Understanding job committment may lead to better correctional employees

May 23, 2013

Commitment to the job by correctional staff members cannot be bought but must be earned by an organization, a Wayne State University researcher believes.

A study by Eric Lambert, Ph.D., professor and chair of criminal justice in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, describes three types of commitment and the effects of three organizational concepts on them, based on a survey of 450 staff members at a maximum-security correctional institution in Michigan.

"Loyalty, Love, and Investments: The Impact of Job Outcomes on the of Correctional Staff," published recently in the journal Criminal Justice and Behavior, shows that understanding the nature of is important in a field that costs more than $50 billion a year to maintain, Lambert said.

High employee turnover rates contribute to that cost, fueled by much higher levels of and disability retirement than other fields, he said, noting that it costs $20,000 to $40,000 to hire a new employee.

Continuance commitment refers to ' investment of themselves in an organization because of salary and benefits, as well as because of on the job or lost opportunities if an employee leaves.

Normative commitment is when an employee internalizes the standards of an organization and acts on that rather than consideration of the actions' consequences.

Affective commitment—considered the most desirable of the three types—occurs when an employee is loyal to an organization, identifies with it, takes pride in it and internalizes its goals.

The organizational concept of job stress refers to damaging stimuli or the immediate or long-range results of those stimuli. Job involvement is described as the degree of employee identification with a job and its place within a person's life's interest. Job satisfaction is defined generally as the degree to which people like their .

Lambert found that correctional officers generally expressed higher levels of continuance commitment than their noncustody counterparts. Increased job stress levels and decreased job involvement were associated with higher continuance commitment. Job satisfaction did not significantly predict continuance commitment.

Correctional officers reported lower levels of normative commitment than their noncustody colleagues. All three organizational concepts were significantly related to affective commitment, Lambert found, with job satisfaction having the largest effect.

Researchers were somewhat surprised; however, that job stress didn't impact affective commitment as much as hypothesized.

" matters most for that," Lambert said. "If you treat people right, they'll deal with negative ."

The study also examined the effects of personal characteristics on the types of commitment, and found that race and employee position impacted the normative kind. White employees expressed higher levels of organization than nonwhite colleagues, and correction officers expressed less normative commitment than staff employees who didn't have daily contact with inmates.

That finding is relevant, Lambert said, because of the generally hypermasculine environment found in most correctional facilities, often marked by employees with over-the-top macho attitudes and attracting men and whites more than people of color. Conversely, Hispanics and African-Americans comprise the majority of prison inmates.

Affective and continuance commitment were not significantly associated with any of the personal characteristics studied, which included race, gender, age, position, tenure and educational level.

Lambert said the study can be useful to correctional organizations that choose to take note of its findings.

"There's more than one way to build commitment, and it's important to understand the type you're looking at," he said. "It's not just a matter of hiring the right employee."

Lambert said his study affirms past research showing the benefits of affective commitment. It also highlights the down side of continuance commitment, which tends to lead to employees who stay in their jobs too long not because they like them, but because the cost of leaving is too high.

"Offering benefits may attract people, but it doesn't cause them to bond to the organization and be good employees," he said.

Similarly, normative commitments born of duty and belonging—though preferable to continuance commitments—don't necessarily make for good employees, Lambert said. Affective can be cultivated by keeping stress low and making jobs interesting and rewarding, he said, noting that some organizations keep turnover low by listening to employees' concerns and rotating front-line workers into other positions so they're not constantly stressed by daily contact with inmates.

While a few organizations currently are doing those things, Lambert said there's no easy solution in a field that often casts employees as cogs in a machine.

"It takes time to do the right thing," he said. "It boils down to being fair and honest and treating people right. So far, it's been rare, but it can be done."

Explore further: How to avoid employee depression in a recession

Related Stories

How to avoid employee depression in a recession

November 29, 2010

As employees become increasingly anxious about job security and financial worries during an economic recession, satisfaction with the job they have, commitment to their company and engagement with their work are all affected ...

The impact of career growth on organizational commitment

December 15, 2010

Many companies have made wage and professional development cuts part of their recent budget-tightening strategies. But those companies may want to start re-investing in their most valued employees if they want to keep them, ...

Recommended for you

Chimpanzees shed light on origins of human walking

October 6, 2015

A research team led by Stony Brook University investigating human and chimpanzee locomotion have uncovered unexpected similarities in the way the two species use their upper body during two-legged walking. The results, reported ...

The hand and foot of Homo naledi

October 6, 2015

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, have been published in scientific journal, Nature Communications, on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.