Effort–Reward Imbalance and Overcommitment at Work: Associations With Police Burnout

Date01 December 2018
Published date01 December 2018
Subject MatterArticles
untitled Article
Police Quarterly
2018, Vol. 21(4) 440–460
! The Author(s) 2018
Imbalance and
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611118774764
Overcommitment at
Work: Associations
With Police Burnout
John M. Violanti1,
Anna Mnatsakanova2,
Michael E. Andrew2,
Penelope Allison2, Ja Kook Gu2, and
Desta Fekedulegn2
The present study examined associations of effort–reward imbalance (ERI) and over-
commitment at work with burnout among police officers using data from 200 (mean
age ¼ 46 years, 29% women) officers enrolled in the Buffalo Cardio-Metabolic
Occupational Police Stress Study. ERI and overcommitment were assessed using
Siegrist’s “effort/reward” questionnaire. The Maslach Burnout Inventory-General
Survey was used to assess burnout and its three subscales (exhaustion, cynicism,
and professional efficacy). Analysis of covariance was used to examine mean values
of burnout scores across quartiles of ERI and overcommitment. Linear regression
was used to test for linear trend. ERI and overcommitment were positively and
significantly associated with cynicism and exhaustion (trend p value professional efficacy showed an inverse association with overcommitment (p ¼ .026).
1Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health, School of Public Health and Health Professions,
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, Buffalo, NY, USA
2Biostatistics and Epidemiology Branch, Health Effects Laboratory Division, National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morgantown, WV, USA
Corresponding Author:
John M. Violanti, Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health, School of Public Health and
Health Professions, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, 270 Farber Hall, Buffalo, NY,
Email: violanti@buffalo.edu

Violanti et al.
Cynicism and exhaustion scores were significantly higher in officers who reported
both overcommitment and ERI compared with their counterparts (p The results suggest that ERI and overcommitment at work are determinants of
higher cynicism and exhaustion. The inverse association of overcommitment with
professional efficacy (an indicator of engagement at work) suggests that extreme
involvement in work may negatively affect efficacy. Overcommitment may be related
to a need for approval and inability of officers to withdraw from work, even in an
off-duty status. Police agencies should consider organizational remedies to maintain
acceptable levels of commitment by officers. In addition, there is a need to monitor
and improve effort–reward imbalance experienced by officers.
police, work effort–reward imbalance, burnout, overcommitment
Policing is an occupation replete with stress (Berg, Hem, Lau, & Ekeberg, 2006;
Burke, 2017; Cheong & Yun, 2011; Collins & Gibbs, 2003; van der Velden et al.,
2013; Webster, 2014). According to Shane (2010), sources of stress in policing
may be classified into two general categories: (a) those inherent in police work
such as shift work, overtime hours, court appearances, and traumatic work
exposures, and (b) internal stress associated with characteristics of the organi-
zation and relationships within. The primary source of stressors for the police
officers was thought to be organizational and not operational factors (Basi
& Wiciak, 2013). An earlier study by Kop, Euwema, and Schaufeli (1999) also
reported similar findings that organizational stressors were more prevalent
than operational stressors. Organizational factors included poor equipment,
inadequate supervision, and lack of support while operational exposures includ-
ed danger and interaction with the public.
Prolonged exposure to work stress has been shown to be associated to a wide
variety of adverse health outcomes including physical, psychological, and psy-
chosocial. Posttraumatic stress disorder (American Psychiatric Association,
2013), depression, and suicide (Austin-Ketch et al., 2012; Ma et al., 2015;
McCanlies et al., 2014; Violanti, Robinson, & Shen, 2013) have been reported
to be prevalent among police officers. Work stressors not only impact officers
but also those around them—coworkers, family, and friends (Kirschman,
Kamena, & Fay, 2014; Mikkelsen & Burke, 2004). For example, a high percent-
age of police spouses reported experiencing stress due to the officer’s job, includ-
ing shift work, overtime, fear of the officer being hurt or killed, and the officer
sharing too little or too much about their job with them (Finn, 2000). One can

Police Quarterly 21(4)
add to this array of occupational exposures the recent negative public image that
police face, resulting in public loss of confidence in police integrity (President’s
Task Force on Policing, 2015). Policing, therefore, represents an ideal occupa-
tion to examine the potential effect of work-related stress on psychological
health outcomes such as burnout.
Burnout is defined as a syndrome consisting of exhaustion, cynicism, and
professional efficacy (Leiter & Maslach, 2004; Maslach, Jackson, & Leiter,
1996; Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001). Exhaustion refers to emotional
Professional efficacy includes traits of occupational accomplishment and
engagement (Maslach et al., 1996). In law enforcement environment, burnout
may be seen as a response to the continuous and prolonged exposure to occu-
pational stress and is considered a serious health threat among police officers
(Burke, 2017; Burke & Richardson, 2001; Melamed, Shirom, Toker, Berliner, &
Shapira, 2006; Stearns & Moore, 1993). A review study of stress in policing
(Burke, 2017) reported that police officers experience significantly high levels
of cynicism, exhaustion, and lower professional efficacy. Compared with two
normative samples, police officers scored lower on exhaustion and professional
efficacy, but scored higher on cynicism (Lahoz & Mason, 1989; Maslach &
Jackson, 1981). Studies of determinants of burnout in policing report a variety
of factors including (a) high work demands together with lower resources
(Martinussen, Richardsen, & Burke, 2007) as determinants of burnout, (b)
high demands as risk factor for higher exhaustion while high control resulted
in greater professional efficacy (Hall, Dollard, Tuckey, Winefield, & Thompson,
2010; Taris, Kompier, Geurts, Houtman, & van den Heuvla, 2010), (c) organi-
zational experiences of police officers being more strongly associated with burn-
out than operational experiences (Kohan & Mazmanian, 2003), and (d)
attitudes about the use of violence (Kop et al., 1999). These studies suggest
that the effort–reward model (Siegrist, 1996) would serve as underlying source
of work stress to examine its potential impact on police burnout.
The theoretical basis for effort–reward imbalance (ERI) is based on social
reciprocity, which is characterized by mutual cooperative investments based on
the norm of return expectancy where a less stressful work environment depends
on an equitable balance between efforts and rewards (Siegrist, 1996). Effort
refers to the demands of the job and requirements put forth in the policy of
the employer while reward is distributed by the employer and consist of money,
esteem, and job security (Siegrist, 1996). According to Siegrist (1996), the reward
structure depends highly on job stability, the prospect of promotion given a high
level of performance, and a salary that is consistent with the work done.
Additionally, it is important that workers feel a sense of esteem in the work
organization and a cohesive relationship with coworkers. The ERI model sep-
arates extrinsic and intrinsic components. The extrinsic component refers to
imbalance between effort and reward at work, while the intrinsic component

Violanti et al.
consists of overcommitment to work, a personality-based factor, which reflects
the need for control and a desire for approval (Siegrist, 1996, 2002; van Vegchel,
de Jonge, Bosma, & Schaufeli, 2005). The ERI model posits that failed reciproc-
ity in terms of efforts and rewards at work elicit stress reactions (Siegrist, 1996;
Siegrist et al., 2004; Siegrist & Li, 2016). Studies on police burnout ought to
consider the impact of organizational stressors and work demands (Basi
nska &
Wiciak, 2013; Siegrist, 1996). Hence, numerous previous studies have associated
the ERI model with stress at work (de Jonge, Bosma, Peter, & Siegrist, 2000;
Godin, Kittel, Coppieters, & Siegrist, 2005; Kikuchi et al., 2010; Kivimaki et al.,
2002; Lehr, Hilbert, & Keller, 2009; van Vegchel et al., 2005).
Studies in other occupations have identified associations between ERI and
burnout (Bakker, Killmer, Siegrist, & Schaufeli, 2000; Bellingrath, Weigl, &
Kudielka, 2008; Oren & Littman-Ovadia, 2013; Tsai & Chan, 2010;
Unterbrink et al., 2007; Xie, Wang, & Chen, 2011). In a study of nurses, ERI
was positively associated with exhaustion and depersonalization burnout scales
but negatively associated with overcommitment (Bakker et al., 2000; Schulz
et al., 2009; Xie et al., 2011). In a study of German teachers, high rates of
exhaustion, depersonalization, and low personal accomplishment were associat-
ed with ERI (Unterbrink et al., 2007). In a sample consisting of employees from
a wide range of industries and service occupations, Oren and Littman-Ovadia
(2013) found that higher ERI ratios were negatively related to lack of efficacy
and overcommitment was positively related to...

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