‘Psychological contract violation’ affects police mental health, study finds

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Employers need to take more responsibility for the ‘psychological contract’ they have with their employees, especially in occupations affected by austerity measures, as negative emotional reactions can increase the risk of work-related mental health issues.

This is according to new research from the University of Birmingham’s school of psychology, which found police staff who perceived that their organisation had broken promises around resourcing, staffing levels and work demands – and had therefore ‘violated’ the psychological contract between the two parties – were at greater risk of anxiety, depression and stress.

The study, which involved 126 people who had served in a UK police force for between three and 29 years, sought to determine whether negative feelings associated with perceived broken promises at work – or ‘psychological contract violation (PCV)’ – correlated with feelings of depression, anxiety or stress.

“Breaching these psychological contracts might result in feelings of anger or frustration and influence their wellbeing,” said Dr Fazeelat Duran, who is the lead author of the study which has been published in the International Journal of Stress Management.

“It’s a construct that is relevant to public sector workers such as police or firefighters because of the deep impact from austerity cuts leading to fewer resources and increased workloads.”

The study also found that fairness and self-efficacy – defined as an employee’s belief that they are capable of doing their job – ‘mediated’ the relationship between PCV and anxiety and stress.

Duran added: “The links with fairness and self-efficacy are really important. They show, for example, how feelings of PCV resulting from unfairness and things like inadequate job resources may affect how competent an employee feels in fulfilling their job.

“Employers clearly need to take more responsibility for these psychological contracts, including providing honest explanations to their employees, as well as fostering officers’ feelings of self-efficacy and ensuring transparency around decision-making in the workplace.”

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