Leadership skills development as a critical factor for occupational stress reduction in correctional settings

Occupational stress and prisons

The workplace is one of the critical environments affecting people’s mental and physical health. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness in all sectors of employment that work-related stress has undesirable consequences for the health and safety of individuals and, consequently, the health of their organisations.

Prisons are ‘unique’ working environments as very few other institutions are charged with the primary duty of supervising and securing a population that can be unwilling, potentially violent, and who may have unpredictable reactions. While criminologists had long understood the adverse effects of the prison setting on detainees, not much is acknowledged on how prison might impact those for whom it is a place of work. So far, the literature indicates that working in correctional settings is a hard and often stressful occupation. The traditionally closed system and the environment of constant pressure lead to the degradation of the detention conditions, conditioning everyone living inside prison walls. This situation creates an “immature” coping between prison staff and inmates, which fosters high levels of stress and sometimes potentially aggressive and harmful behaviours. Also, a poor working atmosphere (lack of loyalty and cooperativeness) and inadequate organisational structures adversely affect job satisfaction and can initiate stress.

Correctional personnel often experience role conflicts when attempting to reconcile their custodial responsibilities (i.e., maintaining security) and their treatment functions (i.e., facilitating the inmates’ rehabilitation). These and other constraints, which are relatively specific to the prison environment, negatively affect the staff’s physical and mental health, causing high levels of anxiety, burnout, and depression.

Besides having a dangerous, complex and stressful occupation, prison staff face several social problems – such as poor social status, role conflicts, demanding social contacts (with inmates, colleagues, supervisors and governors) – and gender issues. Generally speaking, prison staff are usually held in lower regard than other individuals working in the criminal justice field, such as the police and other law enforcement agencies. This fact is often reflected in the prison staff’s income, which is quite low in various countries. Moreover, the prison staff’s role is somewhat disregarded or forgotten by society, partly due to the little public knowledge about prisons and their working environments. These factors not only enhance the stress experienced by the staff, but also have a negative impact on job satisfaction and, therefore, the quality of work delivered.

The effects of stress on prison staff are manifold and include increasing medical problems, burnout, alcohol and drug use, internal withdrawal and the inability to come to terms with traumatic experiences of daily work (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder). Although all helping professions recognise burnout as a problem, prison staff has an increased risk of burnout due to the extreme tension between custodial responsibilities (i.e., maintaining security, such as preventing escapes and inmates’ fights) and their treatment functions (i.e., helping inmates in their rehabilitation process).

These developments usually lead to high turnover, absenteeism, early retirement, or retirement with physical and mental problems. Moreover, a study carried out by Stack & Tsoudis indicated that the risk of suicide among prison officers was 39% higher than in the rest of the working-age population. Promoting the health of staff members is especially important to guarantee long-term benefits to society since it can considerably reduce personnel costs and improve the quality of the work developed with inmates.

 

The role of leadership

Several studies recognise that leadership affects the individual well-being of any working adult. The quality of leadership has been linked to an array of outcomes within occupational health psychology: positive outcomes such as psychological well-being, and organisational safety climate; and negative outcomes, including employee stress, cardiovascular disease, workplace incidents and injuries, and health-related behaviours such as alcohol abuse. Virtually every outcome variable in the field of occupational health psychology is empirically related to organisational leadership.

Moreover, research suggests that improving organisational leadership leads to improved safety outcomes and enhanced employee well-being. Despite this data, discussions of occupational health and safety interventions only rarely consider leadership training within their core.

 

The use of serious games for leadership development

Game-based leadership development is to be part of the future of education and training. For adult educators, this means that over the next ten years, they will be facilitating groups of millennial trainees who are already accustomed to learning from games, either digitally or traditionally.

There is a clear need to upscale correctional trainers’ knowledge of leadership skills and its inherent much-needed competencies, so they can start familiarising themselves with thematic games on the topic, fostering its implementation in training practice and programmes. The use of leadership development games has shown that as the learner’s self-efficacy increases, pattern recognition and response time and decision-making skills improve, as well as the learner’s overall positive emotions related to learning behaviours. Games allow for an active transfer-of-learning opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge to practical experiences and activities. Learners can make mistakes and take risks in a safe, protected environment surrounded by others who support them and can eventually offer assistance. Educators can supply direct, immediate feedback to learners as the game proceeds, and everyone will be able to reflect on the learning outcomes.

 

Leadership development for occupational stress reduction in correctional settings strategic partnership

The European Commission funds the LEADCOR strategic partnership through the ERASMUS+ Programme[1] and seeks to reduce occupational stress levels inside prisons by enhancing the leadership competencies of management and frontline staff (e.g., prison officers, educational staff, psychologists, social workers), contributing to the mitigation of tensions among management and staff, between staff, among staff and their families, and between staff and inmates.

LEADCOR aims to raise awareness on the importance of leadership and the negative impact of occupational stress in the daily life of prisons, as well as to develop and test tools and instruments for prison management and line-level staff to assess leadership competencies, stress levels and occupational well-being. Additionally, it aims to develop and test a corrections leadership game (digital and board game) to support prison staff leadership training, while implementing a leadership-based training programme for prison management and frontline staff (b-learning course and Train the Trainer course).

The LEADCOR strategic partnership includes multi-agency and cross-sectoral elements (four prison administrations, two trade union representatives from the sector, one university recognised for its expertise in correctional research, and a research- and consultancy-based private company active in prison training methodologies and prison innovation) aiming to co-jointly develop innovative and integrated approaches to teaching and learning. The consortium is represented by four European countries, geographically covering Southern (Portugal), Western (Belgium), Central (Germany)  and South-eastern (Romania) Europe .

 

If you would like to involve your organisation in the LEADCOR strategic partnership, please join us at www.leadership-corrections.org

 

[1] Strategic Partnerships are transnational projects designed to develop and share innovative practices and promote cooperation, peer learning, and exchanges of experiences in the fields of education, training, and youth. See more at https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/opportunities/strategic-partnerships-field-education-training-and-youth_en

 

References

Cox, T., Griffiths, A. J., Barlow, C. A., Randall, R. J., Thomson, L. E., & Rial-Gonzalez, E. (2000) Organisational interventions for work stress: A risk management approach (Health and Safety Executive Contract Research Report No. 286/2000). Sudbury, UK: HSE Books.

Armstrong, G., & Griffin, M. (2004). Does the job matter? Comparing correlates of stress among treatment and correctional staff in prisons. Journal of Criminal Justice, 32(6), 577-592.

Crawley, E. (2011). Managing prisoners, managing emotion: The dynamics of age, culture and identity. In I. Loader, S. Karstedt, & H. Strang (Eds.), Emotions, Crime and Justice (pp. 102-121). London, UK: Sage

Regan. S (2009). Occupational Stress and Coping among Irish Prison Officers: An Exploratory Examination. Dublin, IE:  Greenhouse Press.

Bögemann, H. (2007). Promoting health and managing stress among prison employees. In L. Møller, H. Stöver, R. Jürgens, A. Gatherer & H. Nikogosian (Eds.), Health in prisons (pp. 171-179). Copenhagen, DK: Worlk Health Organization.

Coyle, A. (2002). Book Review: The prison officer. Punishment & Society, 4(4), 491–495.

Stack S., Steven, J., & Tsoudis, O. (1997). Suicide risk among correctional officers: A logistic regression analysis. Archives of Suicide Research, 3(3), 183-186.

Gilbreath, B., & Benson, P. G. (2004). The contribution of supervisor behaviour to employee psychological well-being. Work & Stress, 18(3), 255 -266.

Arnold, K. A., Turner, N., Barling, J., Kelloway, E. K., & McKee, M. C. (2007). Transformational leadership and psychological well-being: The mediating role of meaningful work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12(3), 193–203.

Zohar, D. (2002). Modifying supervisory practices to improve subunit safety: A leadership-based intervention model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(1), 156–163.

Offermann, L. R., & Hellmann, P. S. (1996). Leadership behavior and subordinate stress: A 360″ view. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 1(4), 382–390.

Kivimäki M., Ferrie J.E., Brunner, E., Head, J., Shipley, M. J., Vahtera, J., & Marmot, M. G. (2005). Justice at Work and Reduced Risk of Coronary Heart Disease Among Employees: The Whitehall II Study. Archives of Internal Medice, 165(19), 2245–2251.

Wager, N., Feldman, G., & Hussey, T. (2003). The effect on ambulatory blood pressure of working under favorably and unfavorably perceived supervisors. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 60(7), 468-474.

Barling, J., Loughlin, C., & Kelloway, K. (2002). Development and Test of a Model Linking Safety-Specific Transformational Leadership and Occupational Safety. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(3), 488-496.

Kelloway, K., Mullen, J., & Francis, L. (2006). Divergent effects of transformational and passive leadership on employee safety. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 11(1), 76-86.

Mullen, J., & Kelloway, K. (2009). Safety leadership: A longitudinal study of the effects of transformational leadership on safety outcomes. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 82(2), 253 – 272.

Bamberger, P. A., & Bacharach, S. B. (2006). Abusive supervision and subordinate problem drinking: Taking resistance, stress and subordinate personality into account. Human Relations, 59(6), 723–752.

Mullen, J., Kelloway, K., & Teed, M. (2011). Inconsistent leadership style as a predictor of safety behavior. Work & Stress, 25(1), 41-54.

McKee, M., & Kelloway, E.K. (2009, May). Leading to wellbeing. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the European Academy of Work and Organizational Psychology, Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Burke, Michael & Chan-Serafin, S. & Salvador, Regina & Smith, Alexis & Sarpy, Sue. (2007). The role of national culture and organizational climate in safety training effectiveness. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology. 1-20.

Baltasar, J. (2013). Be First. Lisbon, PT: Chiado Editora.

Correia, J. (2016). Be Leader – Gamification: Transformar a liderança num jogo. Lisbon, PT: Edições Vieira da Silva.

Squire, K. (2006). From content to context: Videogames as designed experience. Educational Research, 35(8), 19-29.

Cox, T., Griffiths, A. J., Barlow, C. A., Randall, R. J., Thomson, L. E., & Rial-Gonzalez, E. (2000) Organisational interventions for work stress: A risk management approach (Health and Safety Executive Contract Research Report No. 286/2000). Sudbury, UK: HSE Books.

Armstrong, G., & Griffin, M. (2004). Does the job matter? Comparing correlates of stress among treatment and correctional staff in prisons. Journal of Criminal Justice, 32(6), 577-592.

Crawley, E. (2011). Managing prisoners, managing emotion: The dynamics of age, culture and identity. In I. Loader, S. Karstedt, & H. Strang (Eds.), Emotions, Crime and Justice (pp. 102-121). London, UK: Sage

Regan. S (2009). Occupational Stress and Coping among Irish Prison Officers: An Exploratory Examination. Dublin, IE:  Greenhouse Press.

Bögemann, H. (2007). Promoting health and managing stress among prison employees. In L. Møller, H. Stöver, R. Jürgens, A. Gatherer & H. Nikogosian (Eds.), Health in prisons (pp. 171-179). Copenhagen, DK: Worlk Health Organization.

Coyle, A. (2002). Book Review: The prison officer. Punishment & Society, 4(4), 491–495.

Stack S., Steven, J., & Tsoudis, O. (1997). Suicide risk among correctional officers: A logistic regression analysis. Archives of Suicide Research, 3(3), 183-186.

Gilbreath, B., & Benson, P. G. (2004). The contribution of supervisor behaviour to employee psychological well-being. Work & Stress, 18(3), 255 -266.

Arnold, K. A., Turner, N., Barling, J., Kelloway, E. K., & McKee, M. C. (2007). Transformational leadership and psychological well-being: The mediating role of meaningful work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12(3), 193–203.

Zohar, D. (2002). Modifying supervisory practices to improve subunit safety: A leadership-based intervention model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(1), 156–163.

Offermann, L. R., & Hellmann, P. S. (1996). Leadership behavior and subordinate stress: A 360″ view. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 1(4), 382–390.

Kivimäki M., Ferrie J.E., Brunner, E., Head, J., Shipley, M. J., Vahtera, J., & Marmot, M. G. (2005). Justice at Work and Reduced Risk of Coronary Heart Disease Among Employees: The Whitehall II Study. Archives of Internal Medice, 165(19), 2245–2251.

Wager, N., Feldman, G., & Hussey, T. (2003). The effect on ambulatory blood pressure of working under favorably and unfavorably perceived supervisors. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 60(7), 468-474.

Barling, J., Loughlin, C., & Kelloway, K. (2002). Development and Test of a Model Linking Safety-Specific Transformational Leadership and Occupational Safety. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(3), 488-496.

Kelloway, K., Mullen, J., & Francis, L. (2006). Divergent effects of transformational and passive leadership on employee safety. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 11(1), 76-86.

Mullen, J., & Kelloway, K. (2009). Safety leadership: A longitudinal study of the effects of transformational leadership on safety outcomes. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 82(2), 253 – 272.

Bamberger, P. A., & Bacharach, S. B. (2006). Abusive supervision and subordinate problem drinking: Taking resistance, stress and subordinate personality into account. Human Relations, 59(6), 723–752.

Mullen, J., Kelloway, K., & Teed, M. (2011). Inconsistent leadership style as a predictor of safety behavior. Work & Stress, 25(1), 41-54.

McKee, M., & Kelloway, E.K. (2009, May). Leading to wellbeing. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the European Academy of Work and Organizational Psychology, Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Burke, Michael & Chan-Serafin, S. & Salvador, Regina & Smith, Alexis & Sarpy, Sue. (2007). The role of national culture and organizational climate in safety training effectiveness. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology. 1-20.

Baltasar, J. (2013). Be First. Lisbon, PT: Chiado Editora.

Correia, J. (2016). Be Leader – Gamification: Transformar a liderança num jogo. Lisbon, PT: Edições Vieira da Silva.

Squire, K. (2006). From content to context: Videogames as designed experience. Educational Research, 35(8), 19-29.

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Tiago Leitão is a board member at IPS_Innovative Prison Systems, Board President at Aproximar, executive director of Knowledge Systems Romania and EaSI – European Association for Social Innovation. He holds a social work degree and a Master of Business Administration from The Lisbon MBA. Tiago has 15 years of professional experience working as a social worker, consultant, developer and manager (projects’ and organisations’) in the field of criminal justice systems, management consultancy, social innovation, social reintegration and knowledge transference. Tiago leads several innovative projects, concept design and management in prison innovation, social economy and entrepreneurship and delivers consultancy in social business plans, strategic organisational plan, education, training and mentoring

 

 

Alexandra Gomes is a Consultant and Project Manager at IPS. She holds both a bachelor and master’s degree in Criminology. Currently, she is involved in the design, implementation and management of innovative projects in the field of offenders’ rehabilitation and reintegration and Juvenile justice namely: PPROMPT, Coding-OUT, RE[ENTER], BLEEP, AWARE, BriSaR, ActiveGames4Change, CCJ4C, LEADCOR and VRforDrugRehabilitation. Furthermore, Alexandra has a certificated mentoring course, within the scope of M4All training programme, focused on ex-offenders’ case management and, therefore, she is currently mentoring ex-offenders in a community organisation.

 

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