Police Stress and Organizational Formalization: Explaining
Individual Responses by Organizational Traits.
Paper presented at the 1990 national meeting of the
Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, March 13 - 17, 1990.

Police Officer Stress & Agency Organizational Structure.

Police Stress

Role Ambiguity and Role Conflict

Organizational Dysfunctions

Research Issues

Role Ambiguity

Role Conflict

Formalization Inventory

Organizational Factors Inventory

Personality Research Form




Role Ambiguity and Role Conflict


Regression Model

Organization Factors


Role Conflict Model


Suggestions for Future Research

Appendix a



Although, law enforcement officers deal with stressful situations in the normal course of their duties excessive stress on individual officers may impair their ability to carry out their responsibilities. In addition to the impact on individuals, excessive stress on officers means that the law enforcement organization they serve suffers a adiminished capacity to serve the public. Therefore, in order to keep law enforcement organizations operating at optimal levels, administrators must be able to identify the causes of dysfunctional stress on individual officers and take effective action to ameliorate its effects.

Much of the contemporary literature on the causes of law enforcement stress focuses on factors personal to the individual officer. However, other researchers suggest that an officer's ability to cope with this stress is hindered by the structure and operation of the organization within which he or she works. In other words, the argument is made that aggregate-level elements -- organizational structure and operation -- may contribute in explaining the nature and extent of an individual-level phenomenon -- law enforcement officer stress.

Society can be conceived as a complex arrangement of individual relationships and interdependencies within a framework of organizations. In one form or another, organizations exist for various lengths of time and perform an immeasurable variety of tasks (Hage & Aiken, 1970). Organizations are an individual's way of navigating through contemporary existence. We are constantly concerned with assessing our roles and positions within organizations. Yet our knowledge of organizations is difficult to grasp.

Not only are we members of many organizations, but as members of our society, we rely on organizations to provide and protect our well being. The protection provided by organizations comes in two ways. First, organizations supply our livelihood and entertainment. A great many of our personal interactions are as representatives of one organization to another. Positive interactions with organizations can lead to improved self-esteem, job satisfaction and a high quality of life. Secondly, organizations provide for a division of labor that allows our complex society to exist. An individual does not need to supply all his own food, clothing and shelter, but is free to purse the activities that provide the means to have other organizations supply these needs. Among the myriad organizations providing services are governments, and more specifically, law enforcement organizations. Crime, and the resultant need for law enforcement, are perceived as being fundamentally important in current society (Webb and Smith, 1980).

As part of that protection system approximately 3,080 county sheriff departments exist in the United States. Of these, 501 have fifty or more sworn personnel. Sheriffs' organizations are unique among law enforcement in that they provide a full range of services such as police patrol, investigations, corrections, court security and civil functions. Like all public agencies, sheriffs are subject to constant public review, have limited budgets, and are under pressure to operate efficiently. Discovering the means to allow these organizations to work better is an important public policy goal. Also unique to sheriff's departments is the perceptions that the desirability of jobs differs among separate divisions of the agency. For example, the Corrections division may view its functions as less desirable than work in other divisions.

A brief discussion of police stress and organizational disfunction follows. This research contends that much of what is called police stress in reality evolves from the creation of role ambiguity and role conflict. The resultant product, police stress, becomes dysfunctional to the individual officer when the organizational structure exacerbates the effects of the stimuli instead of lessening them.


"Police stress" is considered by many analysts to be an important societal problem (Cullen, et al., 1985), and police work is thought of as stressful (Kelling and Pate, 1975). Law enforcement officers must be aware of the dangers of psychological stress (Hurrell and Kroes, 1975). Stress is the result of "demands placed on the system" and need not be harmful unless it is mismanaged or present in large quantities (Stratton, 1978). However, some analysis concludes that occupational and life stress can cause mental and even physical problems (Rabkin and Stuening, 1976 A, 1976 B; Cassell 1975; Stratton, 1978). For instance, one study of 2,300 officers in twenty-nine different police departments reported that thirty-six percent of the officers had serious marital problems, twenty-three percent had serious alcohol problems, twenty percent had serious problems with their children, and ten percent had drug problems. Yet, police were well below the average in seeking [medical and] mental treatment (Blackmore, 1978; Richard and Fell, 1975). The "macho" image of a police officer may well inhibit police from seeking such treatment (Blackmore, 1978). Law enforcement officers have significantly higher rates of health problems, premature deaths, suicides and general hospital admissions than other occupations (Richard and Fell, 1975).

Law enforcement stress has been clustered into three settings (Stratton, 1978; Stalgaitis et al., 198_; Phelps, 1975; Wallace, 1978). These are: 1) stressors internal to the law enforcement system; 2) stressors inherent in the law enforcement job itself; and 3) stressors external to law enforcement. Regardless of the origin, either external or internal, the stressors described below can be attributed to either role ambiguity, role conflict, or the interaction between them.

Many researchers have cited the inadequacy of two-way communications between the administration, supervisors, and line officers, in law enforcement, as a compelling internal stressor (Duffee, 1974; Jacobs, 1978; Cheek and Miller, 1979 A; Stalgaitis et al., 198_). In addition, many other stressors are cited in the literature. One is inadequate feedback to influence decision-making policies (Cheek and Miller, 1979 B; Sheppard, 1975). Second is uncertainty about the officer's prescribed roles and duties (May, 1976; Pogrebin, 1978). A third is threats to the officer's positive self-image (Wallace, 1978). Fourth is interdepartmental problems caused by internal politics, promotions, and favoritism (Baldwin, 1977; Eisenberg, 1975). A fifth is low pay (Farlekas, 1975; Menard, 1978). Sixth is low work place morale (Cheek and Miller, 1979 A). Seventh is the officer's fear of doing "something wrong" and of being criticized or investigated. Finally, the distress generated by shift changes often required by law enforcement scheduling causes both emotional and physical problems, (Stratton, 1978). In a study of line officers and administrators (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, undated) both groups listed "administration" as the number one stressor. The line officer's stress seemed to emanate from a "threat to his professionalism." The administrator was the man-in-the-middle, balancing the operating demands from below with the commands and pressures from above and from the environment. Work overload and job ambiguity coupled with public relations were cited as the most specific job stressors by police administrators.

Stressors internal to the job may be found when police and correctional officers find themselves with conflicting roles (Eisenberg, 1975). Police spend much of their time in activities not directly related to law enforcement functions, while correction officers are placed in the dual conflicting role of providing both "custody [and] treatment" (Grusky, 1959; Hosford etal., 1975; Stalgaitis et al., 198_). Law enforcement officers can develop personal conflicts by being placed in the position of having to choose between one or more contradictory goals. Such contradictions include the notions of loyalty to fellow officers and honesty which includes ". . . conflicts arising from temptation, fear, or inabilities to ease human suffering . . . [conflict] in belief with the law or authorities" (Blum, 1970). In addition to these conflicting roles, officers must cope with the tight controls of a quasi-military organizational structure combined with the often unstructured working conditions of the individual officer (Symonds, 1969). The officer is part of a strict chain of command, yet he is often unsupervised in his work.

Another set of stressors directly related to law enforcement work includes the feelings of danger (Cullen, et al., 1985; Brodsky, 1977; Jacobs, 1978, McCall, 1979), violence (May, 1976), problem solving (Johnson, 1977), lack of appreciation of their job efforts by the administration and public, peer group pressure, role conflict (Hillgren and Bond, undated A); and the threat of law suits (Jochums, 1978). In research conducted by Cullen et al., danger was an extremely important stressor. Yet, their subjects worked in relatively crime-free communities. Few, if any, officers knew of co-workers that were physically injured on the job. Cullen concluded that where the potential for injury exists, this "inherent and ever-present [condition] in their occupational role . . . may prove difficult for many officers to negotiate and thus may precipitate stressful conditions." In a study directly related to actual dangerous and threatening situations, Singleton (1977) found that the occurrence of lethal or near-lethal experiences does not appear to be correlated with interpersonal stress beyond that of coping with any inquiries caused by the incident. However, the officer's body is often called on to be in a state of heightened alertness, and at times he is responsible for another individual's life (Stratton, 1978). Yet, law enforcement officers consider themselves to be experts or authorities in dealing with violence (Skolnick, 1966).

Another cluster of stressors includes those external to actual law enforcement. These encompass job-related stressors such as the lack of public support for their job (May, 1976; McCall, 1979). Law enforcement officers are often portrayed in the media in an unfavorable light (Jacobs, 1978; May, 1976; Blum, 1970), and are often embarrassed or hesitant to reveal their occupations to others (Johnson, 1978). In addition, personal stressors such as marital problems, minority status and other personal problems that may exist outside the work place can affect job performance (Blackmore, 1978).

The above discussion lends support to the proposition that both the function and structure of law enforcement organizations are major sources of individual stress. Thus, a greater effort must be made to identify and remove the conditions that lead to this strain (Baldwin, 1977, Handy, 1988).


Much of the research on police stress overemphasizes the psychological level of analysis. This misplaced focus may divert attention from the importance of the organizational setting (Handy, 1988). Bacharach, et al., (1986) suggest that stress is the resultant application of many organizational components as opposed to the physiological differences of the individuals. The effects of stress are exacerbated when people work in either extremely loosely or tightly structured organizations with the resulting rules and regulations that are imposed. These organizational dysfunctions create an undesirable work environment. Among those elements considered "dominant" job stressors are: role conflict, role ambiguity, organizational reward inequity, and lack of participation in decision making (Martin, 1984). Most reactions to role conflict are "dysfunctional for the organization . . . and self-defeating for the person . . ." (Kahn, et al., 1964, 65). Both role ambiguity and role conflict are significantly related to most all the factors listed in the police stress section (Bedeian, etal., 1981; Miles, 1976)

Role conflict can arise from three somewhat differing sources. The first two are internal to the organization and the third is external. The first occurs when successful completion of the assigned job function requires action outside the allowable procedures, yet established procedures must be followed and not broken. Second, is the conflicting job expectations placed on an individual by different groups or individuals within the organization. Third is the conflict that arises from expected job functions and beliefs or memberships in organizations outside the work group (Kahn, etal., 1965).

Role conflict is often manifested in "overload." Overload occurs when a conflict is perceived between appropriate tasks in setting priorities. Again, the usual response to role conflict is withdrawal. To the individual, the consequences of role conflict and ambiguity are similar; "low job satisfaction, low self-confidence, [and] a high sense of futility . . ." (Kahn, etal., 1964, 380). Conflict can also appear as a result of a clash between public roles and private ideals. This conflict often leads to poor organizational performance (Bernard & White, 1986). However, Kahn states that role conflict and ambiguity are "independent sources of stress; either or both of them may be present in any given role" (1964, 89).

Role ambiguity is increased by the lack of availability of a clear, concise, and successful communication of the information needed for a person to complete the assigned tasks. Examples of the required information include, "rights, duties and responsibilities of the office." Along with the knowledge of what actions will discharge the "responsibilities of office and how these activities can best be performed" (Kahn, et al., 1964, 22). Conflicting information of this sort also increases role ambiguity.

While life itself has much ambiguity, and we cannot predict many outcomes or personal events, role ambiguity has many of the same emotional results as role conflict. "Ambiguity leads to increased emotional tension and to decreased satisfaction with one's job. It also contributes significantly to a sense of futility and to a loss of self-confidence" (Kahn, etal., 1964, 85). Kahn (1964) points out that contributing to the sense of self-confidence is the esteem with which one is viewed with by his co-workers. Role ambiguity has varying effects on personal relations. In general, maintaining close relations with co-workers in ambiguous situations is difficult. Thus, the higher the ambiguity level, the further apart personal distance becomes which makes communications even harder (Van Sell etal., 1981). In turn, this leads to a spiraling increase in ambiguity.


While it can be dangerous to view an organization as a type instead of a system of variables (Stogdill, 1971; Udy, 1959); organizational "formalization" is used as a variable representing the amount of reliance placed on rules, regulations and enforcement to obtain the behavior the organization prefers. Formalization is "the degree of work standardization and the amount of deviation that is allowed from standards. . . [a] high degree of formalization implies not only a preponderance of rules defining jobs and specifying what is to be done, but also the enforcement of those rules" (Aiken and Hage, 1966, 499).

Aiken and Hage cite studies reinforcing their ideas that show: 1) a public organization with "an almost obsessive reliance on routines and procedures" has a great deal of worker dissatisfaction and little employee cohesion; 2) an Air Force tracking station with "great emphasis on rules" where the employees felt their work was "meaningless;" and 3) a situation where supervisors' increased pressure resulted in a decline in morale. The lack of time or autonomy, or just the perceived lack of control over how one operates and performs the job is a stressor (Hall, 1986). Yet, Bamber, Snowball and Tubbs (1989) found that senior professionals perceived less stress in structured organizations than those in unstructured organizations. This supports the work by Podsakoff, Williams and Todor (1986) which holds that formalization of work rules has the ability to reduce stress in both professional and non-professional workers. They go on to suggest that the more structured or formal the rules, the higher the level of commitment to the organization.

The discussion to this point suggests that increased levels of individual stress, as measured by role ambiguity and role conflict, are undesirable and that organizational dysfunction is a contributing factor to both. The concept can be expanded so that the reduction of stress will encourage productivity by supervision that allows "an adequate degree of freedom for initiative in task performance" (Stogdill, 1971). But, morale can be thought of as the "freedom from restraint" (Stogdill, 1971). The research does not make the connection between notions of productivity, cohesiveness, and morale on the one hand and stress on the other. However, morale is related to the development of stress as defined in the research. Stogdill defines the factors that make up morale as:

1) the clear definition of roles, which permits each member to know what he is expected to do, and 2) the provision of enough freedom for initiative so that each member can attack his task with confidence and a feeling of accomplishment (1964, 38).

Stogdill's definition of morale is the reduction of stress and a proper degree of organizational formalization. A major part of criminal justice literature deals with the combination of low morale and dissatisfaction in law enforcement officers. Cheek and Miller (1983) call this the "double-bind" of corrections. As an example, guards who are over-controlled by the administration react negatively and tend to be austere and inflexible with inmates (Blau, etal., 1986). Yet, if guards tend to be uncompromising in enforcing regulations, they can lose control of the inmates (Wright, 1977; Clare and Kramer, 1976). The guards are dependent on the inmates' cooperation and acquiescence to maintain their control. Formal, highly structured organizations often tend to have developed "scripts" learned through various organizational socialization, work experience and symbolic management that can lead to a form of "mindless" behavior. Part of this "mindlessness" is a lack of vigilance in operations, altered perceptions, hasty conclusions and fallacious learning. None of these factors is positive for either the individual or the organization. Each serves only to increase role conflict and ambiguity (Ashforth and Fried, 1988).


The Sheriff and Undersheriff..., felt they had a problem between the divisions, especially between patrol and corrections, in work attitude and general command response. These issues were displayed by the apparent dissatisfaction and lack of enthusiasm for operations in the new state-of-the-art corrections facility. The proposed research examines the proposition that the issues of law enforcement stressors were not properly connected to the actual tasks confronting the individual officer, and the root cause of individual stress could be organizationally bound. Could the organization itself, the quasi-military structure combined with the great individual discretion available to individual officers implemented by an improper level of formalization, generate these stressor conditions?

Perhaps the constructs of role ambiguity and role conflict could explain the elements of law enforcement stressors discussed above. The first research question, is: 1) Is law enforcement officer stress, as measured by role ambiguity and role conflict, the result of organizational dysfunction?

Extended observations of various sheriff's departments leads to the belief that stress is related to the division where one works. The corrections division, in non-scientific observation, is perceived by officers to be a less desirable and of lower status than the other police functions in the department. The question arises 2) Is Stress related to the Current Division where one works?

The different divisions of the department perform separate tasks under widely different working environments. This leads to the question 3) Does the division affect the perceptions of the department's needs as measured by the Organizational Factors Inventory and if the answer is yes then is there a relationship between formalization and the current division? (1.Common knowledge, would lead one to believe that in any multi-division organization the expectation would be for differences on the items measured by the Organizational Factors Inventory relating to the needs and functions of the divisions. While the current division may have an effect of formalization, it is doubtful that formalization will effect division. Unless the argument that form creates function holds true.)

The purpose of the research is to study the association between the individual's perceptions of group level attributes and individual level perceptions of workers traits in the different operating divisions of the... Department. The first aggregate-level attribute, organizational formalization, is measured by the "Hage and Aiken Formalization Inventory" (Aiken and Hage, 1966; Hage and Aiken, 1967A; 1967B; 1970). The other aggregate-level attributes, role ambiguity and role conflict, are measured by the "Index of Job-Related Tensions in Organizations of Robert L. Kahn, et al., (1964).

Incorporated into the study is an instrument developed in cooperation with the Sheriff used to measure organizational concerns of the administration which were specific to the department, the "Organizational Factors Inventory." Two other instruments were also utilized. The first is a brief demographic questionnaire on personal information and professional background. Second, is the Jackson Personality Research Form.

Robert L. Kahn et al., (1964) developed an "Index of Job-Related Tensions in Organizations." The Tension Index consists of two parts: role ambiguity and role conflict.


Role ambiguity measures such items as an individual's uncertainty about his or her responsibilities and what others expect from him/her on the job actions. It also measures a level of organizational ambiguity. Role ambiguity is measured in an individual by such questions as: 1) being unclear on just what the scope and responsibilities of your job are; 2) thinking that you will not be able to satisfy the conflicting demands of various people over you; and 3) not knowing just what other people you work with expect of you. On the survey used, eight questions composed the role ambiguity scale.


The second aspect of the Tension Index, role conflict reveals another aspect of stress. These conflicts "within the structure of the work role are major sources of stress" (Kahn, et al., 1964, 59). While these are often "minor or occasional irritants" they can create personal stress. Kahn constructs role conflict from the concepts of "role overload . . . [and] person-role conflicts" (59). Within this framework, questions arise such as: 1) feeling that you have too little authority to carry out the responsibilities assigned to you; 2) feeling that you have too heavy a work load, one that you can't possibly finish during an ordinary workday; 3) feeling that you have to do things on the job that are against your better judgement; and 4) feeling that you are not fully qualified to handle your job. Seven questions constitute the role conflict scale. Both scales are scored with Likert type responses.


The "Hage and Aiken Formalization Inventory" (Aiken and Hage, 1966; Hage and Aiken, 1967 A; 1967 B: 1970) consists of 15 questions. The formalization index is broken down into five different scales: job codification, rule observation, rule manual, job descriptions and specificity of job descriptions (Miller, 1983; Aiken and Hage, 1966). The job codification scale is made up of such questions as: 1) I feel that I am my own boss in most matters; or 2) people here are allowed to do almost as they please. Five questions make up a "job codification" scale.

Hage and Aiken's "index of rule observation" consists of answers to two questions: 1) the employees are constantly being investigated for rule violations; and 2) people here feel as though they are constantly watched to see that they obey all the rules. The rule manual Question is: there is no rule manual. Along the same lines, a question on the employee's job description asks whether a complete, written job description exists for his or her job. The last formalization index, "specificity of job description," incorporates six questions. These questions are: 1) we are to follow strict operating procedures at all time; and 2) everyone has a specific job to do. These individual questions are scored with a Likert Scale.


The last of the organizational instruments, the "Organizational Factors Inventory," is a questionnaire consisting of sixteen items taken from a "Nominal Group Technique" meeting held with approximately fifteen decision and policy makers of the department, This consists of seven indexes. The first index consists of two questions, deals with staffing levels, and is designed to determine whether the officers perceive a lack of staff to fulfill the tasks at hand. The second index concerns equipment and is made up of two questions such as the amount and quality of the equipment available.

Third is the division differences' index. The five questions included here are designed to determine the perceptions of the officers as their division is seen by others in differing divisions and their knowledge of other divisions. Fourth is the pay question asking "considering what I do, I am fairly paid." Fifth is three questions dealing with organizational factors, such as the physical separation of parts of the organization and lack of administrative staff. Sixth is a question on supervision. The last index concerns public relations and consists of two questions concerning the need for increased public relations efforts. Again the individual questions are scored with a Likert Scale.


The sixth section, the Jackson Personality Research Form, is also an integral part of this research. McNeil and Rubin defined personality as ". . . the pattern of characteristic behaviors and thoughts we use to deal with our environment" (1977, 447).

"The Personality Research Form represents an application of developments in the areas of personality theory, personality assessment, and test theory to personality tests" (Jackson, 1984, 4). The scales are based on "carefully defined theoretical . . . conceptions of what each scale should measure" (Jackson, 1984, 9). The PRF scale is designed to yield "a set of scores . . . broadly relevant to the functioning of individuals in a wide variety of situations. It thus focuses primarily upon areas of normal functioning, rather than upon psychopathology" (Jackson, 1984, 4). It provides a measure of twenty-one personality traits coupled with an additional validity scale. A complete description of the scales are in the appendix.

III. Methodology

III. A. Sample Selection

The population frame for this study was the sworn personnel of the Erie County, New York, Sheriff's Department. All sworn officers, except the Sheriff, Undersheriff and direct members of the administration were included in the sampling frame. Table 1 includes a summary of some of the demographic characteristics of the sample.

The unit of analysis in this study is the individual Deputy Sheriff regardless of rank, except as noted above, in the... Department. Two procedures were used to gather the data. The first was a stratified, by shift, non-probability convenience sample. The procedure used is as follows:

The rotating schedule of five days on and two days off has one day where there are more people on duty than the rest of the week. This is known as a "Wheel Day." Memos were sent to all division shift commanders with instructions to send as many personnel as they could to the training room in the Holding Center. The memo requested that officers of differing characteristics and experience be referred. The first session was held at 5:00 A.M. to catch the 12:00 to 8:00 A.M. shift. At 9:00 A.M. the second session with the day shift people was held. On the next "wheel day" at 2:00 P.M., another session with the day shift officers (more than half the department works the day shift) was conducted. At 5:00 P.M. a session to include some evening shift people was held. This resulted in a sample size of sixty-three officers.

At that point, a probability sample was taken. After much consideration of the methods to distribute and collect the survey instrument, the Sheriff's Department agreed to distribute and allow the respondent officers time on the job to complete the instrument. A roster of all employees was obtained, and all civilian and administrative workers were attempted to be removed. The names remaining on the roster were assigned a consecutive number and a list of random numbers was generated in SYSTAT. A sample of two-hundred was drawn with about twenty-three names coming from the group already surveyed.

Questionnaire packages were prepared with a copy of the organizational instrument, Jackson PRF Form E booklet and answer-sheet, along with a letter of introduction and instructions. Included in the package were the researcher's name and telephone number as well as the name and telephone number of the department liaison officer. Of the 190 packages circulated, thirty-eight percent (seventy-three) were returned completed. Several packages were returned from civilian non-sworn personnel and were discarded. Others were returned for various reasons, such as sick leave, or that the officer was no longer with the department. Seven were returned with notes refusing to participate.

After several weeks a personal letter was sent to each officer who had not returned his/her package asking for the questionnaire package returned, preferably completed. One hundred twenty-nine letters were sent out, and only about twelve more packages were received, seven of these were completed and usable.

One explanation for the relatively low return rate is that during this time the Department, Union, and County Administration were in negotiations regarding working conditions and pay. The deputies were not happy with the pace of negotiations, and while every effort was made to distance this study from the contract process, some of the lack of participation was due to the talks. Also, during the coding of the questionnaires, three respondents' scores on the verification scale of the PRF were outside the allowable limits, and their whole package was discarded. While this rate of return is slightly below Babbie's expected rate-of-return to be "adequate," I purposely oversampled in order to get an "n" over a hundred.

The original and follow-up samples were combined to obtain a sample size large enough to permit the statistical procedures to function. While these subsets were developed using different techniques, they exhibited similar characteristics that suggested this combination was a legitimate activity. In testing the difference between the means of three variables, (AGE, YRPD years on the department, and YRED, years of education) the hypothesis that the samples were from the same universe was not rejected(1)



IV. A. Role Ambiguity and Role Conflict

As discussed above, Kahn's (1964) Tension Index consists of two parts: role ambiguity and role conflict. The first, role ambiguity measures an individual's uncertainty about his responsibilities and what the individual thinks others expect from his on the job actions. It also measures a level of organizational ambiguity. The scale ranged from 1, low ambiguity to 5, high ambiguity. The mean for role ambiguity in the department was 2.137 with a standard deviation of 0.633, indicating a moderately low level of role ambiguity in the department. The distribution is in Figure 1.

The second aspect of the Tension index, is role conflict. This is another aspect of stress. As stated above, role conflicts "within the structure of the work role are major sources of stress" (Kahn et al, 1964, 59). While these are often "minor or occasional irritants" they can create personal stress. Role conflict is formed from the notions of "role overload . . . [and] person-role conflicts" (59). This scale again ranges from 1, low conflict to 5, high conflict as shown in the distribution in Figure 2.

IV. B. Formalization

The formalization index was broken down into five different scales: job codification, rule observation, rule manual, job descriptions and specificity of job descriptions (Miller, 1983; Aiken and Hage, 1966). The job codification scale ranges from 1, low rule codification, to 4, high rule codification. With a mean of 2.840, and a standard deviation of .608, the department has a moderate to moderately high level of job codification. Approximately 2.9 % had scores from 1.0 to 1.4, 22.8 % ranged from 1.6 to 2.4, 60.3 % ranged from 2.6 to 3.4 and 14 % ranged from 3.6 to 4.0.

The index of rule observation has a mean of 2.504, standard deviation .827 with 1 being high enforcement and 4 equalling low rule enforcement, the department has a moderate to moderately low level of rule observation and enforcement. There were 17.6% with a score of 1.0 to 1.5, 24.3 % had a score of 2.0, 52.2 % had a score of 2.5 to 3.5 and 5.9 % had a score of 4.

The rule manual index had a mean of 3.726 and a standard deviation of .706. There were 89.0 % who responded negatively, meaning there is a rule manual. According to the department's administration there is a rule manual. Along the same lines, question 50, there is a complete written job description for my job, had a mean of 1.993, standard deviation of 1.015. On this question 73.5 % responded positively. This indicates that most officers are aware of their duties and the department's rules.

The last formalization index, specificity of job description, has a mean of 1.945 with a standard deviation of .514. Ranging from 1, high formalization, to 4, low formalization, indicates a moderately high job specificity. In fact, the mean of the first five questions of the index was 1.778. The last question, whenever we have a problem we are supposed to go to the same person for an answer, had a mean of 2.770. This may indicate a somewhat loose chain of command.

As would be expected the different divisions have different scores on the indexes, see Table III. The correction's division has the highest scores on both role ambiguity and role conflict. While the patrol and court division have lower role ambiguity scores. Yet, patrol has the second highest conflict score which tends to support the literature concerning the many roles that patrol and correction officers are expected to perform. Performing independent samples T-Tests on the variables: role ambiguity and role conflict, grouped on current division only, role conflict was significant. The differences in the formalization indexes represent both the differences in organizational functions that the different divisions perform as well as the differences in individual divisional leadership. Again the independent T-Tests on the formalization variables found only the job codification index to be significant.

My initial thoughts were that the formalization indexes would be related to both role ambiguity and role conflict. Unfortunately, the regression did not show any significant relationships. A regression model was developed using all the measures of the survey instrument to help explain both role ambiguity and conflict.

IV. C. Regression Model

In examining a regression model in SYSTAT, Table IV, with role ambiguity as the dependent variable, none of the formalization scale indexes are significant. In fact when adding role conflict(2)e yxyÖThe operational concerns expressed by the administration were examined by the third organizational instrument. Table VI details the descriptive statistics of these variables. Of the seven variables, three had significant results when compared across the different divisions. Staffing levels, equipment, and divisional differences all had significant results in the independent samples T-Tests. Comparing the correction division to the patrol division, it is corrections that feels the strongest about the lack of staff. Yet, the correction division has higher satisfaction with their equipment than does the patrol division. An interesting aside, as mentioned earlier, this research was done during a contract dispute with the county, mainly over pay issues. The pay level variable while not significant had a probability of .054 when compared across the divisions. Also, while neither age nor years on the department were significant in any of the models to build role ambiguity or role conflict, it is significant in the make-up of the various divisions. Building a Logit model in Systat, showed age and years of service were significantly different between divisions. The correction division had the lowest mean age at 35.15 years and a mean service time of 5.8 years. Patrol was next with a mean age of 38.97 and mean service of 12.4 years. The court's division had a mean age of 40.7 and a mean service time of 15.3 years. While investigations had a mean age of 41.1 and a mean service of 15.5 years.


I did not find the expected relationship between role ambiguity, role conflict and organizational dysfunction. One can argue that these correlations were not found in the current research due to several reasons. First, is the notion that the research, while looking at several divisions, still dealt with one organizational structure. The organizational dysfunction measures did not show a disproportionately large amount of dysfunction and they did not significantly differ uniformly across all divisions and variables.

Second, the amount of stress measured by the variables role ambiguity and role conflict was low to moderately low and both variables did not differ significantly across all divisions. The lack of both high levels of stress and organizational dysfunction coupled with the high levels of integrated training and command in the department appear to be the cause of not finding the expected connect in the research.

V. A. Role Conflict Mode

Still, there is significant information available from the research for both the academician and the practitioner. A regression model with an adjusted R2 of .58 is constructed. This model explains over half the stress measured by role conflict. The variables that make up stress as measured by role conflict are important to the administrator. Role ambiguity, not knowing what is expected from you on the job, displays the complexity of the law enforcement job and suggests that better training and clearer definition of expected job actions would help. Although, as stated earlier Erie County has a nationally recognized excellent training program the easy answer is even more extensive use of the training program to impact on role ambiguity.

In both interviews with administrators and personnel of the Erie County Sheriff's Department and in past non-scientific observations of this and other sheriffs departments, the prevalent view is that working in corrections is less desirable. Most officers in corrections feel that their job has less status and is looked down on by both officers in other divisions and the public. The study found that correction officers had higher levels of role conflict then other divisions. The correction officers were, for the most part, less satisfied with their status in the department then officers in other divisions. While not having definitive answers to this problem, its seems necessary to instill a greater notion of both professionalism and esteem in the correction officers. Again an emphases on training comes in to play.

Following in importance in the model is the variable measuring whether an officer works an extra job or not. In the model officers who work extra jobs have higher levels of role conflict. This does not seem all that obscure, when one considers the traditional conflicts the officer deals with are aggravated with the extra conflicts of dealing with another job. Working extra jobs can create conflicts in time, scheduling and even loyalties. Implementation of well thought out policies and procedures concerning working extra jobs should help reduce the problem in this area.

The organizational factors measure tells us that the lack of sufficient staff and administrative assistance contributes to role conflict. Again, this is not an earth shattering breakthrough, but confirms some commonly held notions that inadequate staff can hinder the satisfactory completion of organizational tasks. Unfortunately, under the working conditions of public agencies like a sheriff's department, under-staffing is a fact that the administration can do little to alleviate. What the administration can do is to set priorities and plan tasks so that the available staff can perform efficiently with the most important and pressing tasks handled first.

The last three variables are achievement, aggression and aggression (see the appendix for a brief description) as measured by the Jackson Personality Research Form. Those officers striving for a high level of achievement have a higher role conflict level in the department. Jackson states that achievement is a positive work attribute. Endurance is also a positive work attribute. In the model those who are low on endurance tend to have role conflict. Finally, those officers who are aggressive or combative in their interpersonal relationships have higher levels of role conflict. It appears those officers who strive to achieve and those who do not have the endurance to survive the organization display role conflict. High scores on aggression imply that one is "combat[ive] and argument[ive] and easily annoyed" (Jackson, 1984, 4). These are not positive organizational traits and it is not unexpected that a structured organization, like a sheriff's office would lead to role conflict in officers with this trait.

V. B. Suggestions

The results support the notion that corrections is viewed as less desirable duty than the other divisions. This, itself, is cause for some of the role conflict exhibited in the officers. As stated above, a program to raise both the esteem and the professionalism of the corrections division and its perceptions with officers in other division should help improve this aspect of the findings.

The... County Sheriff's department is noted for the high quality of its training program. The training program is an important tool of the organization and is currently performing well. The research suggests that a higher level of performance is needed with the complete integration of a properly developed set of policy and procedure to reduce job ambiguity.

Compared to other sheriff's agencies,...  is well organized and professionally operated. Nevertheless, it must continue to develop lines of communication between the administration and its officers and among the various divisions in the department. It also must continue to improve the professional attitudes prevalent in the department.

V. C. Suggestions for Future Research

There are a few questions that stand out for future research. The first is the continued examination of the relationship between stress, as measured by role conflict and role ambiguity, and organizational dysfunction. It seems that an examination of this relationship across different organizations and not just divisions of the same organization would be in order.

Kahn (1964) tells us that role ambiguity and role conflict are measures of two different and independent notions. Yet this research suggests otherwise. If there is a directional relationship between role ambiguity and role conflict, this could impact organizational theory. I recommend further study.

VI. Appendix A

Jackson Personality Research Form Scales

AC ACHIEVEMENT -- Aspires to accomplish difficult tasks; maintains high standards and is willing to work toward distant goals; responds positively to competition; willing to put forth effort to attain excellence.

AF AFFILIATION -- Enjoys being with friends and people in general; accepts people readily; makes efforts to win friendships and maintain associations.

AG AGGRESSION -- Enjoys combat and argument; easily annoyed; sometimes willing to hurt people to get own way; may seek to "get even" with people perceived as causing harm.

EN ENDURANCE -- Willing to work long hours; doesn't give up quickly on a problem; persevering, even in the face of great difficulty; patient and unrelenting in work habits.

NU NURTURANCE -- Gives sympathy and comfort; assists others whenever possible, interested in caring for children, the disabled, or the infirm; offers a "helping Hand" to those in need; readily performs favors for others.

OR ORDER -- Concerned with keeping personal effects and surroundings neat and organized; dislikes clutter, confusion, lack of organization;interested in developing methods for keeping materials methodically organized.

IN INFREQUENCY -- Responds in implausible or pseudo-random manner, possibly due to carelessness, poor comprehension, passive non-compliance, confusion, or gross deviation.

DY DESIRABILITY -- Describes self in terms judged as desirable; consciously or unconsciously, accurate or inaccurately, presents favorable picture of self in responses to personality statements.

(Jackson, 1984, 6-7)


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1. 0For the variables AGE and YRPD a two tailed t value had to exceed t=±1.645. There values were AGE=.878 and YRPD=-.792. For the variable YRED the t value had to exceed t=±1.658. The YRED value was t=1.579. Therefore we accept H0: u1 - u2=0.