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On Guard: The Costs of Work-Related Hypervigilance in the Correctional Setting

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Employees in security-related occupations are expected to be alert and on guard at work in order to stay safe and complete their work tasks (e.g., police, military, corrections). This study introduces the concept of work-related hypervigilance (WHV) as an experience at work that sustains cognitive and physiological activation among employees and is associated with strain outcomes and lower well-being. It was hypothesized that WHV would be associated with greater strain outcomes (i.e., exhaustion and p hysical health symptoms), work-to-family conflict, and impaired sleep. Data were collected from 1317 security staff working in 14 state correctional facilities in the Northwestern United States. Results indicated that WHV was positively related to exhaustion, physical health symptoms, and work-to-family conflict. Further, WHV was negatively related to sleep quantity and quality. Overall, the results support the proposition that WHV is an important employee experience that warrants further examination. Practical and theoretical implications and future research directions are discussed.

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  1. Dummy codes for facility are not reported in the tables. Analyses using OLS regression without controlling for facility, did not change our results.

  2. Analyses including negative affect as an additional control variable produced the same pattern of results with one exception (i.e., WHV was no longer significantly related to sleep quantity). These results are available upon request from the first author.


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Correspondence to Charlotte Fritz or David Meier.



WHV Scale

To what extent do you agree with the following statements? In the past month…

  1. 1.

    I had to be on guard to stay safe.

  2. 2.

    Bad things may have happened if I had not constantly been looking out for danger.

  3. 3.

    I may have put myself and the people around me in danger if I had not always been on guard.

  4. 4.

    I always kept an eye out for potential danger.

  5. 5.

    If I relaxed I may have made myself more vulnerable to dangerous situations.

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Fritz, C., Hammer, L.B., Guros, F. et al. On Guard: The Costs of Work-Related Hypervigilance in the Correctional Setting. Occup Health Sci 2, 67–82 (2018).

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