A Comparative Investigation of the Predictors of Work-Related Psychological Well-Being within Police, Fire and Ambulance Workers

Article excerpt

The recognition that employers are legally and morally responsible for their worker's psychological health has produced legislation and litigation both within New Zealand and overseas. This paper empirically compares the experiences of organisational and operational work hassles, work-family conflict, neuroticism, job satisfaction, and work-related psychological well-being within three emergency services populations. A total of 723 respondents from the New Zealand Police, Fire and Ambulance Services returned completed self-report questionnaires. The police respondents reported more minor work stressors (hassles) and higher levels of work-family conflict and intrinsic job satisfaction. The ambulance service respondents reported significantly higher levels of work-related psychological well-being. Work-family conflict, neuroticism and job satisfaction all significantly predicted work well-being in the hypothesised directions and these associations were similar within all three services. The implications for the treatment of occupational stress and the considerations for work-family conflict experienced by these emergency service workers are discussed.

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Investigations of the influence of work experiences upon individual health outcomes have traditionally focused upon occupations that are perceived to offer a high level of risk to their employees. Accordingly, both the emergency and armed services, and especially the police services, have received considerable scrutiny due to the demanding aspects of these jobs upon their workers (e.g., Kroes, Margolis, & Hurrell, 1974). Similarly, other occupations have received scrutiny due to the serious consequences of adverse job performance, such as aircraft pilots, air traffic controllers (Reiche, Kirchner, & Laurig, 1971; Shouksmith & Burrough, 1988) and train drivers (Lewis, 1987). The methodological argument for the individual examination of such occupations has focused upon occupation-specific characteristics and has even been extended to specific localised characteristics (e.g., the Royal Ulster Constabulary: Hamilton, 1995). This argument has the most strength when the focus of investigation is placed upon operational work demands, which are often influenced by local climates and specific regulations.

Comparative well-being investigations between the emergency service occupations are scarce. The justifications for conducting these comparative investigations include the ability to apply organisational-specific interventions to a second similar occupational group: providing the opportunities to evaluate intervention outcomes, costs, and effectiveness across occupations (e.g., Brough & Smith, 2002). For example, Beaton, Murphy, Johnson, Pike, and Corneil (1998) found a high degree of comparability in duty-related incident stressors experienced by a combined sample of U.S. firefighters and paramedics. Miller (1995) also described similarities in the experiences of trauma encountered by police, fire and paramedic professionals and discussed the implications for effective psychotherapeutic approaches to manage individual health outcomes for these workers. It therefore appears that occupational stress and psychological well-being experienced by the primary emergency service groups are largely comparable. This suggestion contradicts earlier literature that identified the uniqueness of work demands experienced by emergency service workers, especially that of police officers (e.g., Kroes et al., 1974).

The early police stress literature linked police work to a number of non-work adverse consequences such as divorce rates, alcoholism, heart disease and suicide (e.g., Fell, Richard, & Wallace, 1980, Kroes, 1976; Maynard & Maynard, 1982) and furthermore, suggested that police-work was unique in eliciting such adverse outcomes. Recent investigations of police officers' psychological well-being have compared the influence of traumatic operational incidents versus frequently occurring minor work demands (i. …

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