Should I Stay or Should I go?

Published date01 June 2013
Date01 June 2013
Subject MatterArticles
Should I Stay or Should I go?
Job Satisfaction and Turnover
Intent of Jail Staff Throughout
the United States
Leslie A. Leip
and Jeanne B. Stinchcomb
Research on turnover in the correctional workplace has predominately focused on investigating
the relationship between job satisfaction and turnover intent among prison staff. In an effort to
broaden that level of inquiry to encompass the jail workforce, this study analyzes data from a
national survey of 1,924 line-level jail staff to assess the impact of both work-related variables and
personal characteristics on the intention of employees to resign. Although not randomly gener-
ated, respondents represent 46 states and are generally reflective of what is known about com-
position of the national line officer jail workforce in terms of demographics. Descriptive results
indicate that the majority of jail officers are satisfied with their jobs and have no intention of quit-
ting. Further logistic regression modeling confirms related literature indicating that the most influ-
ential variables are dynamic factors such as job satisfaction and work environment, rather than the
static variables associated with individual employee characteristics, such as gender, age, or race.
Since the environmental variables investigated are amenable to change, it would appear that, with
greater insights into these dynamic precursors of thoughts about quitting, jail administrators can
develop strategic initiatives targeted toward proactively reducing the fiscal cost and intangible
impact of voluntary turnover.
jail staff, turnover, quitting, retention, job satisfaction, corrections
Like their counterparts throughout public service, American jails are confronting unprecedented
challenges as they struggle to cope with increasing demands in the face of declining resources.
School of Public Administration, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL, USA
School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Florida Atlantic University, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Leslie A. Leip, School of Public Administration, Florida Atlantic University, Social Science Building, Office 301c, 777 Glades
Road, Boca Raton, FL 33431, USA.
Criminal Justice Review
38(2) 226-241
ª2013 Georgia State University
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016813478822
Unlike many other agencies, however, jails reflect a high-profile target for cost cutting. Since
correctional expenditures typically consume a substantial slice of government’s shrinking fiscal pie,
jails represent a sizeable economic burden to many counties (Kiekbusch, Price, & Theis, 2003).
Coupled with the reality of greater public support for the law enforcement component of county
sheriffs’ offices, it is tempting for elected officials to neglect the jail in favor of the visible patrol
functions that are more likely to generate votes (Stinchcomb, 2011). Thus, when a recessionary
economy dramatically diminishes local tax revenues, jails can become a tempting target for reducing
deficit spending.
When deciding where to make painful cutbacks, it is logical to focus on the largest line item. Just
as jails account for a sizeable portion of county costs, labor accounts for the largest percentage of the
operating budgets of America’s jails—75–80%by one estimate (Scott-Hayward, 2009, p. 2). Con-
trolling personnel expenditures thus becomes one of the only fiscal options jail administrators have
for substantially reducing expenditures. Yet most labor costs consist of contractually binding items
such as salaries and benefits, leaving administrators without the fiscal flexibility necessary to
achieve significant labor-related cost savings. There is, however, at least one discretionary aspect
of personnel expenditures that is capable of reducing costs without violating either contractual
provisions or legislative mandates—that is, employee turnover. While voluntary staff turnover is not
a specific line-item entry on a jail’s balance sheet, there is little doubt that its repercussions are
expensive—in terms of not only immediate replacement costs but also the immeasurable impact
on everything from employee morale and productivity to organizational stability.
Jails are hardly alone in the struggle to curtail voluntary resignations. Reducing employee turn-
over and its related cost has become a concern for any correctional agency struggling to cope with
fiscal shortfalls but is perhaps most challenging for America’s jails—where the unnecessary loss of
even a few employees can produce a disproportionate impact, given the relatively small staff size of
most jails. Moreover, unplanned departures are particularly problematic for agencies that may not
provide competitive compensation, enjoy the benefits of a positive public image, or engage in the
types of work that most people would prefer to do. Viewed in that light, it may not be surprising
to find that corrections has historically been plagued by relatively high levels of turnover (American
Correctional Association and Workforce Associates, Inc., 2004; Bynum, 2006; Clem, Krauth, &
Wenger, 2000; Yearwood, 2003), nationally estimated at 16–20%annually (Lambert & Hogan,
2009, p. 97; Nink, 2010, p. 1, primarily reflecting prison data). Since over half of America’s jails
are small facilities housing less than 100 inmates (Sabol & Minton, 2008, p. 2), even losing several
employees from such a limited workforce can have sizeable fiscal and operational implications.
The direct costs of turnover are most obvious—including, for example, the chronic staff shortages
and mandatory overtime that are suffered while renewed efforts are mounted to recruit, test, select,
and train another round of new staff members (Gibbons & Katzenbach, 2006, p. 71; Kiekbusch et al.,
2003; Lambert & Hogan, 2009; Stohr, Self, & Lovrich, 1992). The total can add up to some $20,000
for every correctional officer who leaves (Lommel, Layman, & Raleigh, 2004), and that includes
only the overt costs. Less apparent are the more indirect costs—such as the dispiriting impact of
watching valued employees leave, the stress of taking up their workload, the loss of cultivated social
relationships (Mitchell, MacKenzie, Styve, & Gover, 2000), and the tension of integrating inexper-
ienced newcomers into the organizational culture (Lambert, 2001). Certainly, the most direct fiscal
costs are reflected in the agency’s ‘‘bottom line,’’ but the more subtle emotional, interpersonal, and
stress-related costs can become even more organizationally damaging, especially in the absence of
efforts to identify and address causal factors.
There may be little that jail administrators can do about antiquated facilities, insufficient funding,
overcrowded cellblocks, or diverse and demanding inmate populations ranging from illegal immi-
grants to the mentally ill. Under such conditions, the relevant question may be not why so many
employees leave, but rather, why so many stay. Nevertheless, there is at least one aspect of voluntary
Leip and Stinchcomb 227

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