Perceived Workplace Adversity and the Psychological Wellbeing of Correctional officers: Examining the Impacts and Implications

Investigator: Justin Trounson

Supervisors: Jeff Pfeifer, Christine Critchley

Rationale and aims:

  • Correctional Officers face a range of unique workplace difficulties that can impact on their mental health and workplace productivity.
  • Despite past research demonstrating the impact of the work environment on correctional officers, little research has examined how to best address this issue in a pro-active or preventative manner.
  • The broad aim of this thesis is to provide a scientific rationale and sound evidence-base for the future development of an industry-based, effective, psycho-educational training program designed to prepare correctional officer recruits to better manage the work-related environmental adversity they face in the job.


  • Study 1 involved 400 participants completing an online questionnaire to measure perceptions of workplace adversity and markers of stress.
  • Study 2 involved eight focus groups and 12 semi-structured interviews to identify a set of response tendencies commonly employed by officers.
  • Study 3 involved online surveys from 136 officers to establish the link between workplace adversity and correctional officer wellness and clarify the moderating effects of the response tendencies commonly used by officers.

Results and conclusions:

  • The results of this thesis indicated that correctional officers perceive their workplace as a highly adverse environment and that this perceived workplace adversity is a factor that can negatively impact an officer’s level of stress and their psychological wellbeing.
  • The findings revealed that this deterioration in psychological wellbeing can in turn, impact their likelihood to engage in negative organisational behaviours such as absenteeism, presenteeism and develop a sense of job dissatisfaction.
  • Correctional officers engage in a range of cognitive, interpersonal and behavioural response strategies in an attempt to manage the workplace adversity they face, some of which are helpful and others that are largely unhelpful in assisting them to manage this adversity and maintain their psychological wellbeing.
  • Using Interpersonal/Solution Focussed strategies when responding to workplace adversity may assist officers to reduce the negative impact of perceived workplace adversity on their psychological wellbeing and in turn reduce the frequency of negative organisational outcomes such as absenteeism, presenteeism and job dissatisfaction.
  • Engaging in Emotional Avoidant response strategies may also contribute to lowered psychological wellbeing, increased negative organisational outcomes and be more likely to be used when perceived adversity is high for officers

Clinical implications and research translation:

  • Reveals a range of workplace adversity factors relevant to correctional officers.
  • Establishes a link between perceived workplace adversity, psychological wellbeing and negative organisational impacts such as absenteeism, presenteeism and job dissatisfaction.
  • Demonstrates how the way an officer responds to perceived workplace adversity can impact their psychological wellbeing and the organisations that employ them.
  • Demonstrates an evidence-based need for the development and implementation of preventative psychological training programs aimed at ameliorating the impact of workplace adversity on officer wellbeing.
  • Provides the correctional field with evidence-based guidance and recommendations in relation to potential content for a preventative training program.



Trounson, J. S., & Pfeifer, J. E. (2016). Promoting correctional officer wellbeing: Guidelines and suggestions for developing psychological training programs. Advancing Corrections, 1, 56-64.

Trounson, J. S., Pfeifer, J. E., & Critchley, C. (2016). Correctional officers and Work-related Environmental Adversity: A cross-occupational comparison. Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice, 12(1), 18-35.