After the Webinar: Organizational Stress and Officer Wellness. Q&A with the Presenters

Webinar Presenters Dr. Karen L. Amendola and Maria Valdovinos Olson answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Organizational Stress and Officer Wellness. Here are just a few of their responses.


Audience Question: Is climate that attributed to stress like political climate in an organization?

Karen L. Amendola: Well, maybe I’ll start with that one, that’s an excellent question. Climate is an all-encompassing term in this context. So, yes, political climate would be part of that climate. It would also be the supervisory climate, the peer support climate, and the resource climate. So, climate is a very broad-based thing, but I think your point about the political aspects of climate is very much organizational stressors, just like community or media. Stressors on individuals would be. And again, we talked a little bit about favoritism and those types of issues. But there are many other kinds of political issues associated with sort of jockeying for position when new leaders come in and at all kinds of other things. The political climate of the city or the town as well. So, I hope I’m addressing what you’re asking about here, but if not, please, feel free to type in a follow-up question.


Audience Question: Would you consider legislative changes to law enforcement to be organizational or are they operational? So, for example, eliminating probable cause for traffic stops. Where does that fall? Or where do these changes fall? 

Maria Valdovinos Olson: I can take that one. So, I do think that they tie into organizational stressors, because the police organizations or corrections organizations are going to have to respond to those legislative changes, and they’re going to respond in the form of changes in policy, internal policies, and standard operating procedures, which if they are changing frequently, can be a source of stress for employees. If they’re not communicated clearly enough, can be a source of stress for employees. So definitely, I do think that they fall in the category of organizational stressors.

Karen L. Amendola: And I would add to that as well that it can also be an organizational stressor for the leadership of that agency, especially if it’s an unfunded legislative mandate.


Audience Question: What does internal justice mean, I’m assuming it’s internal justice or internal procedural justice? Could you kind of clarify those terms for us? 

Karen L. Amendola: Sure, well, this is something that grows out of a lot of psychological research and in the business literature on organizational science. It’s really sort of a play on the term organizational justice climate. So, internal justice… many of us talk about procedural justice, right? Officers should treat the community with respect but hardly expect to do that if you’re not treating your own personnel with respect and dignity, giving them an opportunity for voice, and being transparent to the extent possible.

It’s just like when you get on an airplane, I hate to use the same old cliche, but, they say if the oxygen, that oxygen masks are located overhead, be sure to put yours on before you help anybody else. How can we be sending officers out and admonishing them to, to act with procedural justice if they, in fact, don’t feel that there’s organizational justice? In fact, NPIs engaged in another study were just kicking off to replicate an earlier study done in Seattle to look at how internal procedural justice may actually translate to external justice in much of the psychological literature on modeling of behavior and role modeling. It has been demonstrated that how you treat people internally often does translate to customers, or, in this case, community. Much of that research has happened in the business and industrial psychology literature, and really comes from these theoretical perspectives on social learning, how people learn, and how people, if you’re treated poorly, and you don’t have some kind of intervention after that, and you may end up treating other people poorly.


Audience Question: Do studies like this look at the civilian side of working for law enforcement agencies, you know, people who don’t go to the scene or high-stress positions? So, in other words, who are the studies studying? A better way of saying it, is it solely just sworn officers? Or is it from all across all job types within an agency? And are there differences between those groups, or do we know? 

Maria Valdovinos Olson: This particular study is focused on sworn officers. There isn’t a whole lot. So, last year I was working on revising some surveys that were aimed at capturing officer perceptions, and a number of different issues within the policing organization. And as part of that, we developed an instrument that is specifically focused on non-sworn personnel. So, we have that now, and we can use it in a future study. There really wasn’t anything available that I could find that focused on non-sworn civilian personnel. So, it is definitely an overlooked component in the policing research on organizational stressors. I don’t know, Karen, if you’re familiar with any others, but that was definitely… like I was surprised, to find a dearth of literature and also measures that were available. So, with this instrument, what we did is we adapted the measures that we do have for officers for a non-sworn population.

Karen L. Amendola: Yes, and I can expand upon that. Yes. For the purposes of this study, we’re focusing on sworn personnel. This is what we call a statistical power issue. We need to have enough people to be able to understand the sworn model first. It doesn’t mean that civilian personnel are not important. Maria alluded to some of the surveys. We have administered those surveys in many agencies in the past and as part of the National Police Research Platform that started at the University of Chicago and is now managed at the NPI. But it’s not the first time that studies have been conducted with civilian personnel. What some of those studies have revealed in the past specifically on organizational stress, Maria is absolutely right. There’s just a dearth of research there. However, in other areas, we often survey civilians about their attitudes toward their organizations. Many of those show that civilian staff often feel underappreciated, and paid at a much lower rate than their counterparts who are sworn. They sometimes feel disrespected by sworn officers. And so, there are some disparities and some problems among those individuals in feeling that most of the work and the attention is paid to sworn personnel. That is a call, certainly, for those of you who do research, to try to focus more on the civilian personnel within the agency. But also, for those of you who are practitioners and policymakers, you pay attention to, as many organizations have, the needs of civilian personnel and the concerns of civilian personnel. In terms of the environment in which they’re working, in terms of mental health resources for them, in terms of things that can be done to minimize their stress on the job.


Audience Question: Is organizational stress considered to be part of organizational culture? So, in other words, is how an organization deals with stressors, discipline, etc., are those indicators of its organizational culture? 

Karen L. Amendola: Well, I guess I’ll start with that one. So, it’s not, we don’t really know. There’s not enough research which is why this study I think was funded because it’s a comprehensive look at organizational stress. Much of the past research has focused on the instruments themselves, on specific sorts of single, variable relationships with certain kinds of outcomes. This study is really designed to be a much more comprehensive look at what are the things that individuals and organizations can do to mitigate those stressors and are there different individual difference variables. Like, our personality types, do those matter? For example, in the fatigue literature, we know that certain types of people are more morning people and other types of people who are more night-focused people who get more done at night, and who tend to like to sleep more into the mornings. And so those kinds of different personality variables amongst many other types of personality things like extraversion versus introversion and things like that may, in fact, be mitigators to these. So, take to really get back to that question. It’s not something we understand broadly enough to be able to understand that. But I do think that the organizational stressors in many ways are the culture of the organization. Because if you looked at the model that we pulled up, again, it was a very busy page, and we understand that. But we tried to account for many of the different kinds of things that can cause stress. Or that can be precursors to stress, as well as coping mechanisms as well as organizational kinds of things like lack of support or resources. So that we can really understand how those relate to the outcomes. But so, I do think it’s an excellent question because it’s really getting at what we’re trying to understand is this what is meant by culture? Are the organizational stressors in the culture or is there more? Many of you are aware of older research for many decades, especially dating to the late sixties and into the seventies, on the culture of policing. That there’s a blue wall of silence, that there’s protectionism, that there is cynicism in the profession, and these types of things. Many of those things have persisted over many decades. But most researchers now think of culture as not so monolithic, but it’s not these occupational things that are associated with every organization, that organizations actually do set cultures. And that it isn’t just automatic in the profession, that there are going to be these things. With things like bystander shipping and mandatory reporting, and things of that nature. And mandatory reporting, I don’t mean of criminal activity, but I mean up, peers that engage in mishandling different types of situations that these things have kind of begun to sort of reshape that culture, that this idea that all officers will protect all other officers at every cost, including their own career. Just not as much evidence that those kind of things really persists to this day.


Audience Question: You talked about a number of features or factors of organizational stress, like red tape, work schedules, workload, discipline, etc., do you have a sense as to which of these are potentially the biggest issue or source of organizational stress? Or is that one of the reasons why you’re doing the study? 

Karen L. Amendola: Well, one of the things Maria mentioned in the results that seems to be prevalent in this study and has been seen in other studies, is lack of supervisory support. And so, this idea that supervisors need to be more supportive of their officers is not a new concern. But it certainly seems to play out in a lot of the research studies as one of the key factors. And yet, at the same time, there’s minimal training for supervisors in many organizations, and even in many states. And, in addition to that, the selection of supervisors is not really well understood, in many places, supervisors are selected based simply based on a score, not even like, an assessment center or some kind of more broad promotional exam. But, really, maybe even just the general feelings about that person, by leaders in the organization, or their test scores. And so, I think, more research and more effort need to be made in understanding who to select as first-line supervisors, and then making sure that they have the resources available to them so that they can provide sufficient support for their officers. This doesn’t mean, I mean, supervisors, everybody knows that a sergeant’s job or a first-line, supervisor’s job, is probably among the hardest within an organization. Why? Because they have to wear two hats. They have to, on the one hand, be like our colleagues, and mentors and friends to the officers that they supervise. But at the same time, being a voice of leadership, and trying to translate the messages from leadership, down the chain in a way that sounds fair and effective. And so, it’s a very tough role to be in. And so, I think I’ll leave it at that. That it’s simply an issue of supervisory support seems to be, one of the bigger factors. And of course, we’ll know more next year, when we have more data from our organizations.

Host: The quintessential mid-level manager conundrum.

Maria Valdovinos Olson: I just wanted to add to Karen’s comments that the Policing Institute was just awarded an NIJ grant to do a deep dive on first-line supervision. And so over the next couple of years, we’re going to try to understand how supervisors are selected, how they’re trained, how they’re evaluated. Where are areas of improvement, how could they better support their officers, etc? So, it’s, it’s definitely an area that has been overlooked considering how important first-line supervisors are in police organizations, the fact that there’s so little recent research, and much of the research that we do have on first-line supervision is quite dated. So, it’s definitely something that isn’t a noticeable oversight in the literature. And with this award, we’re really going to be doing a deep dive on the first-line supervision, as well as with the other project that, Karen mentioned where we’re doing a replication of internal procedural justice and using supervisory modeling, for example.

Host: It will be interesting to see the difference is also between what Gallup has talked about in “It’s the Manager“… how managers are so important. And yet, upwards of 60% of managers never get specific managerial training. So, it’ll be interesting to see what your future results turned out here in the in the not so distant future.


Audience Question: It seems like managers might be one of the biggest organizational stressors for employees, if that’s the case, do you think that providing managerial training and development should be a priority, but managers typically don’t get great leadership training? How would you advise agencies, and organizations to incorporate more training for more managers and help them understand the agency benefits? What’s in it for, for the agency, so to speak? 

Karen L. Amendola: Well, that’s, of course, a great issue. It depends upon how you define manager. Because we specifically sort of separate out the idea of a sergeant or first-line supervisor from other levels of management within the organization. There are many great organizations out there that do provide this kind of training, typically,  agencies that can afford to participate in that at any level send two or two people. It’s not clear how they select those people. Maybe they’re grooming certain people for these positions, but that could also be a source of organizational stress for some, who feel that the opportunities to get training and necessary exposure to certain techniques and supervisory practices are limited, and those opportunities are not available to all. So, it’s a tough, it’s a tough question, but it’s certainly agreed that more is better in that regard, provided that it’s a good supervisory training, that’s realistic. That’s not something that we can personally advise on in terms of which vendors are better vendors for that. But it’s certainly something that leaders and organizations should attend to. I think that there are many good command-level courses, for example, provided by their professional associations, like the International Association of Chiefs of Police, that provide training for leaders that they probably also provide supervisory training, but I’m not sure. But it is designed more for chiefs, so I think most of their training is focused on command-level personnel. But it’s these first-line supervisors where that training is fairly limited. There is some research out there, but again, this is an area that needs much greater attention.


Audience Question: Does time in the department, or the age of the officers impact their reported organizational stress or morale? So, for example, they’ve recently seen significant differences in a morale study the union did, with senior officers reporting being happier than the younger newer officers. What’s your take on that?

Maria Valdovinos Olson: So, I will say that age is in the model, so it is definitely something that we’re going to be looking at. I don’t know, Karen, if you know…

Karen L. Amendola: I have, sort of personal feelings, some of them, which are guided by some of the scientific findings, and then some, that are just personal, because I’m one of those older people. And I will say that one thing that I’ve noticed, and it’s been published in some of the organizational literature as well, not so much in public safety, though. But as people age on the job, they become less concerned with organizational issues and, more with the sort of quality of their career as a whole.  And so, for example, there’s less concern over getting promoted and things like that. As people get older, their focus on sort of advancing their careers becomes less of a primary focus. So, that could be one explanation for it. Another could be that they stuck around long enough maybe because they were happy with the organization.

And so, in that regard, those that did stay that are older are going to be happier than younger officers on that we haven’t weeded out all of the people that are unhappy with it’s not a good fit for them or whatever. There could be other types of things that I’m sure you’ve thought through since your organization did this poll that the union did this poll. I think it’s really important for unions to stay involved in these issues because issues of officer health, safety, and wellness in the long run are not management-only issues, they’re not union-only issues, and I wish, I really wish I know some of you kind of chuckle about this, that it’s not really that realistic. But I think that there is still hope that this is an area where both organizational leaders and union officials can come to a meeting of the minds. because healthy officers are less costly to an organization. Officers that are less stressed, are less costly to an organization, they often perform better. So, there are reasons for management to be concerned, not only because of performance but also because it’s important that the people that work in an organization have good lives. And that leaders and organizations are responsible for that. But I think it’s also important for unions to recognize that it’s not just a whether cops like it kind of mentality. It’s what’s best for them. What’s best for their health and well-being? So just because cops might say, in an organization, within their union poll that they want to work as much overtime as possible, I think it’s incumbent upon union officials to say there have to be some limits. Because we don’t want our officers getting an accident on the job. We don’t want them to be so fatigued that they have long-term health consequences, Right? So, I think there’s a lot of room for this to be a joint problem-solving and ways of addressing this. And again, for those of you who are chuckling, I still have hope after many decades in this field.



Click Here to Watch a Recording of Organizational Stress and Officer Wellness. 


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