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The impact of gender on correctional employee perceptions of work stress.

Stress is a part of everyday life. All humans experience stressors, although their causes, intensity and duration vary widely. Generally, stress is a term used to refer to a condition where there is mental or bodily tension caused by a physical, mental or emotional factor. Cullen et al. (1985) defined stress as "the psychological discomfort or tension which results from exposure to stressors." Reactions to stress and stressors can include weight loss or gain, family and relationship tension, depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction and a litany of other physical symptoms (Weiten and Lloyd, 2005). Prison employees are often placed in stressful environments where much of the focus on stress has addressed causes and consequences of stress such as role problems/role ambiguity, job dangerousness and the nature of the work itself (Hogan et al., 2009; Lambert, Hogan and Barton, 2002; Lambert, Hogan and Griffin, 2007; Lambert et al., 2009). During the past two decades, research has increased dramatically regarding correctional officers' perceptions and attitudes about their jobs, the inmates they oversee and their interactions with correctional administration. Stress has been associated with a variety of negative consequences, including poor job performance, mental and physical illness, strain in personal relationships and premature aging and death (Cornelius, 1994). Conversely, lower levels of job stress have been linked to positive results such as greater job participation and decreased feelings of role conflict (Grossi and Berg, 1991; Hepburn and Albonetti. 1980; Hogan et al, 2006).

Many elements within the correctional environment contribute to job stress. For instance, Dowden and Tellier (2004) noted that work-related attitudes, demographics and job characteristics were all important variables to consider when examining correctional officer stress. Many studies have placed emphasis on the role that gender plays in correctional officer perceptions of their workplace, including work stress (Carlson, Anson and Thomas, 2003; Cullen et al., 1985; Griffin, 2006; Lambert, Jiang and Hogan, 2008; Lambert et al., 2002; Tewksbury and Collins, 2006). The outcome of these studies has brought mixed results. While some studies found that women have higher levels of work stress (Tewksbury and Collins, 2006), other research indicates that women have higher levels of personal achievement and accomplishment (Carlson et al., 2003). In many cases, male officers take on two jobs to supplement their income. Women, on the other hand, generally may be tasked with childcare as a "second job" and this potentially could cause different job stressors between men and women. This possibly could lead to female correctional officers taking their job as an officer more seriously if it is their only form of employment. On the contrary, a male officer might have additional job security due to a second job. A recent study noted that research specifically focusing on ethnic minorities and female correctional officers is still an area in critical need of additional study (Dowden and Tellier. 2004).

Stress and Correctional Employment

Correctional officers are enmeshed in a unique work environment. Pot example, employment within a correctional institution involves working with hostile "clients," inherent job danger, shift work, low pay, low public perception and mandatory or optional overtime (Glenn, 2001). Moreover, the lead author, a former correctional officer, notes that the correctional environment is often filled with tasks such as counting offenders to ensure they have not escaped or "watching and waiting." These tasks are often perceived by officers as boring and could potentially contribute to their stress levels due to a lack of job variety or involvement. Stressors that are faced by correctional staff can be broken down into three main categories (Keinan and Malach-Pines, 2007):

* Task-oriented stressors--stressors that are related to the work itself;

* Organizational or agency stressors--stressors that are related to the organization such as supervisors or co-workers; and

* Personal stressors--personal issues or personal characteristics of correctional officers.

Task-oriented stressors. Within the base of the literature on correctional officer stress, the most frequently cited task-oriented stressors (those related to the work itself) include role conflict/problems and job danger.

Role conflict/problems. A great deal of emphasis in the literature has focused on the effect that role conflict has on correctional officer stress and job satisfaction (Tewksbury and Higgins. 2006; Lambert et al., 2002). Role conflict could be defined as the struggle that officers engage in to reconcile custodial responsibilities (such as maintaining security by preventing escapes and preventing inmate violence) with their treatment functions (rehabilitation of offenders; Finn, 1998). Cheek and Miller (1983) noted that role conflict was a source of stress that was created by prison officials who constantly changed prison goals, policies and procedures. The evidence strongly suggests that role conflict and role ambiguity have a negative impact on job satisfaction and increase correctional officer work stress (Hogan et al., 2006; Lambert et al., 2002; Tewksbury and Higgins, 2006).

Job danger. Various studies have examined the effect that dangerousness of the job has on work stress. Cullen et al. (1985) and Grossi and Berg (1991) found that job danger had little to no effect on correctional officer job satisfaction. Van Voorhis et al. (1991) also found no relationship between working in a maximum-security facility and job satisfaction. Conversely, Cullen et al. (1985) found that the perceived danger was correlated with high levels of job dissatisfaction. Feelings of danger may derive less from actual assaults, but more from the realization that officers face the continuous possibility of victimization by inmates. This might also explain why job danger is not perceived as a cause of stress but rather as an inherent and unchanging facet of correctional staffs work environment.

Organizational stressors. Research also notes that there are specific organizational stressors (related to the organization itself such as supervisors or co-workers) that impact correctional employees' perceptions of work stress. They include relationships with supervisors and relationships with co-workers.

Relationships with supervisors. Correctional officers may often be at. odds with their supervisors and administration. Not surprisingly, when correctional officers see wardens as more pro-inmate and antagonistic toward correctional officer values, they show higher levels of stress and have more conflicts with the inmate population (Webb and Morris, 2002). Lombardo (1981) reported that correctional employees find inmates to be the least of their problems, instead believing that the prison administration makes work difficult. One officer, for example, noted, "for the guard the work is simple, if only the administration would let him do it" (Lombardo, 1981). Furthermore, Brough and Williams (2007) showed the importance of correctional supervisors in moderating correctional officers' job-related stress. This also coincides with research by Lambert et al. (2008) about trust in supervisors by employees. For example, if a correctional officer is unsure whether the supervisor will keep his or her word, then the correctional officer will probably feel tense, frustrated and stressed. On the other hand, when correctional officers feel that their supervisors show positive concern for them, they have decreased perceptions of work stress and increased levels of job satisfaction (Dial, Thompson and Johnson, 2008).

Relationships with co-workers. Relationships with co-workers also have been found to be an important factor in stress at work. Thus, peer support has been shown to have both positive and negative consequences on employee perceptions of their work environment. For example, Finn (1998) found that 20 percent of staff surveyed felt that their co-workers were their highest cause of stress. An additional study pointed out that some officers may compromise their personal integrity or values to gain peer support and acceptance from their co-workers (Grossi and Berg, 1991). Furthermore, Lombardo (1981) noted that correctional officers often did not have positive interactions with members of their peer group, causing workplace tension. If employees feel that their co-workers care for them, they are less likely to report feelings of stress or job dissatisfaction (Dial and Johnson, 2008). Paoline, Lambert and Hogan (2006) concluded that relationships with co-workers and institutional policies all have significant effects on job stress and satisfaction of correctional staff. The authors of the current study also found that these work environment variables have a far greater magnitude of effects than do personal characteristics of employees.

Personal stressors. The most frequently cited personal or demographic stressors (personal characteristics or issues of the correctional officer) include race and ethnicity, age and correctional experience, and gender.

Race and ethnicity. The vast majority of research on the effect of race and ethnicity on work stress of correctional officers has been inconclusive. Most of the studies suggest that certain regions in the U.S. may have more significant differences between races than a definitive national consensus (Cullen et al., 1985; Jurik and Halemba, 1984; Lambert et al., 2002; Wright and Saylor, 1991). Some of the more recent studies allude to stress and the potential difference between geographic regions. It could be argued that geographic regions in the U.S. have different attitudes about race. Interestingly, of those studies that found a significant relationship between race and job satisfaction, nearly all were studies of Southern correctional staff (Lambert et al., 2002). Research conducted by Owen (2006) and Brough and Williams (2007) show no relationship between race and work stress. Consequently, what is known about the impact of race and ethnicity on correctional officer work stress shows conflicting results.

Age and correctional experience. Interestingly, as with most of the demographic or personal characteristics, most studies find little or no relationship between age and job satisfaction (Camp, Steiger and Batchelder, 1995; Lambert et al., 2002). Few, if any, studies find a relationship between correctional officer stress and age. Research appears to find more port for years of correctional experience affecting levels of stress. Research conducted by Toch and Klofas (1982) supports the opinion that more correctional experience often leads to higher stress levels. Those officers who worked under the more "conservative" custodial regimes are likely to experience frustration and job dissatisfaction due to more "liberal" treatment ideologies being applied. These "older officers" would be more likely to experience role conflict, feel a lack of support from supervisors and have higher levels of work-related illnesses (Toch and Klofas, 1982). VanVoorhis et al. (1991) found that years on the job was positively related to work stress and negatively related to rehabilitative focus. Moreover, Triplett, Mullings and Scarborough (1996) found that those officers who had been on the job longest had reported more work-related stress than newer officers. Therefore, the longer the officers had been employed, the more likely they were to experience role stress.

Gender. The number of women who work in correctional facilities has risen substantially during the past 35 years. As a result, efforts to study and understand the impact women have on correctional institutions also has increased, as have studies that assess the impact gender has on correctional officer stress and job satisfaction (Britton, 1997; Cheeseman, Mullings and Marquart 2001; Griffin, 2006; Griffin, Armstrong and Hepburn, 2005; Home, 1985; Jurik, 1985, 1988; Philliber, 1987; Savicki, Cooley and Gjesvold, 2003; Wells, Colbert and Slate, 2006; Wright and Saylor, 1991; Zimmer, 1986, 1987). The fate of women in correctional careers has been similar to that of their law enforcement sisters. Until the 1970s, women were hired as correctional officers only within women's facilities. Legal cases in the late 1970s finally permitted female entrance into jobs at men's correctional institutions, but they were still to gain acceptance from their male counterparts (Britton, 1997; Cheeseman et al., 2001; Jurik, 1985, 1988; Peterson, 1982). Home (1985) also noted that male correctional officers' negative attitudes toward women in corrections have been the greatest factor hampering the advancement of women, particularly the belief that corrections will always be "man's work." Withrow (1992) adds that women may not be taken seriously and must work twice as hard to receive respect from fellow co-workers, supervisors and inmates. These factors could explain work stress felt by female correctional officers. Women also have been excluded from informal social networking activities (e.g., fishing and hunting), which further ostracize them from their male coworkers and supervisors. This also might hurt female correctional officers' ability to receive promotions, as sometimes promotion considerations are a result of informal rather than formal procedures.

Acker (1992) contended that women may engage in social activities or tolerate sexual harassment to fit into male-organized and male-dominated organizations, causing them stress both at work and in their personal lives. Not surprising, research also concludes that women in corrections are more likely to use sick leave, which negatively impacts evaluation and promotion (Gross et al., 1994). What has not been considered thus far, however, is that female absenteeism often results from family obligations (such as child or elderly care); though not exclusive to women, it could potentially explain why many women are misperceived as not dedicated to their professions.

Conversely, Jurik and Halemba (1984) noted that the gender of correctional officers did not have a significant impact on job stress and that women tended to exhibit many of the same attitudes as their male counterparts. Studies by Camp et al. (1995) and Britton (1997) reported that female correctional officers had higher job satisfaction than their male counterparts. Research by Zimmer (1986) contradicted their findings, however, and concluded that women have higher levels of stress because, in addition to work-related stress, they have little or no peer and supervisory support.

Britton (2003) concluded that women in corrections still face gendered structures embedded with assumptions about the ideal prison or correctional worker--a physically and emotionally strong male. Griffin (2006) found few differences between male and female officers in the effect of workplace stressors on their level of work stress. Work-family conflict proved to have the greatest impact on stress for both male and female officers, whereas concerns regarding organizational support for equal treatment policies affected stress only among male officers.

Due to the mixed results of previous research examining gender differences in correctional officer stress, it is unclear if gender-related stress exists in a correctional setting. The present study seeks to add to what is known about gender, stress and correctional employment and assesses the impact that "being female" has on correctional officer perceptions of work stress in a large Southern correctional agency. It is hypothesized that female correctional officers experience higher levels of work stress than their male counterparts. Despite mixed evidence found in previous research, the current study believes that gender is more significant than other demographic: variables, such as age and race, in explaining work stress.


Sample. No consideration was made to stratify for race, gender or other demographic characteristics. Data were gathered through self-report surveys administered to correctional staff attending annual in-service training for a Southern prison system. Only officers with eight months or more of service who had direct contact with inmates were asked to participate. This region comprised 13 correctional institutions that hold offenders from all custody designations, including a high-security (supermax) facility. A series of seven survey administrations occurred in 2005 during the course of five months. Each participant was surveyed only once and informed that involvement in the survey was completely voluntary. A total of 630 surveys were administered with 501 completed surveys, for a response rate of 79.4 percent. Incomplete surveys with more than two omissions were not included in the data set.

The final sample consisted of 501 correctional officers from a Southern prison system (supervisory personnel were not included). Respondents' age ranged from 18 to 80 years, with an average age of 38.18 years (SD= 12.78). Originally, 16 cases did not provide an answer for age; therefore, mean substitution (M=38.18) was used to account for these missing cases.

Dependent variable: Work stress.

Six items were believed to measure work stress among correctional employees. Using scales from Cullen et at (1985) and Triplett et al. (1996), a six-item scale assessed work stress: "When I am at work I often feel tense or uptight" "A lot of times, my job makes me very frustrated or angry," "There are several aspects of my job that make me upset about things," "I am usually calm or at ease at work," "I don't consider this to be a stressful job" and "My job is worse than those of other people 1 know." Participants responded on a five-point Likert scale: one (strongly disagree) to five (strongly agree). Higher scores denoted higher levels of employee work stress. Reliability of the work stress scale was [alpha] =0.74 (Mean=21.09, SD=4.41).

Independent variables: Task-oriented stressors

Role Conflict Five items were selected from previous work by Cullen et al. (1985) and Triplet! et al. (1996) to measure role conflict. In the current study, role conflict was defined as any situation in which a correctional officer had conflicting job demands such as role ambiguity. Scale items included: "The formal chain of command is not adhered to," "I receive conflicting requests at work from two or more people," "I work on unnecessary tasks or projects on the job," "My job duties and work objectives are unclear to me" and "I lack the authority to carry out my job responsibilities." Participants responded on a five-point Likert scale: one (strongly disagree) to five (strongly agree). High scores were indicative of higher perceptions of role conflict. Reliability of the role conflict: scale was [alpha] =0.63. Although the alpha level for this scale was less than desired, Pallant (2005) suggested that scales with fewer than 10 items may have lower alphas and still be considered reliable (mean= 12.63, SD=3.61).

Job dangerousness. Correctional officers' perception about the danger ousness of their job and work environment was adapted from Toch and Klofas (1982) and Triplett et al. (1996). A resulting five-item scale assessed job dangerousness: "I work in a dangerous job," "My job is more dangerous than other types of jobs," "In my job, a person stands a good chance of getting hurt," "There is not much chance of getting hurt at my job" and "A lot of people that I work with get physically injured in the line of duty." Participants responded on a five-point Likert scale: one (strongly disagree) to five (strongly agree). High scores were indicative of high perceptions of job danger or injury on the job. Range of scores can vary from very little perception of job danger (Total score=5) to very high perceived danger (total score=25). Reliability of the job dangerousness scale demonstrated modest reliability[alpha] =0.70 (Mean=20.79. SD=3.01).

Job satisfaction. Five items were chosen from Cullen et al. (1985) and Grossi and Berg (1991) to characterize employee perceptions of job satisfaction: "All in all how satisfied would you say you are with your job?" "If you were free to go to any type of job you wanted, what would your choice be?" "Knowing what you know now, if you had to decide all over again whether to take the job you now have, what would you decide?" "How well would you say this job measures up to the sort of job you wanted when you took it?" "If a good friend told you they were interested in working in a job like yours what would you tell them?" In this scale, response items and values varied by question. Questions 2 through 4 contained separate response items with a value ranging from 1 to 3. Question 2 response choices were "Prefer some other job to what I have now," "Retire and not work at all" or "Keep my present job." Question 3 response choices were "Definitely not take this job." "Have second thoughts about taking the job" or "Decide without hesitation to take the same job." Question 4 response choices were "Not very much like the job I wanted," "Somewhat like the job I wanted" or "Very much like the job I wanted." Question 1 had a response scale ranging from one (not at all satisfied) to four (satisfied). Therefore, to account for the variability in response sets, each question was standardized using z scores. Scale scores ranged from -7.34 to 8.76, with higher scores indicating higher levels of job satisfaction. The reliability of the scale was [alpha] =0.81 (Mean=10.43. SD=2.80).

Independent variables: Organizational stressors

Supervisor Support Perceived supervisor support was assessed using a five-item scale adapted from Cullen et al. (1985), Toch and Klofas (1982) and Triplett et al. (1996). Five statements asked respondents about the perceived level of social support from supervisory staff: "My supervisors often encourage the people I work with if they are doing well," "My supervisors often blame others when things go wrong that are possibly not the fault of those blamed," "My supervisors often encourage us to do the job in a way that we would be proud of," "Supervisors care more about inmates than they do correctional officers" and "Most supervisors are concerned about correctional officer morale." Participants responded on a five-point Likert scale: one (strongly disagree) to five (strongly agree). High scores were indicative of higher levels of perceived supervisor support. Reliability of the Supervisory Support Scale was [alpha] =0.76 (Mean= 15.04, SD= 4.06).

Peer support To examine the construct of peer support in the correctional setting, five items were chosen to measure perceived support from co-workers. Adapted from Cullen et al. (1985), Toch and Klofas (1982) and Triplett et al. (1996), level of peer support was assessed from five items: "My fellow officers compliment someone who has done their job well," "My fellow officers blame each other when things go wrong," "I am able to talk about work-related problems with my co-workers," "I am able to talk about nonwork-related problems with my co-workers" and "My fellow officers help one another when someone needs to improve their performance." Participants responded on a five-point Likert scale: one (strongly disagree) to five (strongly agree). High scores were indicative of high levels of perceived co-worker support. Modest internal consistency of the scale was shown ([alpha] =0.60). As stated previously, because scales with fewer than 10 items can have lower reliability levels, along with the belief that low peer support may potentially increase work stress, the scale was found to be beneficial to this study (Mean=14.69, SD=3.24).

Personal Stressors

Gender. Participants were asked to indicate whether they were male or female. Although males (N=333), rather than females (N= 168), represented the largest category (66.5 percent versus 33.5 percent, respectively), males were chosen as the reference group, since females are the focus of this study. Therefore, gender was recoded as "0" for male and "1" for female. Three cases did not provide an answer for gender; therefore, for the missing categories the model category was used, which was male.

Race (control variable). Participants were asked to classify their race/ethnicity as Caucasian, African American, Hispanic or other. For ease of interpretation, the Hispanic (N=30) and Other (N=25) categories were combined into one category identified as other. Therefore, race was divided into three categories: White, Black and Other. Race was then recoded into the three categories and coded 1 if the participant indicated membership of the racial group and 0 if he or she was not. In this sample, 68.3 percent of participants were white (N=342), 20.8 percent were black (N=104) and 11.0 percent were other (N=55). Seven (1.4 percent) employees chose not to provide a response for the ethnicity question. For the seven cases where a response for ethnicity was missing, White was substituted as the model category.

Months of service (control variable). Because employees in the correctional environment typically discuss length of service in terms of months, participants were asked to report the months of service for their agency. Mean substitution was used for 16 cases that did not provide an answer (M=92.89). However, for analysis and interpretation, months of service was recalculated into years of service. Years of service ranged from less than a year to 31 years. The average years of service for this sample was 7.74 years (SD=6.27).

Bivariate results. Independent samples t-test and bivariate statistics were performed in order to compare differences among variables by gender (see Table I). Significant differences were found between males and females for role conflict, peer support, job pay, years of service, age, race, education level and work stress. For instance, males reported significantly higher mean levels of role conflict (12.89 versus 12.10; p<0.05), perceived peer support (14.97 versus 14.14; p<0.01), dissatisfaction with job income (1.9.95 versus 19.29; p<0.05) and years of service (8.14 versus 6.95; p<0.05). In addition, females reported significantly younger mean ages than their male co-workers (M=36.46 versus 39.04, p<0.05). Moreover, a higher percentage of males reported being white (73.9 percent versus 60 percent, p<0.01), whereas a higher percentage of women reported being black (30 percent versus 16 percent, p<0.001). Similarly, higher percentages of males reported having some college exposure or college degree (61 percent versus 52 percent; p<0.05), whereas higher percentages of females reported having only a GED or high school education (48 percent versus 39 percent; p<0.05). Most important, female correctional workers reported significantly higher mean levels of work stress than male correctional workers (21.81 versus 20.73; p < 0.01).
Table 1. Means and Standard Deviations Comparing Male
and Female Correctional Workers
                       Males          Females
                      (N=333)         (N=168)

Correlates              Mean       S.D.     Mean       S.D.

Role Conflict          12.89 *    3.60      12.10 *    3.58

Job Dangerousness       20.82     2.92      20.74      3.19

Job Satisfaction        10.44     2.82      10.40      2.76

Supervisor Support      15.21     3.83      14.70      4.49

Peer Support          14.97 **    3.14      14.14 **   3.38

Job Pay                19.95 *    3.10      19.29 *    3.25

Years of Service        8.14 *    6.57       6.95 *    5.56
Dependent Variable

Work Stress           20.73 **    4.27      21.81 **   4.59
Control Variables

Age                    39.04 *   12.79      36.46 *    12.61

White (A)               0.73 **   0.45       0.60 **    0.49

Black (A)               0.16 ***  0.37       0.30 ***   0.46

Other (A)                0.11     0.31       0.11       0.31

College Exposure (A)    0.61 *    0.49       0.52 *     0.50

GED or HS (A)           0.39 *    0.49       0.48 *     0.50

Good Health (A)          0.78     0.41       0.75       0.43

Bad Health (A)           0.22     0.41       0.25       0.43
Source: Southern Correctional Officer Stress Data
*p [less than or equal to] 0.05, **p [less than or equal to]
0.01, ***p [less than or equal to] 0.001
S.D. = Standard Deviation
A = Dichotomous Variable

Regression results. Hierarchical multiple linear regression models were used to predict the impact that gender had on work stress in comparison with other independent variables. These variables were selected due to their importance in much of the literature on correctional officers and occupational stress. Although hierarchical linear modeling is the most appropriate technique for nested models, especially since the 13 institutions in the sample have different cultures and environments, institution codes were not recorded. Therefore, hierarchical linear modeling could not be used in this study.

For the regression, four models were run and included task-oriented stressors, organizational stressors, personal stressors and control variables that were believed to impact work stress based on previous research. Results of the regression models are presented in Table 2. For the first model (R2=0.039), four demographic variables were included: age, race, education and health. Model 2 (R2=0.309) replicated model 1 and added four task-oriented stressors: role conflict, job dangerousness, job satisfaction and years of service. Model 3 (R2=0.352) replicated model 2 and added three organizational stressors believed to impact work stress: supervisor support, peer sup port and job pay. Finally, model 4 (R2=0.366) replicated model 3 and added gender as the last predictor. Overall, model 4 was significant and explained 36.6 percent of the variance in work stress (F(13, 487)=21,62, p<0.001). The variable of greatest impact on work stress in model 4 was job satisfaction ( = 0.271, p 0.001).
Table 2. Multiple Linear Regression Estimates for Correctional
Work Stress
Correlates     Model 1  Model 2     Model 3         Model 4

Intercept       23.423   12.044        17.417        17.072
               (0.702)  (1.456)       (1.957)       (1.941)

Role Conflict             0.275  ***    0.157  **     0.180
                        (0.049)       (0.052)       (0.052)

Job                       0.298  ***    0.274  ***    0.272
                        (0.057)       (0.056)       (0.056)

Job                      -0.393  ***   -0.311  ***   -03.14
                        (0.049)       (0.049)       (0.049)
                                       -0.219  ***   -0.207

Supervisor                            (0.051)       (0.051)
                                       -0.102        -0.083

Peer Support                          (0.057)       (0.056)
                                        0.062         0.081

Job Pay                               (0.053)       (0.053)
Female (A)                                            1.136

Age             -0.059   -0.007        -0.002         0.000
               (0.016)  (0.016)        (0016)       (0.015)

Years of                 -0.036        -0.037        -0.032
                        (0.031)       (0.030)       (0.030)

White - Ref.

Black  (A)      -0.608   -0.233        -0.246        -0.432
               (0.498)  (0.431)       (0.420)       (0.420)

Other (A)       -0.911   -0.783        -0.813        -0.822
               (0.641)  (0.546)       (0.532)       (0.527)

[R.sub.2]        0.039    0.309         0.352         0.366
Adjusted         0.029    0.296         0.336         0.349
F                4.003   24.404  ***   22.127  ***   21 622
Role Conflict  ***
Job            ***
Job            ***
Peer Support
Job Pay
Female (A)     ***
Years of
White - Ref.
Black  (A)
Other (A)
F              ***
Ref. = Reference Category A = Dichotomous Variable Standard Errors in
Total N=501 *p [less than or equal to] 0.05. **p [less than or equal to]
0.01. ***p[less than or equal to] 0.001 Source: Southern Correctional
Officer Stress Data

In model 4, six variables were found to be significant predictors of work stress: role conflict, job dangerousness, job satisfaction, supervisor support, gender and bad health. For example, for every unit increase in perceived role conflict, there was a 0.180 increase in work stress, controlling for all other variables (p<0.001). Correctional officers who received conflicting job demands were more likely to report higher levels of overall work stress due to increased role conflict. In addition, for every unit increase in perceived job danger, there was a 0.272 increase in work stress, controlling for all other variables (p<0.001). Those employees with high perceptions of job danger or injury were more likely to report higher levels of work stress. Moreover, for every unit increase in job satisfaction, there was a 0.314 decrease in perceived work stress, controlling for all other variables (p<0.001). Therefore, finding an inverse relationship that higher levels of job satisfaction may serve as a buffer for occupational stress. Furthermore, for every unit increase in perceived supervisor support, there was a 0.207 decrease in work stress, controlling for all other variables (p<0.001). Thus, these results suggest that high levels of social support from supervisory staff decreased the perception of work stress. Finally, those participants reporting "bad" health, had a 0.940 increase in work stress compared with those in good health, controlling for all other variables (p<0.05). Therefore, those correctional officers reporting fair or poor health were more likely to report higher levels of occupational stress than those reporting good health.

It is important to note that in all four models the variables role conflict, job dangerousness, job satisfaction, perceived supervisor support and bad health were significant. This indicates that these variables in particular significantly impact perceptions of work stress for correctional officers and are worthy of further study. Finally, being female resulted in a 1.136 increase in perceived work stress, accounting for all other variables (p<0.001). Therefore, female correctional officers were more likely to report higher levels of occupational stress compared with male employees. Thus, these results suggest that gender does play a role in correctional officers' perceptions of work stress.

Discussion and Conclusion

Various studies conducted during the past few decades yield mixed results about the impact that gender plays in correctional employee stress. The results of this study point to the importance of gender on perceptions of correctional employment, particularly work stress. While this study found a small difference between males and females, it supports the notion by Dowden and Tellier (2004) that gender continues to be an area of correctional officer stress that should be studied further. Gender is the only demographic variable that is a significant predictor of work stress and has comparable predictive ability with variables such as perceived supervisory support and role conflict. While role conflict, job danger and job satisfaction are significant predictors in correctional officer work stress, they are not the specific focus of this article. This study may challenge the belief that women today are not feeling the levels of "stress" working in the prison environment that women did 15 years ago (Carlson et al., 2003). It also contradicts Griffin (2006), who found few differences between male and female correctional officers' feelings of work stress. Even with the onset of more female staff present in men's correctional institutions, women may still be facing unique challenges. As noted by Farkas (1999), men and women have unique styles of handling offender supervision. For example, the males in the study indicated that women were far more lenient and less aggressive, while women viewed their approach as more service oriented (Farkas, 1999). While the Farkas study was not aimed at assessing stress in correctional officers, it does point to potential differences between men and women and the way in which they perceive stress in their work environments.

In studies of women and work, Acker (1992) alludes to the notion that organizations are structured by men for men, and that as women enter these establishments they are subject to gendered processing, which includes the production of gender divisions. Gender divisions produce men at the top of the hierarchy with women being overrepresented at lower levels within an organization. These patterns are then recreated and perpetuated through history and organizational tradition (Cohn, 1985). Women in correctional careers may suffer from an organization that was not created for them and perpetuates negative attitudes toward women in traditionally male-dominated work. Gendering in organizations can also involve symbolism that continues the belief that good managers have male qualities (e.g., dominant, aggressive, decisive) and that women possess negative managerial qualities (e.g., emotional, weak, frail). Essentially, as noted by Britton (2003), women are still facing barriers to promotion and supervisory positions. Tokenism, the practice of hiring or appointing a token number of females in order to deflect criticism or comply with affirmative action rules, may still be in effect as some agencies have large numbers of female correctional officers but far fewer female supervisors and wardens. Women also may be perceived by supervisors as individuals who cannot be trusted, either due to their family obligations, or a perception on the part of supervisors that they will be absent more than male officers, even if this is not the case (Lambert and Hogan, 2007; Lambert et al., 2008).

These organizational differences might cause women to feel pressure to conform to job characteristics as viewed and exhibited by their male counterparts. While Carlson et al. (2003) found that women derive greater satisfaction and a sense of purpose from their employment, it may come at a price. Farkas (1999) concluded that women were still in need of assistance in being fully integrated into a male-dominated environment. It could be concluded that gender does matter and that men and women are inherently different in how they experience their jobs, particularly in a field that has been long dominated by men (Acker, 1992; Britton, 2003; Martinussen, Richardsen and Burke, 2007; Patterson, 2003). While both men and women can do an exceptional job in correctional facilities, strategies that help correctional staff alleviate stress and grow as employees may need to be gender specific, or at a minimum address the unique way that men and women experience work. This could include training on how to deal with cross-gender supervision, training on overall health and well-being and/or training from female officers and supervisors who have experience and offer positive coping strategies.

Correctional agencies and their employees might benefit from specific stress management training for officers, whether male or female, to better address workplace stress, especially since few correctional agencies offer stress management training. This would be a first step in addressing occupational stress and may also show officers that administrators are aware of the issue and are making steps to alleviate it (Dial and Johnson, 2008; Dial et al, 2008; Lambert el al., 2009). Training might also be offered on gender issues and how men and women experience their work environment differently. While this agency and most others conduct yearly sexual harassment training, it could be augmented to address gender issues beyond that of sexual discrimination and harassment such as respect for both genders and recognizing the contribution that both can and do make to a correctional institution. Farkas (1999) noted that administrators can and should promote cooperation and respect for officers. This notion of supervisory care has become an important and emerging issue in correctional officer stress (Dial and Johnson, 2008; Dial et al., 2008; Lambert et al., 2009). Agencies also might want to consider gender-specific training to address different stressors and coping mechanisms such as shift lag and the effect that correctional employment can have on one's personal life. Future research could better assess the types and intensity of stressors felt by correctional employees.

This study is exploratory in nature; therefore, further research on the elements involved in gender and correctional stress would benefit not only correctional agencies, but other criminal justice agencies as well. Future studies should also assess the differences between how men and women interact in the correctional environment. It could be argued that one stressor might lead to another, which might lead to burnout and job dissatisfaction. As a result, path modeling might also be a way to better unravel how stressors impact correctional officers.

One of the limitations of this study is that, the research was conducted in a Southern prison system. Therefore, the results of this study are important but should not be generalized to all regions of the U.S. A study that incorporates other regions of the U.S. and compares gender differences among correctional officers would be an important addition to the literature and may explain why gender and race are different in particular areas of the U.S. Additionally, the use of a purposive sample did not include correctional officers with less than eight months of service, as these individuals were not required to attend in-service training. Moreover, low reliability of some of the variables (i.e., role conflict, peer support and job pay) warrants caution in the interpretation related to these variables. Although the study has limitations, the empirical findings have potential policy implications.

Corrections is a people business that often requires intense and frequent interactions with offenders. The synergistic effects of stressors associated with working in corrections are exhibited in a variety of physical and mental symptoms. Correctional executives and immediate supervisors who ignore these effects will be inevitably faced with lower levels of employee morale and higher levels of employee absenteeism, poor health and turnover. It also should be noted that stress is a multifaceted and complex problem. To imply that gender is an exclusive cause of stress would be foolish. It is, however, an important piece of the puzzle that must be addressed if correctional agencies wish to reduce stress in their employees' lives and increase job satisfaction. Training at preservice and in-service could facilitate how and what types of stress will be experienced by correctional officers and what are effective ways of alleviating and diminishing it. As noted by Dowden and Tellier (2004), the influence of gender on correctional officer stress is still an area in need of study. One might conclude that due to the mixed results of studies during the past two decades, gender is indeed an issue that should be addressed when discussing correctional officer stress. Truly, the impact of gender on correctional employment cannot be overlooked.

Within the base of the literature on correctional officer stress, the most frequently cited task-oriented stressors (those related to the work itself) include role conflict/problems and job danger.


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Kelly Ann Cheeseman, Ph.D., is associate professor of criminal justice in the Department of Sociology Anthropology and Criminal Justice at Messiah College. Wendi Goodlin-Fahncke is an assistant professor in the Criminal Justice Department at University of Toledo.
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Title Annotation:Women Working Within the Walls:
Author:Cheeseman, Kelly Ann; Goodlin-Fahncke, Wendi
Publication:Corrections Compendium
Date:Jun 22, 2011
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