Measuring Job Satisfaction and Stress at a Community Corrections Center: An Evidence-Based Study

By Whiteacre, Kevin W. | Corrections Today, June 2006 | Go to article overview
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Measuring Job Satisfaction and Stress at a Community Corrections Center: An Evidence-Based Study


Whiteacre, Kevin W., Corrections Today


Administrators in community corrections are increasingly expected to provide concrete and meaningful outcome measures to a host of stakeholders. However, extensive research shows that job satisfaction and stress consistently remain important factors to a number of workplace outcomes such as turnover, absenteeism and dependability. Fortunately, standardized surveys of staff perceptions of the workplace are reliable and can fulfill several administrative needs, particularly the implementation of a tangible evidence-based practice.

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Studies have found that satisfied employees live longer, healthier lives and are happier, more cooperative, more dependable, less critical and less likely to quit their jobs. (1) In an early study of attitudinal and physical variables associated with longevity, the best predictor of longevity was work satisfaction. (2) Overall happiness was the second best predictor of longevity. Both variables predicted longevity better than physical health or abstaining from tobacco use. These findings are important to the corrections field because they add more information to previous research that shows correctional employees have a higher than average risk for heart attacks, high blood pressure and ulcers, and that correctional officers have shorter life spans, higher divorce rates and higher rates of alcoholism than the general public. (3)

Job satisfaction reduces absenteeism and turnover, and it can affect other "citizenship behaviors," such as compliance, altruism, dependability, punctuality, complaints, waste, cooperation, criticism of and arguing with others, and even housecleaning. (4) This research supports what many administrators already recognize: a healthier, happier workforce is also a more productive workforce. Both management and staff can benefit from practices that improve job satisfaction. But first, an administration must better understand current employee workplace attitudes before it can craft and evaluate policies to improve them. More satisfied employees are less likely to quit or miss work.

Employee Surveys as Evidence-Based Practice

Recognizing the importance of understanding staff workplace attitudes, the Bureau of Prisons has been administering the Prison Social Climate Survey (5) to staff at federal correctional facilities for more than 20 years. It is "an annual survey of staff perceptions and attitudes about an array of issues within federal correctional facilities." Each year, the BOP surveys thousands of correctional employees on a variety of workplace issues from personal safety and well-being to organizational operations and quality of supervision.

According to the BOP, the first goal of the survey is to document the changes staff are experiencing and better understand how these experiences are affecting staff and the BOP mission. The second goal is to provide BOP managers with information that will help them monitor the many aspects of BOP operations, evaluate programs, assess strategic goals and assess the impact of policies. Thus, the Prison Social Climate Survey facilitates the BOP's evidence-based approach to agency management.

In Implementing Evidence-Based Principles in Community Corrections: Leading Organizational Change and Development, the National Institute of Corrections listed three steps of an evidence-based approach to management:

* Assessment/diagnosis to determine the current status of an organization or practice;

* Intervention by designing activities to respond to the needs identified in the assessment process; and

* Monitoring and measuring performance to provide data on changes in knowledge, skills, attitudes and behavior.

All facets of organizational management can benefit from adherence to these principles.

Assessment/Diagnosis. Too often, a supervisor's sense of the workplace environment is based on his or her individual interpretation of events, guesswork, intuition, gut feelings, gossip and the ever-present squeaky wheels.

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