Work-related well-being of correctional officers in South Africa
Mohoje, Philemon Rampou
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Stress among correctional officers is widespread, according to research studies and anecdotal evidence. The threat of inmate violence against correctional officers, actual violence committed by inmates, inmate demands and manipulation and problems with co-workers are conditions that officers have reported in recent years that can cause stress. These factors, combined with understaffing, extensive overtime, rotating shift work, low pay, poor public image, and other sources of stress, can impair officers' health, cause them to bum out or retire prematurely, and impair their family life. Despite these weaknesses and malfunctioning in correctional settings, many officers are still committed in their work, until they reach their set pension dates. Such officers show intense focus and high levels of enthusiasm. With the upcoming positive paradigm in Occupational Health Psychology, "positive" trends such as work engagement, organisational commitment and individual commitment are also common among correctional officers. The first step in the enhancement of total spectrum of work-related well-being, from unwell-being (burnout) to well-being (work engagement) is the successful diagnosis of stress, burnout and work engagement. However, it is important to use reliable and valid instruments to measure these constructs. The objective of this study in the Department of Correctional Services was to standardise an Organisational Stress Screening Tool (ASSET), an adapted version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory - General Survey (MBI - GS) and the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES) for correctional officers in South Africa, in order to determine their levels of occupational stress, burnout, work engagement, organisational commitment and ill health (based on their biographical characteristics), and to test a structural model of work wellness. A cross-sectional survey design was used, with stratified random samples (N = 897) taken of correctional officers in the 48 prisons in South Africa. An Organisational Stress Screening Tool, the Maslach Burnout Inventory - General Survey, the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale, the Job - Demands Resources Questionnaire, the Health and Organisational Commitment subscales of the ASSET, and a biographical questionnaire were administered. Cronbach alpha coefficients, exploratory factor analyses, multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA), one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA), T-tests and multiple regression analysis were used to analyse the data. Structural equation modelling was used to test a structural model of work related well-being. Significant differences in stress levels based on biographical characteristics revealed a statistically significant difference regarding how correctional officers of different age groups experience stress as a result of job overload and commitment from the organisation towards its own employees. A practically significant difference between correctional officers aged 20-30 and 50-60 years of age, concerning the experience of stress as a result of job control, was also found. Another statistically significant difference was found concerning how correctional officers with different years of experience in the current job experienced stress as a result of job overload and work relationships. Work relationships contributed to a statistically significant difference between correctional officers with different years of experience in the current prison. Statistically significant differences also existed with regard to the experience of stress between correctional officers with different ranks as a result of job overload and work/life balance. Lastly, no statistically significant gender differences were found among male and female correctional officers in South Africa. This finding on gender, is in contrast with most of the empirical research on gender differences, which suggests that women appear to experience higher levels of stress in comparison to males. Exploratory factor analyses with target rotations resulted in a three-factor model of burnout consisting of Exhaustion, Cynicism and Professional Efficacy. The scales showed acceptable internal consistencies and construct equivalence for two language groups (Afrikaans/English and African). Regarding the differences in the burnout levels between language groups, a significant effect of language on the combined dependent variable Burnout was revealed. Analysis of each individual dependent variable showed that there were no significant differences between the levels of Exhaustion and Cynicism in the two language groups. The two groups differed in terms of the level of Professional Efficacy, where the English/Afrikaans group showed higher levels of Professional Efficacy. No significant effect of qualification and rank on the combined dependent variable Burnout was found. However, the language groups (English/Afrikaans) and (Africans) differed in terms of the level of Exhaustion where the Africans showed higher levels of Exhaustion. Furthermore, there was a significant effect of job on the combined dependent variable Burnout. Significant differences existed between language groups as a result of the levels of Exhaustion, Cynicism and Professional Efficacy. Finally, compared to the normative sample, 32,4% of correctional officers experience high levels of Exhaustion, while 38,6% experience high Cynicism and 32,1% show low Professional Efficacy. Exploratory factor analyses with target rotations resulted in a one-factor model of work engagement, consisting of Vigour/Dedication. The scales showed acceptable construct and internal equivalence for two language groups (Afrikaans and English). Although no practically significant differences between language groups of correctional officers in South Africa were found, it did reveal statistically significant higher levels of work engagement for Africans as compared to the Afrikaans/English language group. Furthermore, regarding differences in engagement levels based on qualifications and ranks, the findings revealed a statistically significant difference based on qualifications, and not on rank. No significant gender differences were found. With regard to aspects that enervated work-related well-being, the model showed that job demands (overload) and lack of job resources had an impact on burnout. Burnout, furthermore, mediated the relationship between job demands and ill health among correctional officers. The structural model revealed that work-related well-being mediated the relationship between job resources and organisational commitment. Correctional officers were likely to be victims of burnout and consequently ill health when an increase in job demands is not matched with an increase in job resources. The availability of job resources lead to work-related well-being, which will turn into organisational commitment. Recommendations for future research were made.