Hence, role conflict was hypothesized to be positively related to burnout for correctional workers. Role ambiguity results when there is a lack of information or there is uncertainty about carrying out the tasks and duties for a position (Rizzo et al., 1970). It occurs when the role for a certain position or job has not been clearly defined (Ivancevich and Matteson, 1980). Role ambiguity can be a reality In corrections. Correctional employees can be told to use their discretion to handle matters, but if something goes wrong, their actions can be reviewed and questioned, and disciplinary action can even result if a wrong course of action was undertaken. Role ambiguity can make it frustrating for an employee to do the job. The lack of clarity and direction can lead to strain, frustration and anger. Over time, the worker can experience burnout. Thus, role ambiguity was hypothesized to have a positive relationship with correctional staff burnout. Role overload occurs when an employee is required to do too many 17 tasks for his or her job and/or is not provided sufficient resources for the job (Ivancevich and Matteson, 1980). Sometimes there are unreasonable expectations in terms of what is expected from the employee. Role overload has been reported in the field of corrections, particularly with decreased budgets and increased inmate populations. A staff member may be required to manage more inmates, a higher case load or increased work tasks than is ideal for the position. Role overload increases the pressure for the employee and can lead to a feeling of always being expected to perform at an overdrive level. This can wear a person down over time, resulting in increased likelihood of burnout; therefore, role overload was hypothesized to have a positive relationship with burnout among correctional employees. Many consider corrections to be a dangerous occupation. The threat of violence and actual violence are both very real issues (Finn, 1998). There is the possibility of violence each day in any correctional facility, including assaults, homicides, disturbances and riots. The perceived threat of violence can lead to increased apprehension and anxiety for correctional staff members who never know if their work shift will be peaceful or punctuated by violence. This can place a person oh a heightened sense that ultimately can contribute to burnout. Perceived dangerousness of the job was therefore hypothesized to be positively linked to burnout of correctional employees in this study. Dangerousness of the job refers to perceptions of the worker that his or her job is dangerous, which results in unsafe feelings on the job. Methods Respondents. All the available staff members at a private Midwestern maximum-security prison were provided a survey packet. At the time of the survey, the facility housed approximately 450 juveniles who had been sentenced as adult offenders. Although there were about 220 total employees at the facility, only 200 were available to receive the packet. Some staff members were absent due to vacations, sick leave, temporary reassignment or for other reasons. The packet contained a cover letter, a survey, a numbered bifurcated raffie ticket and a return envelope. The cover letter explained the purpose of the survey, that participation was Summer 2009 Table 1. Responses for the Burnout Items - Percentages Reported Item Emotional Exhaustion Working with others is an emotional strain for me. I feel that I am burned out from my job. lam emotionally drained at the end of the day from my job. Impersonalization I feel that I treat some inmates as if they were impersonal objects. I feel that I have become more callous toward my coworkers. I am becoming less sympathetic to others at work The vast majority of time at work. I treat all inmates and staff with respect (RC). Ineffectiveness 1 feel that my co-workers value my assistance (RC). I feel that I am effective in solving problems at work (RC). I feel that I am a positive influence at this prison (RC). 1 have the ability to deal effectively with the problems of inmates (RC). I feel that I am positively influencing inmates with my work here (RC). I feel that I can create a relaxed atmosphere with inmates (RC). SD D N SA 21 16 13 61 52 44 II 14 16 6 16 18 1 2 9 23 51 14 10 2 7 48 22 20 3 6 1 48 3 13 8 24 52 9 37 4 0 9 6 26 16 53 58 9 21 1 5 17 51 26 1 2 15 60 22 1 11 19 54 15 1 8 28 51 12 Note. (RC) stands for the responses be reverse coded for index. N = 160. Percentages may not total 100 percent due to rounding. voluntary, how to be part of the raffle and that all responses would be anonymous. A cash raffle of prizes ranging from $50 to $150 was offered to those individuals who returned a survey, regardless of whether the survey had been completed. Employees were asked to return half of the numbered raffle ticket in the provided return envelope and to keep the other half. The returned tickets were removed from the envelope and separated from the surveys before the surveys were examined and entered into a database. This was done to ensure that there was no possibility of linking a particular employee to a returned survey. Approximately a month after the survey packets were provided to employees, a drawing of raffle tickets was held at an employee function, and individuals with a winning raffle ticket were awarded a particular cash prize. Unclaimed prizes were donated to the employee organization. Because 160 surveys were completed and returned (i.e.. 80 percent response rate), no follow-up survey was done. In terms of position. 62 percent of the respondents held a custody position and 38 percent worked in other areas of the facility (e.g.. unit management, education, medical, food service, etc.). About 22 percent of the respondents indicated Corrections Compendium that they were a supervisor of other workers. Fifty-nine percent of the respondents were men. The mean age was 35.77 years, with a standard deviation of 10.82. The mean tenure was 20.64 months, with a standard deviation of 13.84. Because the facility had been in operation for less than flve years at the time of survey, the tenure of the employees was low. Fifty-three percent of the respondents did not have a college degree and 47 percent had some type of college degree (associate, bachelor, graduate or professional). With regard to race. 79 percent were white and 21 percent were nonwhite. At the time of the survey. 61 percent of the total prison staff were men. 81 percent were white and the median age was 33; therefore, the respondents appeared to be similar to the total prison staff population in terms of sex. race and age. Dependent variables. The dependent variable in this study was a composite of the three burnout measures theorized by Maslach and Jackson (1981) (emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and ineffectiveness in dealing with others at work). The burnout items are presented in Table 1. These items were answered by a five-point Likert response scale, ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The items 18 were summed together to form an index, which had a Cronbach's alpha of 0.81. Independent variables. Role conflict was measured using five items (e.g.. "I regularly receive conflicting requests at work from two or more people" and "Sometimes I am criticized by one supervisor for doing something ordered by another supervisor") adapted from Ivanvevich and Matteson (1980). The five items had a Cronbach's alpha of 0.73 and were summed together to form an index. Role ambiguity was measured by four items (e.g.. "I do not always understand what is expected of me at work" and "I clearly know what my work responsibilities are" [reverse coded for index]). The items were from Rizzo et al. (1970). The four items, which had a Cronbach's alpha of 0.70. were summed together to form an index of role ambiguity. Role overload was measured using three items (e.g.. "I am responsible for almost an unmanageable number of assignments and/or inmates" and "The amount of work required in my job is unreasonable"). The items were adaptedfromIvancevich and Matteson (1980). The three items were summed together to form an index of role overload, which had a Cronbach's alpha of 0.77. Finally, perceived dangerousness of the job was measured using five items (e.g.. "In my job. a person stands a good chance of getting hurt" and "I work at a dangerous job"). The items were from CuUen et al. (1989). The index created from summing these five items had a Cronbach's alpha of 0.78. Each of the items for role conflict, role ambiguity, role overload and perceived dangerousness of the job were anSAvered by a five-point Likert response sccile. ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Respondents were asked the average daily contact they had with inmates. See Table 2 for how this variable was coded eind the response options. Finally, the personal characteristics of working in a position (variable name is custody), supervisory status (variable name is supervisor), sex (variable name is male), age. tenure, educational level (variable name is college degree) and race (variable name is white) were included in this study as control variables. Summer 2009 Findings The percentage responses for the burnout Items are presented in Table 1. Although the majority of respondents did not appear to be suffering from burnout, there were staff members who did report that they were experiencing burnout to some degree. For example. 18 percent of the respondents indicated that they felt burned out from their job, and 26 percent indicated that they were emotionally drained to some degree at the end of the day from their job. Approximately 23 percent of the responding prison employees either agreed or strongly agreed that they felt that they had become more callous toward their co-workers. Furthermore, almost one-third of those who responded indicated that they felt that they were becoming less sympathetic to others at work. About 13 percent indicated that they felt that their co-workers did not value their assistance at work. Similarly. 12 percent of the respondents marked that they did not feel that they had a positive influence on the inmates with whom they had contact while at work. It is important to note that none of the respondents had worked for more than five years at the facility. It is possible that the number of correctional staff reporting symptoms of burnout could increase as the tenure of employees at the facility rises over time. The descriptive statistics for the variables used in this study are presented in Table 2. The typical respondent was a white male who was in his early to mid-30s. had worked at the facility for about 1.5 years, did not have a college degree, held a nonsupervisory custody position and had contact with inmates for more than half of the day. There appeared to be significant variation in both the dependent and independent variables. The median and mean were similar to one cinother for the variables, suggesting that the variables were normally distributed. In addition, the skewness and kurtosis statistics indicated that the variables were normally distributed.' For the indexes, the Cronbach's alphas, a measure of internal reliability, were equal to or greater than 0.70. which is viewed as good (Carmines and Zeller, 1979). Overall, the typical respondent reported a moderate degree of role conflict, role ambiguity and role overload (i.e., the Corrections Compendium Table 2. Descriptive Statistics ofthe Variables Variable Custody Supervisor Male Age Tenure College Degree White Average Amount of Daily Contact With Inmates Role Conflict Role Ambiguity Role Overload Perceived Dangerousness of the Job Burnout 1 Min 0 Max 1 Mean 0.62 Stdev 0.49 0 0 1 0.21 0.41 1 0 1 0.59 0.49 33 17 0 19 0 0 68 53 ! 35.77 20.64 0.47 10.82 13.84 0.50 1 0 1 0.79 0.40 4 1 5 3.78 1.51 3.96 2.86 2.67 4.32 6.65 Description 0 = did not work in a custody position (38%) 1 = worked in custody (62%) 0 = not a supervisor (79%) 1 = a supervisor of other employees (21%) 0 = female (41%) 1 = male (59%) Measured in continuous years Time at facility in months 0 = no college degree (53%) 1 = college degree (47%) 0 = Nonwhite(21%) 1 = White (79%) 1 = less than 1 hour (17%); 2 = 1 to 2 hours (6%); 3 = 3 to 4 hours (9%); 4 = 5 to 6 hours (19%); 5 = 7 or more hours (49%) 5-item index, a = 0.73 4-item index, a = 0.70 3-item index, a = 0.77 5-item index, a = 0.78 Median 13-item index, a = 0.81 15 8 25 9 4 8 16 3 6 19 15 25 15.29 9.22 8.44 16.01 29 15 54 29.70 Note. Min stands for minimum value. Max stands for maximum value, and Stdev stands for standard deviation. N = 160. median and mean were at the halfway point of the range for each of these indexes). Likewise, many staff members were at the midpoint for the measure of perception of the job being dangerous. Finally, median and mean values for the job burnout index were at the midpoint as well. Specifically, the job burnout index ranged from a minimum value of 15 and a maximum value of 54, and the median and mean for this index were 29 and 29.70, respectively. Ordinary least squares (OLS) regression was used to estimate the associations of role conflict, role ambiguity, role overload, perceived dangerousness of the job and average daily contact with inmates with burnout, controlling for the shared associations of position, supervisory status, sex, age, tenure, educational level and race. Thus, OLS regression allows for the effects of a variable to be estimated while controlling for the shared effects with the other independent variables. This allows for the independent effects of a variable on another variable to be estimated. Additionally, OLS is the most common method used to examine the relationship of work environment variables on a work outcome variable. The results of the OLS regression equation are presented in Table 3. 19 While not reported, the correlation matrix, variance inflation factor (VIF) scores and tolerance values did not indicate a problem with coUinearity or multicollinearity. High coUinearity and multicollinearity are when an independent variable (or variables) shares a large part of its variance with the other independent variables in the regression equation, and .this can lead to incorrect results. The R-squared statistic was 0.46. which means that about 46 percent of the variance in the burnout measure was explained by the independent variables. Among the control variables, only tenure had a statistically significant relationship. As tenure increased, so did the level of reported burnout. Role ambiguity and role overload both had positive associations with correctional staff burnout. As role conflict increased, so too did the level of burnout. Likewise, as role overload rose, the level of reported burnout increased. Role conflict, perceived dangerousness of the job and contact with inmates all had nonsignificant associations with burnout in this study. This means that they probably do not have a statistically significant relationship with job burnout, at least not in the current study. By examining the standardized regression coefficients (i.e.. Summer 2009 Table 3. Relationships of Role Stressors With Correctional Staff Burnout Variable Custody Supervisory Male Age Tenure College Degree White Average Amount of Daily Contact With Inmates Role Conflict Role Ambiguity Role Overload Perceived Dangerousness of the Job R-squared b 2.52 -1.52 -1.09 -0.04 0.08 -0.73 -0.22 -0.52 SE 1.40 1.30 0.91 0.04 0.03 0.87 1.03 0.29 B 0.18 -0.09 -.008 -0.06 0.16* -0.06 -0.01 -0.12 0.02 0.96 0.60 -0.03 0.15 0.20 0.19 0.14 0.01 0.41** 0.24** -0.02 F = 10.33 df = 12, 147 0.46** *p

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