An Examination of Employee Morale in Correctional Institutions2013-08-28T16:58:10-04:00

By Lawrence Andrew Hartman III
May 3rd, 2003

The unpredictable environment of a correctional facility affects each individual in a variety of ways. Those employed to provide care, custody, and control within an institution view each situation and circumstance in their own unique manner. However, one concept which is universal and important to every jail or prison is employee morale. Although every staff member is an exceptional individual, methods for evoking positive morale are rather generalized. An examination of employee morale will review the characterization of morale and the identification of issues affecting morale in the workplace.

Defining Morale

Employee morale is instrumental in creating a unified and functional work environment. Morale influences the beliefs and actions of an individual or unit, as well as dictates the atmosphere of the environment. Morale is commonly defined as the spirit of a person or group as demonstrated by confidence, discipline, and a willingness to perform assigned tasks (dictionary.com, 2003). Morale also symbolizes a dedicated spirit which unifies individuals toward a common goal (dictionary.com, 2003). Clearly, morale is an emotional state which joins employees together in order to achieve organizational goals. The organization consists of a synchronized social unit, formed to operate uninterrupted in order to perform universal objectives (Freeman, 1999). Proper evaluation of morale must include levels of measurement to determine the mood as exhibited by staff members. This assessment will determine morale levels to be either positive or negative, depending on the influences upon personnel behaviors.

Positive, or high morale, eases employee motivation, encourages teamwork, and unifies the workforce toward the organizational mission. High morale will allow correctional staff a positive self-image, promote professionalism, and properly perform assigned tasks. Positive morale is built from the foundation of an organization, the motivation from effective leaders, and the positive influence by the peer group.

Conversely, negative, or low morale, has many adverse consequences for the cohesion of the unit as a whole. Negative morale may lead to complacency and inattention to duties, which is a dangerous problem facing correctional employees (Vellani, 2001). Other harmful effects of low morale include increased turnover, tardiness, absenteeism, and abuse of sick time (Vellani, 2001; Garland, 2002). These results not only increase the amount of stress facing correctional staff, but create a multitude of personnel issues for supervision and administration. Negative morale reduces individual and group performance levels. Low morale tends to escalate throughout the ranks until, ultimately, it poisons the entire institution.

Issues Affecting Morale

The best method for evaluating employee morale is to examine the possible influences, or perceived stimuli, which may evoke these beliefs from staff members. Six separate issues are examined to determine the influence on employee morale within correctional environments. Each individual may be affected by different issues, yet these following themes have been identified as having an impact upon morale.

Training and Education

Proper training of employees is one of the most important aspects affecting morale (Fritze, 1993; Kane, 2001; Hill, 2002). Training is essential for correctional staff due to the constant evolving methodology facing the incarceration of inmates. It is essential for officers to receive training to protect themselves, those in their care, and the security of the institution as a whole. Morale will be low if officers are without adequate training to achieve these objectives (Vellani, 2001). An officer cannot adequately perform required duties if training falls short. The need for specified training may be detected by supervisors. Supervision should conduct employee assessments to determine training needs for the staff (Watson, 2002). Accurately trained correctional employees react more confidently and are prepared to deal with stressful situations (Ridley-Turner, 2002). Effective training assists officers to properly react to various problems and emergency situations which are sure to arise while performing daily duties (ACA, 1997). Training is more economically viable to the facility than civil liability and damaging publicity which may occur from improper reactions to unusual situations (Roberts, 2002).

Training must also be continuous (Hertig 1999; Garland, 2002). Continuous training ensures staff will understand and act within the scope of organizational policy (Roberts, 2002). Guided practice through in-service instruction, re-certification, and emergency drills and scenarios assist officer responses (Hertig, 1999). Providing staff with desirable and informative training will improve officer job perception (Kane, 2001). This is achieved by relevant instruction and active participation. Training also reflects upon the professionalism of the staff (American Correctional Association, 1997). Maintaining a positive atmosphere must be reflected by the professionalism of employees representing the organization.

Encouraging staff to further their education on issues relevant to their job functions reflects positively upon morale (Garland, 2002). Employees motivated to advance their knowledge of issues which are confronted on the job tend to combat boredom and promote more interest and involvement in the correctional environment (Freeman, 1999; Garland, 2002). The education of employees provides access to information assisting staff to act responsibly (Hill, 2002). Promoting continuing education allows staff to become diverse and knowledgeable regarding current situations and future issues facing the work environment. A tuition reimbursement program is one method utilized for encouraging career growth and improving individual morale (Wilkinson, 2002).

Training and education promote a safer environment for all involved, which is a primary goal in corrections (Hill, 2002). Training, combined with education, provides officers with improved self-worth and an increased job performance (Freeman, 1999; Vellani, 2001). This allows correctional staff to feel as if the facility views the employee as playing an important role in the grand scheme. Employee morale may be increased through on-the-job training, rotating officer among various duty assignments, certification programs, and continuing education (Vellani, 2001). Implementing programs designed to improve morale by improving and developing professional and personal growth has a positive impact on staff retention (Wilkinson, 2002). Ultimately, the institution benefits from the amount of continuous training and education the individual officer receives by combining these factors with retention.

Mission Statement, Procedures, and Roles
Morale may also be affected by the correctional facility directives. If a mission statement is lacking, employees may have difficulty performing their duties without the correct information (Garland, 2002). A clear mission statement is needed to establish the direction of a facility (Garland, 2002). This must consist of defined organizational principals, goals, and practices (Garland, 2002; Institute of Management & Administration, 2002). The organization must determine and communicate the operational direction in order to avoid turmoil. The mission statement should be effectively conveyed to all staff, or else it will be ineffective (Garland, 2002). Administration needs to maintain the direction toward the organizational mission (Braxton-Mintz & Pinson, 2000). Once the course of a facility is perceived as lost, the establishment loses integrity from the staff and supervision.

Good post orders should work in conjunction with training (Vellani, 2001). In order to perform assignments, officers need to clearly understand the institutional policy, procedures, and regulations (ACA, 1997). Directives must be defined in order to extinguish doubt created by hunches and instincts as a premise of action (ACA, 1997). Administration must make certain policies and procedures remain current and effective (Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000). If these become cumbersome, employees may deviate from directives and determine alternative methods (Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000).

Clarifying roles and responsibilities is essential to avoid potential problems, such as work overload, conflicting messages, confusion, and role conflict (Fritze, 1993; Garland, 2002). Interaction between staff and inmates should be consistent with the institutional mission, policies, and procedures (Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000). Correctional officers must have proper information in order to successfully supervise inmate behavior (ACA, 1997). If this stability is lost, the facility increases its legal liability (Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000).

Supervision
Personnel are a correctional facility's best resource, therefore effective supervision and support of staff, who experience direct contact with the inmate population is indispensable (Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000). Correctional officers are immediately responsible for the safety and security of the institution, inmate population, and one another, therefore supervision of staff must remain a high priority (ACA, 1997; Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000). A supervisor may be the best performer of an organization, but if that person fails to lead, the individual is worthless. A failed leader becomes a detriment to the staff and institution alike. First-line supervisors should provide leadership for line staff through coaching and guidance (Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000). Supervisors are immediately responsible for setting the standards for line staff to follow (Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000). In order for supervision to be effective, those in leadership must work together, allowing their behaviors to set the example (Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000; IM&A, 2002).

Supervisors may influence employee morale by simply working among the officers (Vellani, 2001; Garland, 2002). Unsuccessful supervisors attempt to direct while sitting behind a desk and a closed door. An effective leader will have a positive effect on employee morale by maintaining close rapport with the staff (Fritze, 1993; Ahmad, McKnight, & Schroeder, 2001; Garland, 2002). Supervisors should visit and inspect post areas as they engage staff, which will increase work performance and provide guidance for appropriate behavior (Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000; Garland, 2002). This will encourage staff practices to remain consistent with institutional directives (Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000).

Managers must gain the trust of their staff to promote high morale (Freeman, 1999). Employees need to have the ability to confide in and request instruction from those in authority positions. This may be created by open communication, supplying information, and being honest (Freeman, 1999; Ahmad et al., 2001). Proper leadership must display honesty, integrity, and competence (Tjosvold & Tjosvold, 1995). Morale is also increased by supervisors following through on information, avoiding sarcasm, and alleviating frustration and barriers (Freeman, 1999; Ahmad et al., 2001). High morale will occur by simply treating officers with respect and professionalism (Kane, 2001; Vellani, 2001). Dispelling any inaccurate rumors will assist in promoting positive employee morale (Freeman, 1999). Managers using creativity in dealing with potential problems also increase morale (Firsich, 2001).

It is of the utmost importance for supervision to accurately identify issues which may have an affect upon employee morale. A survey conducted by the United States Chamber of Commerce was performed on twenty-four separate organizations to measure morale factors and place then in order of importance (Freeman, 1999). The results reflected a discrepancy between supervision perceived importance and employee actual importance of the ten morale factors (Freeman, 1999). This reveals the need for supervisors to properly recognize and promote the behaviors which will maintain and increase positive employee morale.

Staff Empowerment
Staff should have authority delegated to them in order to perform assigned tasks within the scope of their abilities. Employee empowerment is a primary approach of encouraging correctional staff to value their jobs (Freeman, 1999). This consists of a conscious and organized development of involving employees in their work through inclusion (Freeman, 1999). Staff should be trusted to contribute in decision making, goal setting, and problem solving (Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000). Upon being delegated this authority, staff should be held accountable for the results (Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000). Staff empowerment is vital for positive moral due to the large amount of influence officers exhibit while managing housing areas and inmate behavior (Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000). Affording employee discretion is important due to possible conflicting demands during decision making processes (Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000).

Restrictions on staff empowerment affect job satisfaction and creativity, thus having negative results upon morale (Garland, 2002). Removing decision making ability from staff leads to feelings of unappreciation and isolation (Garland, 2002). Involving employees by encouraging input on recommendations and plans of action enhance morale issues (Freeman, 1999; Lambert, 2001; Garland, 2002).

Recognition, Feedback and Communication
A contributing factor to poor morale is lack of communication between officers and management. This creates barriers, an environment of staff distrust, and the encouragement of rumors (Fritze, 1993; Vellani, 2001). If rumors are not addressed, credibility may be given to the false information (Freeman, 1999). Creating a nurturing environment for morale includes frequent communication and feedback with other staff members (Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000; Ahmad et al., 2001). Effective communication between all members of the facility will maintain and promote positive morale (Ahmad et al., 2001). Effective communication is dependant upon employee perceptions and the value those views hold (Freeman, 1999). Communication among departments must be allowed to be open and truthful (Fritze, 1993). Open communication between all staff members improves morale by allowing the individual to feel included as a valued part of the facility (Vellani, 2001).

Feedback is to be constructive, relevant, and pertinent (Garland, 2002). Staff debriefings support staff well-being and enhance morale (Ray, 2001). It is important for staff to understand their performance is important to the institution (Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000). Feedback increases employee incentive and morale (Ahmad et al., 2001).

Recognition of employee performance may be the most valuable factor for increasing job satisfaction and uplifting morale (Vellani, 2001). Recognition of quality work supports confidence and bolsters morale (Ridley-Turner, 2002; Watson, 2002; Wilkinson, 2002). Most employees appreciate sincere thanks for a job well done (Wilkinson, 2002). This recognition informs correctional personnel the action taken and decisions made were appropriate and appreciated.

Institutional Environment
Employee morale is instrumental in creating a unified and functional atmosphere. Staff contributes to the stability of the correctional environment through the prevention of potential problems (ACA, 1997; Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000). A focus of developing an effective, efficient, and cooperative atmosphere must be apparent (Wilkinson, 2002). An environment must be established to promote communication between the officer and the correctional facility (Freeman, 1999). A safe and secure environment is required to reduce inappropriate inmate behavior and increase employee job satisfaction (Braxton-Mintz et al., 2000).

A positive work environment should consist of correctional officers promoting teamwork, pride, and mutual respect between co-workers (Fritze, 1993; ACA, 1997). Team spirit is improved and sustained through positive recognition from supervision (Fritze, 1993). An increase in operational tempo may have a negative influence upon morale (Hickey & Wagner, 1997). Conflicts between staff members may develop into disruption of the team mentality and reduce morale (Garland, 2002). Staff turnover contributes to the disruption of the environment by removing established social networks and communication lines vital to the correctional facility (Lambert, 2001). Turnover may also contribute to an insufficient and overworked staff (Lambert, 2001). An environment of negative morale will lower employee job satisfaction and reduce organizational commitment (Lambert, 2001). Retention of talented and dedicated corrections personnel is imperative in maintaining positive morale (Wilkinson, 2002).

Recommendations

The correctional facility must provide attractive and significant benefit packages in order to provide basic care for the employees and their dependants. Also, the promotion of a safe and functional working environment is essential for increasing morale among staff. Employees must be viewed as a vital component within the institution and given a sense of value. In turn, the staff will remain loyal and remain with the organization. The correctional facility should encourage open communication and abolish any barriers which may exist.

Those individuals serving in a supervisory capacity are responsible for employee morale through effective leadership. The supervisor should encourage and motivate the line staff while carrying out their responsibilities. Leaders are to coach, guide, and provide information to their officers in order to encourage professional development. Supervisors need to work with employees, not against them. Supervisors need to set the standard and lead by example. Supervisors are to reflect the values of the organization.

Employees are to promote morale through the expression of professionalism and positive job performance. The ability to work and function as a team is essential to the corroboration of high morale. Staff unity provides a nurturing environment and positive peer pressure to act in accordance with directives, interacting with respect for each individual, and taking pride in personal appearance. Correctional officers must follow direction by the administration and supervision, make suitable decisions relating to situations, and accept responsibility for those decisions.

Conclusions

Morale must be recognized, maintained, and encouraged in order to guard against reduced individual job performance and organizational instability. Training and education should be continuously provided and encouraged. Directives must be clearly defined and efficient. Supervision need to work alongside employees offering guidance and the reflection of appropriate behaviors. Staff should be empowered to make decisions and solve problems. Open communication must offer feedback regarding individual job performance and the recognition of good work. A positive environment should consist of individual respect and a unified staff. All these factors employed in unison will have a positive affect upon employee moral through stressing the importance of the individual and benefiting the cohesion of the facility.

The need for positive morale is fundamental for success at any level. The employee reflecting a positive attitude increases career opportunities. The supervisor properly motivating the troops increases the esprit de corps. The organization creating morale will succeed philosophically and economically. Morale may very well be the most important attribute a correctional institution may establish, a supervisor may enhance, and the individual should promote.

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Biography

Lawrence Andrew Hartman III is currently employed as a captain at York County Prison in Pennsylvania. Mr. Hartman has also served in the United States Army Reserve Military Police Corps. Mr. Hartman will be graduating in May, 2003, from York College of Pennsylvania, with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Behavioral Science with a minor in Criminal Justice. Mr. Hartman is also a member of the American Correctional Association.