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Correctional Officers – Resilience in the Workplace
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 10/07/2013

Police officer Most correctional officers have difficult stress related complex tasks every shift they work inside a large jail or prison. Today, more than ever, employees are stretched beyond their limits due to understaffing and other lack of resources that makes multitasking a routine that is quickly wearing you out. Whenever you feel drained or fatigued to the point of exhausting there are defenses you need to put in place that will help you get through the day or shift in a safe and orderly way. Being resilience is the most vital defense officers have against work related induced stress. We all want to work in a good workplace.

Prison staffs are engaged in a profession that focuses on people and relationships but attention to the environment can often create blurred lines if you or your fellow coworkers do not get along or work as a team concept and get the mutual help or support required to get the job done. Generally speaking, these places reflect negative vibes images that require a concentrated effort to focus on staying positive. After all, we want to think that everything we do is based on positive healthy relationships therefore making how you handle those challenges very important.

Working in a positive workplace leads to being better and more proficient. Having said that a positive workplace creates safer and more productive ways how the job is performed and whether or not it is done with the due diligence required for many of these tasks. Generally speaking, a positive workplace provides an important quality of life and gives all working there a sense of well-being, belonging and helping each other. However, being positive and coming to work with the right kind of energy does not come in a cup of coffee, a carbonated soda or an energy drink. You already know this is an artificial “rush” and not long lasting. Lasting wellness comes from being well rested and sleeping long enough so that you don’t come to work tired before you even start the job. It makes sense that a rested, fresh mind and body is more productive than a weary or stressed out one.

In order to remain resilient one must learn how to take timely breaks. One can argue that the job doesn’t allow you to take any breaks and that things don’t get done if you took a break like others do in other kinds of work or occupations. The fact is that taking a break from mental or physically oriented tasks improves your work and makes your last longer allowing you to work at a higher pace or level. Everybody needs to rest the mind or body as it becomes tired and corrections is no exception to the rule. Although your supervisor might discourage such breaks, they are essential in your performance.

It can be done appropriately and without abuse as it creates an opportunity for your mind or body to recover and allow continued focus and energy on your job throughout the shift or day. This is especially true if your job requires a lot of movement or walking or physical effort to get the job done. Likewise, if your assignment is sedentary in nature, you must make an effort to provide some kind of mobility during your shift so that you don’t impair your health or gain weight over time even if it means asking to be relieved for a short period of time. Common sense must take over here.

Another way to increase your resilience is to vary your tasks so that you don’t get bored or easily distracted. Let your cognitive skills work for you and keep your energy and ability busy so you can take a break from one routine and start another that requires a little more effort.

Doing the same task for prolonged periods of time makes your mind dull and humdrum and will often result in losing focus of your tasks where attention to detail matters. Mixing up your routine and asking your supervisor for different assignments helps stimulate and manage the challenges at work and will decreases absenteeism. You get a feeling of belonging and working together that fosters positive results and feelings. It also avoids “burn out” and that “run into the ground” feeling that we often work hard to avoid.

Work at balancing your job, personal life and make time to enjoy your hobbies to lessens stress and create healthy living habits. Don’t overdo volunteering for overtime when it is offered. Be reasonable and work what you can but not letting it tire you down to the point of exhaustion. When mandatory, make your off time committed to getting good sleep. It has been established through safety surveys that fatigue is one major contributor to accidents on the job thus you must take the time to rest before you come to work.

Be aware of your surroundings at all times and when you do feel tired or fatigued, take a moment to catch your breath and just sit still and breathe; stretch out a little to let your blood flow and do what you know will make you feel better. Five to fifteen minute breaks can make a world of difference in your performance. Being resilient is about taking care of yourself and improving your performance. It involves deliberate decisions that benefit your body, your mind and your coworkers as you remain at top form to do your job with energy and efficiency.

Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Car’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

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