Over half of prison officers feel pressure to work when ill

More than half of prison officers feel pressure to go into work while unwell, with serious implications for their health and the safe running of prisons says research presented today at  the BPS Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference in Nottingham.

The research, undertaken by Professor Gail Kinman, Dr Andrew Clements and Dr Jacqui Hart of University of Bedfordshire involved 1682 prison officers from across the UK completing questionnaires about working while unwell and the reasons they may do this. Levels of job demands, control and support at work and job-related burnout were also assessed. 

The results showed that 84 per cent of prison officers feel pressurised to work while unwell at least “sometimes”, whereas more than half “always” experience such pressure. Staff shortages, pressure from management, fear of letting colleagues down and feelings of job insecurity were the main explanations provided for presenteeism.

Prison officers who found their work more demanding, and who lacked control and support from managers, were the most likely to work while sick. This had serious implications for health as officers who continued to work when unwell on a regular basis were typically more burned out.

Professor Kinman said: “The findings of our research have serious implications for the health of prison officers and for the safe running of prisons. The number of prison officers has reduced dramatically and number of violent prisoner incidents is increasing rapidly.

"Although organisations may see presenteeism as a short-term solution to maintain safe staffing levels, it is considerably more costly long-term. Prison officers who continued to work while sick were more likely to be emotionally exhausted and have cynical attitudes towards prisoners. They were also more likely to worry about work when “off the job”. The implications of the findings for the safe running of prisons are clear. Improved staffing levels and support from managers should help reduce presenteeism and the subsequent risks to staff and prisoners”

The Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference takes place from the 6 to 8 January 2015 at the East Midlands Conference Centre, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RJ.