Mental toughness, job demands and job resources: testing the effects on engagement and stress of South African emergency personnel

Klette, Aileen (2017-03)

Thesis (MCom)-- Stellenbosch University, 2017.


ENGLISH SUMMARY : Literature related to emergency personnel in South Africa highlights an overwhelming need to study the extent of stress they endure on a daily basis. According to a South African 2008/2009 police report, 323 police officers were declared medically unfit due to stress and depression in that period (Subramaney, 2010). In 2012, a research study conducted among a small sample of paramedics showed that 30% of the participants “had total burnout” (Stassen, Van Nugteren & Stein, 2012). Very recently, a 2016 study on Bloemfontein registrars and medical officers stated that burnout is a severe crisis, as it was shown that only 3.4% of the sample reported no burnout (Sirsawya, Steinberga & Raubenheimerb, 2016). These statistics represent just a small drop in a large pond of critical problems in this sample group. The nature of the work of emergency personnel is embedded within South Africa’s characteristic high crime rate (Kaminer, Grimsrud, Myer, Stein & Williams, 2008; Schwab, 2015; Subramaney, 2010). Just within the last five years, this country has witnessed and suffered through some devastating events. Emergency services personnel, as a result of their occupation, are at an increased risk for trauma exposure. An important consideration is whether or not prevalence rates for stress are higher in these groups (Subramaney, 2010). Specifically, are their working conditions to blame for the levels of stress they endure? Or could optimal working conditions generate engagement? Could recruiting, retaining or growing mental toughness as a personal resource equip emergency personnel with the necessary coping strategies to avoid the stress caused by their work? Also, by reducing stress, could the level of emergency personnel’s engagement increase? The current study thus asks whether and why variance in work engagement and stress exists between the different emergency workers operating within the same and different environments. Due to the uniqueness of the emergency services’ work context, as well as the evident ill-health of the personnel, the well-accepted job demands–resources model (JD-R model) was used as a framework. Thus, the primary objective of this study was to test a proposed structural model (resulting from the theory) that illustrates how job demands, job resources and specific personal resources influence engagement and stress among emergency personnel within the South African health services context. A non-experimental ex post facto correlational research design was used to collect the required data for the purposes of this research study. Upon gaining ethical clearance from all respective parties, and upon receipt of informed consent, quantitative data was gathered from police officers, firefighters, nurses, paramedics and trauma personnel in Gauteng and the Western Cape to represent the emergency services population. A sample size of 173 emergency service personnel was obtained using a non-probability sampling technique. This data was collected using both electronic and paper-format surveys. The measurement instruments used for this research study include the 30-item Stress Overload Scale (Amirkhan, Urizar & Clark, 2015), the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale 17- item version (UWES-17) (Rothmann & Rothmann, 2010), the Job Demands–Resources Scale, consisting of 48 items (Rothman, Mostert & Strydom, 2006) and the Mental Toughness Scale (MT48), a shortened eight-item version (Gucciardi, Hanton, Gordon, Mallett & Temby, 2015). Throughout the research process, the participants’ human rights were respected by adhering to basic research ethics. To statistically analyse the data and test the hypothesised relationships, item analysis and PLS SEM analyses were used. Eighteen hypotheses were formulated in this research study; ten being main interaction effects and eight moderating interactions. Of the eighteen hypotheses, a total of six were found to be significant. However, it is vital to note that eight of the non- significant paths were moderating effects. Hypotheses 2, 3, 6 and 8 of the main effects were found to be statistically insignificant. This contradicts previous research efforts, and the reasons for the insignificant relationships may be the result of many factors and warrant further thought and inquiry. Hypotheses 1, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 10 were shown to be statistically significant and in accordance with existing literature on these interactions. To conclude, various managerial implications, recommendations and limitations were discussed in relation to the current study. These will assist industrial psychologists, unit managers and human resources personnel to identify problem areas within the health-care industry, but also to highlight strengths that can be capitalised on as a result of the research findings. Remedial strategies include interventions at the task, individual, team and organisational levels. The results were further linked to JD-R theory and, in so doing, the extent was gauged to which the current study’s findings support the theory. Various limitations of the present research study were acknowledged, and recommendations for future research ventures were discussed.

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